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Possible future joint practices — just not in AZ

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2015 – 12:57 pm

It’s the homestretch: One more regular practice today, and then an earlier practice Friday (gates open at 9:30 a.m.) before the Cardinals break camp.

Next year, there’s a possibility not all the training camp practices will be at University of Phoenix Stadium, because, as Bruce Arians has mentioned before, he would “love” to hold some joint practices with another team.

“We just don’t have the space here,” Arians said. “We’d have to travel somewhere.”

Arians said the Cardinals talked to “two or three” other teams about joint practices but it didn’t work out. One team Arians floated as one he wouldn’t mind teaming up with? Tennessee, with former coaching cohort (and former Cardinals head coach) Ken Whisenhunt.

— CB Jerraud Powers, ILB Sean Weatherspoon and RB Chris Johnson are all run testing today to test their hamstrings. If all goes well, they will practice Friday and the door isn’t closed on them playing in Oakland.

— Defensive end Ed Stinson is sitting out with a toe injury. Arians doesn’t think it is serious. It is not the same toe that derailed Stinson’s rookie season and eventually landed him on injured reserve.

— Arians acknowledged what had been speculated on frequently, that there is a possibility the Cardinals would only keep two quarterbacks and have a third on the practice squad.

— The punting battle remains even, Arians said. The coach acknowledged Dave Zastudil’s age and injury history have to be considered, and Arians added that he thought Drew Butler did a good job last season except for that terrible playoff outing. “That was really the only game he struggled,” Arians said. However, Arians added, “it’s still the best guy for the job” and these last two games will be factors.

 


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Spoon’s absence, and Buc as LB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2015 – 3:06 pm

Sean Weatherspoon’s extended absence has been, in Bruce Arians’ words, “discouraging.” Certainly Weatherspoon’s spot in this defense feels like a question mark (although if he gets back on the field in the next week, I’m not sure we’ll even think about it anymore.) With Weatherspoon still out, not much has been figured out in terms of the inside linebacker position.

Or maybe it has.

Look, there has never been any doubt of the depth the Cardinals have at safety, or the fact both Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have said multiple times they will put the best 11 on the field. Or the fact Arians earlier in camp called safety Deone Bucannon the lone “inside linebacker” he can see on the field all three downs (with Weatherspoon on the shelf, of course.)

Bucannon would like to play safety. But he is smart enough — and team-oriented enough — that he’ll play wherever. He reiterated that again Monday. As long as Rashad Johnson (who, it can be noted is in the last year of his contract) and Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu are around, and as long as Bucannon probably is better suited in the box rather than running around to cover a lot of guys, linebacker is his spot. To be out there a lot could be a concern given his weight (he is listed at 211) but I know there are many out there who suggested Bucannon may be better suited at linebacker.

Things change from year to year. If Johnson isn’t here in 2016, if the Cards get Weatherspoon to click and stay beyond this season, if an athletic inside linebacker is drafted, maybe this all changes. But even if Weatherspoon gets back to where the Cardinals want him to be, I’m guessing Bucannon will be next to him, in front of the secondary, much of the time.

BucPicUSE


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Riddick return, OL moves and similar butts

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2015 – 2:24 pm

It was a long presser from Bruce Arians today after no morning walkthrough. Here are some of the highlights before I head down to practice:

— The injury list right now includes cornerback Jerraud Powers, who is now dealing with a hamstring issue of his own and will be “shut down” for a few days. Arians did not sound concerned. Good news, though, running back Chris Johnson is actually better than Arians originally thought with his hamstring and is day to day. Arians said Saturday he thought Johnson would missed a week or two. OL Earl Watford had a shot in his troublesome ankle and gets a rest day (the Cards are off Tuesday too), and will be back Wednesday, as will TE Jermaine Gresham (back) and WR Brittan Golden (sore after taking a big hit Saturday.)

— OLB Shaq Riddick is finally back at practice. So is CB Jonte Green and T Rob Crisp.

— Arians said it was “discouraging” ILB Sean Weatherspoon is still out with his bad hamstring. There is a hope he’ll return to practice this week, but we’ll see.

— The coaches have talked as a staff about playing the starters less Sunday in Oakland in light of all the injuries around the NFL. Arians said each guy will be gauged differently, based on practice and the need for reps.

— When Watford comes back, he’ll work at right tackle and have the chance to battle Bradley Sowell for the starting job. D.J. Humphries will spend the week at left tackle to get some work there; Arians wants him to be able to play both sides as a backup — which he will be to start the season almost assuredly.

— Arians praised Alani Fua and, to a lesser extent, Gabe Martin, at inside linebacker. Arians intrigued by Fua’s length.

— After video watching, Arians still said there is no leader at third QB between Sims and Thomas.

— Although Mike Leach already took the blame on Twitter, Arians reiterated it was Leach snapping the ball too soon to holder Dave Zastudil that caused the botched PAT in the game. “A 25-year-vet, whatever he is, snapping to a 30-year vet, and one wasn’t looking,” Arians said. “You would not anticpate that happening out of thise two guys, but it did happen.”

— Arians liked the game starting left guard Ted Larsen had a lot, but “he blew it with one dumb penalty,” Arians lamented of Larsen’s 15-yarder for jumping on a pile. Still, he said he liked Larsen’s game, and that of Jonathan Cooper’s too.

— The starting center job between A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein is “heavily contested.” Arians added that Carson Palmer gets no say in the matter. “Their butts are about the same,” Arians quipped.

 


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A Weatherspoon setback

Posted by Darren Urban on August 12, 2015 – 12:56 pm

Bruce Arians had been hopeful linebacker Sean Weatherspoon would be back at practice by today. But after coming out Tuesday to work on a limited basis, the linebacker had his hamstring grab, and both Arians and Weatherspoon acknowledged he needs more time on the sideline. It could be a week, Arians speculated, and for Weatherspoon — knowing how much time is left between now and the regular season — it’s about the regular season.

“I want to practice and be out there with my guys, get that timing down with them,” Weatherspoon said. “The main thing is, I’m on a one-year deal so I have to be healthy before I get out there. That’s what it’s all about.”

It won’t do Weatherspoon any good to play hurt, that is for sure. But it was telling that when Arians was asked, with Weatherspoon out, what inside linebacker he had that could play three downs, Arians simply said “Deone” — as in safety Deone Bucannon, who remains a top linebacker choice in several packages. There is still much to be sorted at inside linebacker.

Weatherspoon said he’s not concerned about missed time right now, although he knows he’ll be rusty. He remains mentally engaged, he said. What helps is that Weatherspoon was out for every OTA and minicamp practice this summer, so he has done that work.

The Cards did get cornerback Jerraud Powers back for practice, but lost safety Chris Clemons after he hurt his groin Tuesday. Ten Cards are sidelined with injuries, and running back Andre Ellington is still limited with his hamstring.

TC9.SpoonBLOG


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The benefit of the camp walkthroughs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2015 – 10:09 am

Bruce Arians has never made it much secret — crystallized with his “Camp Cupcake” line — that he would prefer to have a couple of practices a day, instead of the one lengthy one and a walkthrough in the morning, as mandated by the CBA. But there is one big benefit of the walkthrough. Injured players can take part.

Arians pointed out that he wasn’t that concerned with the time missed by veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, because Weatherspoon is able to go through all the plays on defense every day. The same goes for running backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson, who can learn the playbook even though they aren’t stressing their problem hamstrings. The walkthroughs are a big reason the Cards had no problem activating tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from their respective lists even though they aren’t quite ready to participate much in practice. On the list, no walkthrough. Activated from the list and those guys can do just as intended — walk through the plays.

Ellington, for instance, is still the first-string running back on some plays in walkthrough. It’s not perfect. Guys still have to play football to get better at football — Arians pointed out he still needs to see Johnson in pads, for instance — but knowing that injured players aren’t completely shut out is important to Arians and his coaches.

GreshBlogUSE


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RB injuries, yes, but at least Peterson is healthy

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2015 – 12:52 pm

Both David Johnson and Andre Ellington aren’t practicing today because of hamstring issues. Bruce Arians doesn’t think Johnson’s problem is serious, and Ellington was pulled from Sunday’s work because his hamstring got a little tight and he will be kept from today’s practice as a precaution. Not ideal — especially for Johnson — but it’s early. At least cornerback Patrick Peterson said today his diabetes is under control to the point where he considers himself “diabetes free.” That’s great news.

The Cardinals also activated tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from the Physically Unable to Perform and non-football injury lists, respectively. Neither will jump right into practice, Arians said, but taking them off the list means they can at least participate in walkthroughs and hopefully soon at least some individual drills.

The news on rookie linebacker Shaq Riddick was not as good. Arians said he’ll miss some time after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring injury. It’s the same hamstring tear that has kept him out virtually the entire time he was drafted. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) remains day-to-day.


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Weatherspoon tweaks hammy, and camp stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2015 – 1:08 pm

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon hurt his hamstring during the first practice Saturday, but coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think it’s serious and even joked Sunday that Weatherspoon “just wants to be fresh for pads” when the Cards finally put them on Monday. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Shaq Riddick — who missed all but one practice in OTAs and minicamp with a bad hamstring — re-aggravated that hamstring injury and is undergoing an MRI. Linebacker Daryl Sharpton has a “very minor” hip flexor.

Other lunchtime notes:

— The Cardinals are hoping to take tight end Jermaine Gresham off the PUP list soon, so he can start playing his way into football shape. Arians compared Gresham’s situation to the one John Abraham was in last training camp when he showed up after missing most of the offseason.

— Arians said rookie wide receiver J.J. Nelson (pictured below) had a good first day. “I think he caught the DBs’ attention,” Arians said. Nelson can be a return man, but there should be a difficult fight for a fifth receiver slot with Brittan Golden, among others, and the top four spots going to Fitz, Floyd and the two J. Browns.

— There wasn’t much said about Jonathan Cooper by Arians except that he’s doing really well. There’s a reason. “Don’t want to jinx him,” Arians said.

— If there are any questions about Andre Ellington’s use after his injury-riddled 2014, there shouldn’t be. “I still want Andre to have in the neighborhood of 20 touches a game,” Arians said.

NelsonBlog


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2015 – 3:11 pm

The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.

So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.

That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:

(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)

DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.

NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.

DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.

OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.

ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.

ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.

OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.

CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.

CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.

SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.

FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.

DefensiveHuddleBloguse

 


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The gains and losses of free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2015 – 10:44 am

The Cardinals signed linebacker Darryl Sharpton last week and the timing meant something. By signing Sharpton Wednesday, the Cardinals cleared the date for free agents signing counting against them for next year’s compensatory pick equation. Any free agent signed at the point will not count.

(The Cardinals were awarded one comp pick this past draft; they ended up with the final selection of the whole thing, which they used on Lousiville tight end Gerald Christian.)

It’s too early to know exactly how the comp pick equation might play out. Part of how it’s determined is playing time in the upcoming season. It also takes into account how much money for which each player signed. A quick look at who the Cardinals could have counting for and against them in the comp pick equation next draft. As always, a quick reminder that if a player was cut by the Cards or cut by another team, he does not qualify on these lists. For example, losing Darnell Dockett does not factor in because Dockett was released.:

FREE AGENTS GAINED

G Mike Iupati (5 years, $40M)
DT Corey Peters (3 years, $10.5M)
DE Cory Redding (2 years, $6M)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (1 year, $3.6M)

FREE AGENTS LOST

LB Sam Acho (1 year, $825,000)
CB Antonio Cromartie (4 years, $32M)
G Paul Fanaika (3 years, $6.1M)
TE Rob Housler (1 year, $1.76M)
DT Dan Williams (4 years, $25M)

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim make another signing (or two) at some point before camp, or even into camp. But the numbers are set for the compensatory math.

FAcompblog


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With workouts, volunteering to be paid

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2015 – 4:31 pm

When the strength and conditioning program begins for the Cardinals (and around most of the league) April 20, the tendency is to wonder, “Who isn’t there?” Then becomes the rash of “Remember, it’s only voluntary” answers.

(The teams with new head coaches can begin sooner.)

As the years have gone on and teams have hoped that their players would show up to such voluntary work, many contracts have been drawn up with workout bonuses attached. For a pretty good chunk of change, the players just have to come to a high percentage of the voluntary workout dates. The Cardinals are no different.

A list of the players on the active roster that have workout bonuses. (NT Alameda Ta’amu has a workout-like bonus, but that money is tied to making weight, not just showing up to work):

P Dave Zastudil $270,000
DE Calais Campbell $250,000
QB Drew Stanton $250,000
LB Sean Weatherspoon $250,000
S Rashad Johnson $150,000
DT Corey Peters $150,000
LB Matt Shaughnessy $125,000
CB Patrick Peterson $100,000
LB Lorenzo Alexander $100,000
S Tyrann Mathieu $50,000
C/G A.Q. Shipley $25,000
C/G Ted Larsen $25,000

ShaughnWOuse


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