The need for speed (receiver)

Posted by Darren Urban on February 7, 2014 – 2:25 pm

As the Cardinals head toward the draft — a week later, May 8-10 this year — there will be a lot of talk about what positions will be targeted. There will be discussion about offensive tackles, defensive linemen, pass rushers, tight ends and defensive backs. But one thing that can’t be dismissed is the quest for a speed receiver.

The Cardinals can’t overlook the position anyway, given the impending free agent status of Andre Roberts (who likely will want to look what’s available on the open market since he’s destined to stay behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd) and the ongoing desire to have someone be able to run down the field and take the top off the defense. It was a constant quest last season. The Cards took a draft risk on Ryan Swope, and that didn’t work. Robert Gill was a track guy who they hoped would work out. Later, it was Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams.

According to, quarterback Carson Palmer threw 74 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air last season. He completed only 23 of them, and while longer passes will inevitably have a lower completion percentage, coach Bruce Arians does want to get more production out of those six deep shots a game he’d like to take. The Cards didn’t take as many as that as the season went along, in part because there was an understanding the protection wasn’t always good enough for such long plays and in part because the was a search for the right target. Floyd and Fitz can do the jump ball thing, but to be able to just tell a guy to go long and watch him speed by in one-on-one coverage would be ideal.

Where that guy will come from isn’t set in stone. Will the Cardinals draft one? I wouldn’t be surprised. But Steve Keim will comb other options too. Williams and Golden are still around and in the mix (although they have to stay healthy.) It’s an Arians want, and an Arians need, and that isn’t going to change until the Cards find their answer.

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OL battle lines are drawn

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2013 – 12:43 pm

Now that everything’s official, Bruce Arians was able to talk about the new arrivals and moves yesterday. The most important thing: It’ll be Levi Brown versus Nate Potter for the left tackle job and Eric Winston (pictured below) versus Bobby Massie for the right tackle job. Arians didn’t see those players being tried at guard, either. At least not yet.

“We’ll allow that competition to go at tackle,” Arians said. “If it clearly cuts itself and we feel we have a better player that might be a guard, yeah, we’ll look at it.”

Can Potter dislodge Brown? And considering that Massie finished pretty strong last season, the right side should work out well one way or the other. Arians did say he didn’t see flip-flopping sides anymore. That is something for the spring, so that if a player was thrust into a new side as an emergency in a game he’d at least have an idea of how it works. But it isn’t going to be part of training camp.

— Arians talking about adding Winston and Abraham: “If someone is available who is a quality player and you can add him to your roster, why not?” The addition of Abraham definitely jacked up a lot of the defensive players. More on that in a bit in a homepage story.

— The loss of Ryan Swope bothers Arians because he liked Swope, but the coach said it was an injury and unfortunately “those things happen all the time.”

“I feel bad for him because he’s a great young man and I knew how much it meant to him,” Arians said. “You could tell it was eating him up. I jst wish him the best. I went through this with Austin Collie last year. There’s a time to stop.”

— About competition, Arians said all 22 starting jobs were available. Then someone reminded him that he might acknowledge quarterback and one wide receiver are set. Arians considered this. “Probably,” he said with a smile, and then a few seconds later, he added, “and one corner.”

— Please tell me you understood that meant Palmer, Fitz and Peterson.


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Winston, Abraham and churning the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2013 – 5:26 pm

At Denny Green’s first training camp in 2004, the roster was in constant flux. That was the camp in which Pete Kendall was axed as he came in to take his physical on report day, and a few weeks later, when the team spent an extra week in Prescott following their Flagstaff stint, there was a revolving door on the roster. I remember a couple of veterans being signed the first day in Prescott and getting released a day or two later, without getting in a game or anything (if memory serves, I think one was DE Joe Tafoya, who a couple years later re-signed and played some with the Cards.)

That’s what went through my mind Thursday with new players coming in and seeing O’Brien Schofield. He walked out on the field for the conditioning test — shaking hands with rookie linebacker Alex Okafor at one point — before going back to the locker room with someone from the front office. It didn’t look promising at the time for the fourth-year linebacker and it wasn’t — he was released on the day when tackle Eric Winston and linebacker John Abraham (along with the inexperienced LB Kenny Rowe) were added.

For those keeping track at home, by the way, the Cards have a pair of open roster spots still, after Ryan Swope was placed on the reserve-retired list.

It was a head-spinning day. The action all came from Steve Keim’s men upstairs, even while the players got in a conditioning test that was mostly a formality in this day and age when guys are always in condition. “It’s a cold business some days,” coach Bruce Arians said, and that was underscored Thursday.

— O’Brien Schofield is a good guy. Great in the locker room. A great story, after blowing out his knee in Senior Bowl practices back in 2010. Worked hard to rehab and to become an pass rushing force at outside linebacker. But he never was able to make that solid step forward, and when he suffered yet another serious injury last year when Darnell Dockett fell on his leg, and a new coaching staff came in, that doesn’t bode well for guys like Schofield. He’d be here if the Abraham signing hadn’t worked out. But with Abraham and Acho and Alexander and Okafor around as outside linebackers — and that doesn’t include Matt Shaughnessy, who spent the offseason working mostly with the linebackers and not the defensive line. The numbers were daunting, and Schofield found himself headed out.

— That Swope is now on the reserve-retired list because of concussions isn’t a shock. He suffered a concussion in an OTA early in the offseason and then was absent from the Cards’ facility. That’s never a good sign. Hindsight is 20/20, but as Keim said, the team knew the risk when they took Swope and decided at the time it was a good decision. They did have two sixth-round picks. Putting Swope on the reserve list does allow the Cards to keep his rights, interesting when Swope says in a statement that he plans to reassess his football career next year. Would he play again?

— Many props nationally for the Cards on getting Abraham and Winston. For the price, for this team. Arians said today talent was not going to be an excuse for this team, and while the other three teams in the division are impressive, Keim is doing what he can to get the Cards into the mix.

— Speaking of the division, Seahawks WR Percy Harvin is having hip troubles and coach Pete Carroll acknowledged surgery could be an option. Yikes.

— Winston, on Sirius XM NFL Radio, talking about his contract dealings with the Cards: “We started these conversations a while ago. Probably around, I would say, the end of OTAs and they kind of progressed through the summer and got to a point where we felt like it was right to go ahead and have a conversation. I flew into Arizona last week and we progressed on terms and we came to this point.”

I’m curious to see how the Abraham stuff came down too.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the roster churn continue. Interesting to hear Arians say he won’t make any judgements on the offensive linemen until Wednesday, when they’ve had some days in pads. Wednesday, the players are off. Would the Cards make more changes then?

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Now Abraham on the way

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2013 – 1:43 pm

After the run test today — everyone did so well Bruce Arians cut it off after two of the three scheduled 300-yard shuttles — it was time to ask Arians about possible new players. There was little to be heard. Arians declined to talk about players “who aren’t here.” That meant no comment about Eric Winston, who will be signing per multiple reports, and John Abraham, who is agreeing to a two-year deal according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. As I mentioned before, that’s a good haul right as camp is starting for GM Steve Keim.

Arians also declined to talk about unsigned first-round pick Jonathan Cooper and rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope, who also remains absent.

Much more coming later. Time to write now.

UPDATE: And Abraham is a Card.

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Arians concerned about Swope injury

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2013 – 7:36 pm

Coach Bruce Arians has been pretty tight-lipped about the situation around rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope and the head injury that kept Swope out of almost all of the offseason work, but he acknowledged to’s Ian Rapoport he is “worried” about Swope.

Talking about his rookies, Arians said “Only guy I am worried about is Swope with his head.” Arians is also quoted as saying the Cardinals were “very, very, very surprised” Swope missed so much time.

“I’m not sure what he can do, I’m not sure what the doctors are going to do at this point,” Arians said. “I hope … because the kid is a great talent, and it would be a shame. But having Austin Collie last year going through this same thing, it’s scary.”

Collie, who like Swope has been dealing with concussion issues, played in just one game last year for the Colts, for whom Arians was offensive coordinator. The unknown doesn’t seem to bode well, although the Cardinals have had some other young receiving possibilities out at least this time of year. Swope insisted he was ready to go when the Cards drafted him and the Cards were obviously convinced he was worth the sixth-round risk. With two six-round picks, the team felt it was a risk worth taking. Swope may have to start thinking about his own risk in this situation.

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That UDFA receiver …

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2013 – 1:14 pm

The fact Bruce Arians mentioned undrafted rookie receiver Jaron Brown the other day (and Charles Hawkins, for that matter) may in the end mean nothing. Impressing in June is not the same thing as impressing in August, when, as Arians has brought up time and time again, the lights go on and players can change. But it was tough not to notice that Brown got a lot of work in multi-receiver sets, especially late in the offseason work when Michael Floyd was protecting a testy hamstring. With Ryan Swope absent with his head issues, the door is open for some unknown receivers to make a push for a roster spot.

(The fact Arians bluntly said LaRon Byrd wasn’t exactly lighting it up also creates some possibilities at the back end of the wideout depth chart.)

The Cardinals have had a recent history of finding some receivers from nowhere this time of year. This was the time when Steve Breaston first turned some heads in 2008, and while Breaston was a fifth-round draft pick in his second season, he was never thought of as a guy with that potential before that summer. There was Stephen Williams in 2010. And Byrd last year. This time, it was No. 13 — Brown — who seemed to be everywhere.

“There is always room to improve, come out and get better every day,” Brown said, who said he didn’t know anything about the Cards and their history of undrafted receivers. “I know I’m undrafted and a rookie and I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”

Brown isn’t the only young candidate. Arians mentioned Hawkins and Robert Gill (who as an arena veteran isn’t exactly a rookie, but falls into the same kind of category) as guys who have stood out. Those guys have some speed, which is a component Arians seeks in the receiving corps. Brown, by the way, ran a 4.4 himself at his pro day, so he’s not exactly slow. The caveat that always comes with the receivers who flash in the offseason? It’s easy to flash in shorts, knowing you won’t get hit going over the middle.

“I know how good they play soccer right now,” Arians said. “Football is a noise-level game and the noise-level scares some guys. Other guys love it. That’s what we’ve got to find.”

Brown has made a good impression. So far.


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“I don’t think guys will be, or should be, taking time off”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2013 – 2:34 pm

Already, Larry Fitzgerald mentioned that the receivers and quarterbacks would work together, in part in Minnesota where Fitz holds his annual July work. Quarterback Carson Palmer confirmed he plans on getting that work done, because the work must continue even though officially, the Cards will be done tomorrow.

“I’m not going to get away from anything,” Palmer said, noting he’ll spend some time at home in California but not too much time. “I won’t be taking any time off and I don’t think guys will be, or should be, taking time off.”

And with that, some other notes after the penultimate practice of the offseason:

— The defense got interceptions from Patrick Peterson and Javier Arenas during the final two-minute drill sequence. Good for the defense, bad for the offense. Coach Bruce Arians will live with it.

“Cardinals win,” Arians said with a smile. “Shoot, I can’t lose. You get to cuss out one and cheer for the other. It’s fun.”

Palmer praised his teammates on the other side of the ball. “I’m excited about what we are seeing on defense because they are putting together packages that are really confusing, especially if you are playing against young quarterbacks,” he said.

— Rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope remains out with the reported concussion symptoms (Arians has never addresses Swope’s issues directly.) Asked if he planned to have Swope for training camp, Arians said “I’m hopeful.”

— Speaking of receivers, Arians was asked if he had seen strides forward of late from second-year wideout LaRon Byrd. Arians was blunt. “Not really, to be honest,” Arians said. “He had a couple nice catches that were unbelievable throws. (But) he’s too inconsistent right now. He has talent and a good future, but he’s got to get more consistent.”

Byrd said he is feeling more comfortable, but with guys like Jaron Brown, Robert Gill and Charles Hawkins playing well this summer, Byrd will have to make strides in camp.

— Nate Potter is getting extensive work at right tackle. And Bobby Massie was getting a lot of work as second-string left tackle. It may mean little — Arians said it was going to be a rotation through camp — but it would be an interesting turn of events if it stayed that way.

— Arians said he isn’t worried about running back Stepfan Taylor, who missed all of the offseason because of school (Taylor is expected back next week for the rookies’ final week, without veterans). Arians watched Andrew Luck, like Taylor a Stanford product, perform just fine last season after an offseason away.

“(Stepfan) has got a whole lot easier of a position,” Arians said. “His thing will be picking up the blitzes but he is a bright young man and he’s already had exposure to to it all. He knows what the rules are.”


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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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Post-OTA talk from Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2013 – 1:46 pm

With the Cardinals returning to the field today, a few quick notes after coach Bruce Arians spoke to the media:

— He was asked about the health of rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope, who was not out there practicing. Teammate Larry Fitzgerald had said in a Sirius NFL radio interview that Swope had been out because of concussion-related issues. Arians did not get specific. “There’s nothing really to report,” Arians said. “We don’t have injury reports this time of year.” Asked if he was concerned about Swope, Arians said “He’ll be fine.”

— Arians was happy with the work after the team had a week off. “I expected it to be sloppier,” Arians said.

— Cornerback Patrick Peterson has missed the last nine days because of family issues, Arians said. Cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason were also working on the side. Tight end Jeff King was limited as he rehabs his knee.

— Tackle Levi Brown was taking part in the work for the first time as he returns from his triceps injury. Arians said he was limited but he looked good in his reps.

— Rookie guard Jonathan Cooper is working with the first unit, which isn’t a surprise. As for his progress, “he’s getting so many reps he can’t help but but improve,” Arians said.

— Special teams coach Amos Jones was absent because his father passed away.

— Rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu made an interception that Arians was willing to call a Pick-6. (Since no one can tackle, you never really know.)


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100 days away

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2013 – 9:29 am

This isn’t easy to absorb, since the Cardinals still have a full week of OTAs and a mandatory minicamp to go (and I still have a vacation to take), but today marks 100 days until the Cards open the regular season in St. Louis.

(To take a trip down memory lane of season openers past, check out this photo gallery. Remember Fitz’s first NFL catch on the flea-flicker in St. Louis in 2004, seen below?)

There is much left to do before that day of course. Not only do the Cardinals finish out the offseason work but there is still training camp to go. There’s too much time left to really know how this roster is going to break down, but there will be interesting battles for playing time coming. Has Lorenzo Alexander usurped O’Brien Schofield for good? How will all the inside linebackers fit together once Daryl Washington’s suspension ends (although that’s a story for well beyond the opener)? How will Levi Brown look once he is completely cleared to play?

Most importantly: How will the new-look Cardinals perform when the games count for real? In 100 days, we’ll find out.

— Many have asked about the Larry Fitzgerald comments regarding the health of Ryan Swope. As I have indicated to some, I frankly hadn’t been looking for Swope one way or the other of late. On-field work resumes next week, and at some point, coach Bruce Arians will be available to talk again. I’d guess it will be addressed then.

An story talking about Ken Whisenhunt, now the Chargers offensive coordinator, working with QB Philip Rivers. “It always starts with the quarterback,” Whiz says, and we all know not only is that true, but that Whiz lived with the consequences of it.

— Speaking of Whiz and one of his former signal-callers, wondering where Max Hall is these days? Trying to QB in Canada.


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