Signings not quite the news they used to be

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2015 – 2:11 pm

The Cardinals now have signed four of their seven draft picks — second-rounder Markus Golden, fourth-rounder Rodney Gunter (pictured below) and fifth-rounders Shaq Riddick and J.J. Nelson. First-rounder D.J. Humphries, third-rounder David Johnson and seventh-round Mr. Irrelevant Gerald Christian all should end up signing sooner rather than later. This is where are now with rookie contracts. Since the new CBA was put into place in 2011, there are no more tension-filled offseasons for teams when it comes to getting their draftees to sign on the dotted line.

It wasn’t always that way. Back in the early 2000s, in my previous life as a newspaper reporter covering the team, signings took the summer. No Cardinal ever seem to sign before July 4th. The days leading into training camp — and often, at least a day or two after training camp started — were spent on contract watch. Sometimes it was just the first-round pick. Sometimes, there were a couple of other contracts that were also pushing the deadline.

Now, all these guys are signed by the time the Cardinals are done with minicamp in mid-June. Everything goes faster. The Bears have made it their mission to get all their picks signed within a day or two of the draft.

(For those asking, players who have not yet signed still can work out. The team and player sign an agreement saying contract negotiations will proceed in good faith even if the unsigned rookie gets hurt. That’s what happened with Dante Fowler and the Jaguars. Fowler blew out his ACL in his first minicamp practice. A few days later, he signed his deal with the Jaguars getting the same money he would have gotten as the No. 3 overall pick had he not been injured.)

There are no more ifs with rookie contracts. It’s when, and there’s not much waiting.


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The rookies arrive in Tempe

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2015 – 2:58 pm

The veterans have been back to work. Now it’s time to fold into the rookies. That started Thursday, as all the draft picks, undrafted signees and tryout players showed up to the team’s Tempe complex to get pictures taken, physicals done and equipment distributed. There is a dinner for the rookies Thursday night, and rookie minicamp begins Friday.

There were also a trio of press conferences for the top three picks who hadn’t yet had a press conference: Outside linebacker Markus Golden (second round), running back David Johnson (third round, pictured below) and defensive end Rodney Gunter (fourth round). All will be chronicled on in the next few days, starting with Golden in a bit. In the meantime, a couple of quick takeaways from each.

— Golden just became a father. He was in Colorado the day he was drafted waiting for his son to be born — Markus Golden, Jr. — and said he had family all around him for both baby and football reasons. He admitted he had been watching the draft at first and then got anxious, wanting to just have his draft status be determined quickly. “As soon as I went to the back to let some steam off, I got the phone call,” Golden said.

— Gunter admitted he was just as surprised as anyone he ended up as a fourth-round pick, coming from Delaware State. “I didn’t know (anything),” Gunter said. “They gave me a call, fourth round before they called my name, and were like, ‘Rodney, hey, watch the TV.’ I hit my knees, man. I hit my knees and started praying. It was so unreal. I pass out for, like, three minutes.”

— Johnson worked in the summers while in college, and while he did dorm maintenance the last couple of years,the first was working for an asbestos-removal firm. “We didn’t do the real potent stuff, we did the one-to-three-percent asbestos, which was a glue that they used for tiles at old schools,” Johnson said. “We’d go and we had to wear suits with a mask, and it’s about 100 degrees out. we had to go scrape tiles off and remove all the glue.

“It’s definitely not a fun job. It was hot, I was sweating. It was hard for me to keep my weight on.”


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A look at the rookies

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2014 – 10:54 am

The rookie class had a (not surprisingly) mixed bag of results in OTAs and minicamp. That’s what rookies do. Still, they are going to mean something this season, especially with the way coach Bruce Arians is willing to play them.

“I like all the rookies,” veteran defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “There are three or four of those rookies that are going to make a big impact on our season. We don’t know which ones (yet), but it’s going to happen. You want to help them and let them know on the field and off the field, you have to be accountable and it’s not just about showing up for practice. We know we are going to need four or five of those rookies.”

Because the pads haven’t gone on yet, it’s possible two guys who have been way under the radar so far — defensive ends Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson — could be making large impacts. The way the Cardinals like to rotate the defensive line, both guys will get a shot to get in there, one would think. They also turn the defensive line from a thin area to one of serious depth, when you add in Frostee Rucker and (eventually) Alameda Ta’amu to Dockett, Calais Campbell and Dan Williams.

We all know safety Deone Bucannon is going to get his chance. That’s what happens with first-round picks. That turf toe slowed him, but it was a good sign Bucannon made sure to get back on the field in minicamp. Second-round Troy Niklas is behind and the idea he might still be sidelined into training camp with his broken hand isn’t the best news, but the kid is itching to get out on the field and do something. Adding John Carlson, and with the way Rob Housler has looked up until this point, helps, since Niklas doesn’t have to be out there right away if he isn’t ready. Speaking of not ready, that’s quarterback Logan Thomas, but he was always a long-term vision anyway.

That leaves the wide receivers. John Brown (below) has been mentioned a lot. No, I don’t see him displacing Ted Ginn. Not immediately. But at some point, could he be the No. 3 behind Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald? Very possible. He was the guy getting extra direction from both Arians and Carson Palmer in minicamp, more than any other wideout. That’s because he has a lot to learn, but also because the Cards need him to learn it quickly, because they want to use him. As for Walt Powell, he to showed some things, and after what the Cards got out of a sixth-round pick a year ago (Andre Ellington), who’s to say he can’t step in and do something? The receiving corps is loaded enough that it will be tough to have Powell move up the depth chart, however.


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An anticlimactic rookie minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on May 22, 2014 – 9:49 am

Once upon a time, before the current collective bargaining agreement and before the draft was moved, rookie minicamp was a fairly significant moment. It served as the first time the rookies were on the field, usually just a week after the draft, and allowed the first-year guys a chance to dip their toes in the water before meshing with the vets.

It’s different now. With the draft as late as it is, the rookies got a few days of Phase 2 work in last week and are taking part in organized team activities all this week before rookie minicamp arrives tomorrow and over the weekend. Finally, the rookies will have individualized attention for a few days, before hopping back into the work with the vets next week for more OTAs. Already, you get a sense of where the draft choices fit in, which right now, means low on the depth chart. First-round safety Deone Bucannon is working with the vets on the main field with the second unit, and you figure the first-round pick is going to have a very good chance to start. But second-round tight end Troy Niklas isn’t doing anything yet as he recovers from hernia surgery so it’s hard to get a handle on his role. The rest of the draft picks have been working on the second field.

The Cardinals right now are expected to have 17 tryout players, along with seven draft picks, 15 undrafted rookies and a handful of inexperienced young players at the rookie minicamp.


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Thursday before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2013 – 11:36 am

Finally, football.

This is about that time when players are tired of hitting each other on their own team and yearn for a chance to hit someone else. The Cards get that Friday night in Green Bay. Although I suppose that’s all relative. Carson Palmer was asked if he had been hit less in this camp –and if he would have liked to be banged around a bit more in prep to a game.

Palmer was blunt.

“No,” he said. “I don’t like to get hit in the preseason.”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been tackled in training camp,” Palmer added. “There is plenty of that that goes on during the season. You don’t need to prepare yourself for that. You prepare yourself in the weight room and your conditioning and your fitness level. I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t need to be reminded what it feels like to get hit.”

Can’t blame him for that. And with that, some stuff to chew on before the Packers:

— The starters are going to get 15 plays or so. We will get a little taste of what this offense is going to be about. But are we really going to see the full extent of Palmer’s progress? Probably not.

— Curious to see how Bruce Arians works in the offensive linemen, especially the tackles. Do first-stringers Eric Winston and Levi Brown go the 15 plays and come out? Do backups Nate Potter and Bobby Massie get any snaps with Palmer behind center? Certainly, the play of all four will be among the most scrutinized. I know that’s one spot where I will be watching.

— The lights get bright for those receivers too. It’s always interesting to me the play of the younger receivers in the preseason because there is no position that can pop more when watching practice in shorts but that changes more in a game. Think about it: A receiver doesn’t really get hit at all all offseason or in camp. There is no fear in the middle. Now, in a game, you can get drilled pretty good. That can fuzzy up the concentration.

— Seeing the versatility of the defense in action will also be something to watch. How does Matt Shaughnessy do in his new role of sometimes-linebacker? Rookie inside linebacker Kevin Minter? How much does Daryl Washington play? Against the Packers’ first offense, I want to see how the cornerbacks do.

— It’s tough not to get a feeling that Tyrann Mathieu figures into a big play at some point.

— Not sure they’ll break out any of the Patrick Peterson offensive package. I think I’d keep that sidelined for now but we’ll see.

— The rookie hazing went down Wednesday night, some nasty haircuts just in time for the trip. I saw some of the rookies walking around the hotel this morning (ouch). Alex Okafor came out ahead quite frankly (see him here). Mathieu is here.

— This story about Fitz growing up and maturing – including the anecdote where he was fined by the NFL for not talking to the media (oh, I remember those days) – by Jim Trotter is good. Fitz has come a long way. A long way.

— Mostly, it’s just good there are games on tap. A game a week, a regular rhythm, something to analyze besides practice. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks of camp though. Why, you say you want to look back? Here’s a mashup to prep you for the Packers.

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How those draft choices could fit

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2013 – 9:46 am

It’s still way early. Bruce Arians won’t even commit to starting positions — which isn’t a surprise — and training camp will sort through players much better than any of this summer stuff. Players can’t even hit right now, and so this isn’t really football, as the coaches will be quick to point out. But this team will be much different than the past few years, when rookies had a climb akin to Mount Everest to jump into the fray from the outset. Arians wants to use young players and this team wants to, philosophically, grow from a younger base.

That said, what exactly can be expected from this draft class sitting here in June (and with minicamp starting tomorrow, with the long anticipated Fan Fest Tuesday night)? We know, barring a shocking development, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper is going to be the starter at left guard. The only other player that seems to be a lock for significant playing time at this juncture is third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu, and part of that has to do with his skill set and the existing roster situation at safety. Mathieu is getting his reps, and last week spent more time on the main field with the veterans (whereas he had been starting out on the second field with the inexperienced players — and yes, I’m trying really hard not to call it the JV field.)

The only other draft pick who has been working mostly on the main field has been second-round linebacker Kevin Minter. Minter is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Second-round picks are supposed to step in right away and do something. But the Cards, who signed Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby and still have Daryl Washington, all of a sudden have a ton of options at inside linebacker (and that doesn’t even include veteran Reggie Walker, who has found himself on the second field this summer looking very much out of place.) Inside linebacker will be one of those places where the spotlight will shine in camp, because they all can’t play.

The rest of the draft class is working on the second field and have a steeper hill to climb. That said, I can totally see a scenario where outside linebacker Alex Okafor, guard Earl Watford and running back Stepfan Taylor find their way into the mix. Arians made it clear he wanted his depth to be such that the Cards didn’t have to rely on a rookie, and that gives those three some room to breath (and since Taylor has basically been absent so far because of school, he has some ground to make up.) It’s easy to see Watford’s time being a year away. Okafor could step in, but with Matt Shaughnessy pretty clearly playing OLB and not DE, along with Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield and Lorenzo Alexander at OLB, Okafor has to get through some guys on the depth chart.

The last three draft picks have a harder row to hoe. Wide receiver Ryan Swope needs to get back on the field first. Running back Andre Ellington has a lot of competition. Tight end D.C. Jefferson could make inroads given the lineup at his position, but he remains fairly raw. The biggest thing in all their favor? Arians seems willing to live with growing live with inexperience, which wasn’t there before.

— Apropos of nothing, the Jets hired former Cardinals GM Rod Graves as their senior director of football administration under their GM John Idzik. The move was long anticipated. Graves and Idzik have known each other from their youth when they both worked as Eagles ballboys as their fathers worked for Philly. Idzik worked under Graves with the Cardinals in the Denny Green era as the Cards’ cap guy.


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Four draft picks sign contracts

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2013 – 10:29 am

The Cardinals have begun signing draft picks. The last four choices — fifth-round running back Stepfan Taylor, sixth-round wide receiver Ryan Swope, sixth-round running back Andre Ellington and seventh-round tight end D.C. Jefferson — have all signed their CBA-required slotted four-year contracts. Given that the rookies will be here until Sunday, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more (if not all) of the draftees under contract by the time it is all said and done.

Rookie minicamp began today (and here’s a pic of Taylor, Earl Watford, Jonathan Cooper and Swope. What, you didn’t see the photo gallery yet?)


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A “carry-a-big-stick-type of dude” at LB

Posted by Darren Urban on May 9, 2013 – 8:56 pm

Kevin Minter was the Cardinals’ second-round draft pick, an inside linebacker from LSU who very well could be starting from day one. But he was also taken about an hour before Tyrann Mathieu, who obviously was a much bigger story and has stayed that way. Even Thursday Minter was reminded of it, during his own press conference (which happened to come after Mathieu’s). Minter was asked how he felt about being drowned out by the Mathieu spotlight.

“It is what it is,” Minter said, shrugging it off. “Tyrann was amazing (in college). Even though I was obviously picked before him, the guy was a playmaker.”

Minter will probably be heard from himself sooner rather than later as a Cardinal. That would probably have been true anyway, but with Daryl Washington to be suspended the first four games of the season, the Cards are going to need Minter.

“I feel like I’m a great leader,” Minter said. “I’m not necessarily a hoo-rah type of guy. I’m more of a speak-softly-carry-a-big-stick-type of dude.”

That’s not a bad kind of person to plug into the middle of the defense (although Minter is just 6-feet tall, which you notice when you see him in person.) He probably isn’t going to garner the same kind of attention Mathieu will (few in the NFL draft will, to be honest) but Minter didn’t come across as the guy sweating the spotlight. What he did do a few times was talk about how anxious he was to start playing, which begins Friday with rookie minicamp.

“I’ve got to make my presence felt,” Minter said. “I feel like I’m going to do that in these coming weeks.”

— The Cardinals are bringing in just five players to rookie minicamp on a tryout basis: QB Caleb TerBush (Purdue), C Mark Pratt (Youngstown State), C Adam Bice (Akron), TE Kyle Auffray (New Hampshire) and CB Reggie Topps (Utah).

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Mathieu talks as a Cardinal

Posted by Darren Urban on May 9, 2013 – 3:29 pm

The Cardinals’ rookies are in the middle of reporting to the team for the first time — they are in the process of getting physicals as I write this — with rookie minicamp starting tomorrow. Ahead of that, the Cards’ second- and third-round picks, LB Kevin Minter and S Tyrann Mathieu, held their first press conferences. In Mathieu’s case, it made sense. Otherwise, he’d be surrounded tomorrow after the lone practice open to the media.

Mathieu’s intro locally was the big story, of course. (Not that I want to discount the intense Minter, who had this solid line when describing himself: “I’m not a hoo-rah type of guy, I’m more of a speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick guy.”) Mathieu handled himself well. I’ll have more in a story on the homepage in a bit (and here it is), but for now, some of the quick highlights:

— The only way to stop the questions about his past problems, Mathieu said, was “just letting my actions speak for itself. … I definitely have a long journey in front of me.”

— More Mathieu on what lies ahead: “It’s not going to be easy, there will be challenges. But it’s something I’m ready for.”

— Patrick Peterson is going to be very important to this process, Mathieu said. “He’s probably going to be everywhere with me,” Mathieu said with a chuckle. We’ll see how Peterson feels about that notion.

— Mathieu called playing safety was “a challenge” but he’s ready. “I won’t say I’m comfortable with it,” he added.

— It’s time to move on from the ‘Honey Badger” nickname, he said. The nickname itself is fine, but “it’s from a dark time in my life.” That said, he’s OK if little kids want to call him that.

— His name is pronounced TY-run (rhymes with “Byron”) Matthew.


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School rules dictate Taylor will have to wait

Posted by Darren Urban on May 8, 2013 – 4:08 pm

Fifth-round pick Stepfan Taylor will be at the Cardinals’ rookie minicamp this weekend. All the rookies will. But the NFL rule that prohibits rookies from taking part in addition offseason work until their school has held final exams — regardless of whether the player is actually attending school or not (because many players leave school to prep for the NFL) — means Taylor, a Stanford product, won’t be around for much else.

Stanford isn’t scheduled to have final exams end until June 12. That happens to be the second day of the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp at the end of the full team offseason work. There will be a final practice the next day. Rookies will likely stay around the facility beyond that (they usually do as the vets disperse for the rest of their offseason) but it’s not the same as the OTAs and minicamp.

The Cards do have a couple other rookies that could miss some time after rookie minicamp, but we’re talking one to three days in the other cases. The first OTAs are May 14-16, and there will be 10 total OTA days through June 6, before the June 11-13 minicamp.

Taylor does have a few things going for him. One, he’s from Stanford. I’m betting he’s pretty smart. Two, he’s a running back, and I’m guessing there isn’t as much needed to grasp to still be able to make an impact (and he still has all of training camp.) Finally, it’s not like he’s the first to ever go through this. Stanford products have to deal with this every year. Andrew Luck (below, handing off to Taylor in college) was gone from the Colts for more than a month, and that worked out pretty well for him and his team.

And who was there first-hand in Indy to see that play out? Bruce Arians.

— The rookies report tomorrow for physicals and other stuff. Draft picks Kevin Minter and Tyrann Mathieu will have a co-press conference at 2 p.m.

— No, as of now, nothing new to report on the Karlos Dansby situation. He did visit today and saw some of his old teammates. We’ll see if a contract can be worked out.


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