Finding another Freddie

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2011 – 11:36 am

In 2002, the Cardinals signed tight end Freddie Jones as a free agent. He had a good start to his NFL career while in San Diego, and he was an upgrade at the position. Turns out he was necessary that season too, because starting receivers Frank Sanders and David Boston each suffered injuries (as did MarTay Jenkins and Bryan Gilmore, the No. 3 and 4 guys) and with green wideouts like Jason McAddley and Nate Poole forced to play, a tight end was incredibly important.

So, for the one and only time since the Cardinals moved to Arizona, a tight end – Jones – was the team’s leading pass catcher in a season. Jones had 44 receptions for 358 yards and one touchdown that season. Jones was even better the next season, with 55 receptions for 517 yards (that was Anquan Boldin’s rookie year, though, with 101 catches). And in 2004, Jones had 45 receptions for 426 yards.

By 2005, though, Jones was gone. And the Cards have been searching for a tight end since.

As of now, that hope rests with third-round pick Rob Housler out of Florida Atlantic, a speedy 6-foot-5 H-back type who should be able to stretch the field. His blocking needs work, something he admitted already, but it would help to have a quality receiving option in that spot.

Since Jones left, it’s been a lot about hope unfulfilled. The undrafted tandem of Eric Edwards and Troy Bienemann was the first attempt. Then Leonard Pope was drafted, and while he flashed a couple of times, it was clear after 2007 and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s first season he wouldn’t be the answer. Ben Patrick – whose contract is expiring — also flashed a few times as a seventh-rounder (especially with his TD catch in the Super Bowl) but he never has made a huge impact and never had more than 15 catches in a season.

Granted, in the Warner years, using three- and four-wideouts made more sense, especially when the wideouts had the talent that the Cardinals did. Whisenhunt made clear Housler could be split wide at times and create mismatches, however. And, as many fans have pointed out, when you are breaking in a younger quarterback, the safety valve of a quality tight end can help with the learning curve.

Housler will get a chance to show what he has, and there is a chance the Cards also look in free agency. Jim Dray should be back, and Stephen Spach could be too; Patrick may be more iffy depending on who else is signed. The Cards will have at least four tight ends in training camp.

We’ll see if any of them can, at the very least, echo Freddie Jones.

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Considering change

Posted by Darren Urban on March 7, 2011 – 11:29 am

One faithful reader e-mailed me this weekend, asking for details on restricted free-agency rules and what it would mean to have tendered more of the possible restricted guys. His concern was the amount of turnover there could be on the roster.

A quick recap: Seven players were tendered RFA offers. Of those, four have already played four NFL seasons, meaning if the new collective bargaining agreement reverts back to its pre-2010 form as it regards to free agency, the tender offers will not matter and those players (Breaston, Lutui, Sendlein, Branch) will be unrestricted. Bringing them all back in that scenario is not a lock by any stretch.

There’s also the analysis of the rest of the list and those RFAs who weren’t tendered, which will make them UFAs when a new CBA is reached — guys like Ben Patrick (a four-year guy) and Stephen Spach at tight end, Kenny Iwebema at defensive end and cornerback/special teamer Michael Adams. I’d expect some of them to come back, although not all. It’s impossible to know what the salary comparisons were to tender or not to tender because that is all TBD with the new CBA.

Regardless, there is potential for major roster change. That probably shouldn’t be a shock after a 5-11 season. Churning the bottom of the roster always is possible after every season, and with so many free-agents-to-be NFL-wide, it may be even more likely this offseason (once the CBA is determined). What that will mean specifically for the Cards is impossible to know. They’ve already plotted out free agency — they, like every team, needed to be ready by last weekend when free agency was originally supposed to start — and have players targeted. Does that mean current players would be on the backburner in case replacements are signed? Sure it could. It will also be interesting to see the demand on certain lower-tier players in a flooded market.

UPDATE: Bob in the comments has asked me to explain tender offers. In a nutshell, a tender offer to a restricted free agent gives teams the right of first refusal or at least compensation for a player if he leaves. For instance, take tendered Tim Hightower. We don’t know exactly what level he was tendered, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he was tendered at a second-round level. That means, for a set salary (last year it was in the  ballpark of $2 million, if I recall correctly) the Cards hold his rights. If Hightower signs as a free agent elsewhere, the Cards have two options: Match the contract he signed, or let Hightower go and receive a second-round pick in return. If he didn’t sign anywhere else, he can sign the tender offer for the scheduled salary (or, in theory, sign a long-term deal).

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Who is expiring?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2011 – 2:53 pm

Regardless of the status of the CBA, the Cardinals have a chunk of players whose contracts will expire whenever the league year ends. What that means for free agency is uncertain because the CBA will address those rules. But as an FYI, here is a list of the current Cardinals who will have their contract run out this offseason. If a player has an asterisk, he has at least four accrued seasons in the NFL:

  • FB Nehemiah Broughton
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • FB Reagan Maui’a
  • RB Jason Wright*
  • WR Max Komar
  • WR Steve Breaston*
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • C Ben Claxton
  • G Alan Faneca*
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Deuce Lutui*
  • C Lyle Sendlein*
  • DL Alan Branch*
  • DL Keilen Dykes
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DL Bryan Robinson*
  • DT Gabe Watson*
  • LB Curtis Gatewood
  • LB Cyril Obiozor
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • S Hamza Abdullah
  • CB Michael Adams
  • CB Trumaine McBride
  • S Matt Ware*
  • P Ben Graham*

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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2011 – 11:58 pm

It seemed like the question to ask, so I was asking it. Is it a relief to have this season over?

The answers were measured. Alan Faneca talked about the one plus was that the Cards were back to 0-0 moving forward. Tim Hightower talked about the wish it wasn’t over, and yet end of the nightmare that was.

“Not really a relief, but we are glad it’s over from the standpoint of all the negative that happened to this group,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Now we get a fresh start.”

No question a fresh start is needed. I’m not going to get into everything right now – gotta have something to write about in the coming days – but after a 5-11 season, changes are needed, and changes are coming. That’s for sure.

“I learned a lot this year myself,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, and I am sure everyone is curious to know how that will manifest itself.

Whisenhunt wouldn’t talk about the possibility of changes on the coaching staff. Not sure he will tomorrow morning at his season-ending presser either. I am sure he will be asked again tomorrow however, and unless he comes out and says specifically there will be no changes, I would think there’s a good chance something will happen.

— Some comments by team president Michael Bidwill during a pre-game radio interview Sunday:

On the season overall: “We did not expect to go in and have the losing streak we had, to have the offense struggle, to have the defense break down at times. I think this offseason will be dedicated to how we get better. What are the types of players we build around? What are some of the other things we can do? (We need to) make sure we provide the best Cardinal football we can.”

On specific problems: “We’ve got some areas to shore up. Obviously quarterback play was a big issue for us this year. We’ve got to get more out of our running game, we’ve got to get more out of our defense. Our defense has got to be able to stop opposing offenses on third down.”

Bidwill said the coaches will evaluate the whole roster in the next few days and then the decision-makers will meet later in the week to determine the path of the offseason.

— Not a good day for DRC. Three penalties (one was declined) and he gave up three passes of at least 20 yards. “You’re always frustrated when someone catches a ball on you,” he said. “They played well. They came out fired up, and they wanted it more bad than we did.” Rodgers-Cromartie already acknowledged his year hasn’t been the best. He needs a big rebound performance in 2011.

— Larry Fitzgerald only had 79 catches coming into the game. It’s stunning he got to 90 for the season – becoming the first player in NFL history to have at least 90 catches in five of his first seven seasons. Fitz is one of only four players in NFL history to have at least four straight seasons of 90-plus catches, joining Torry Holt (6), Marvin Harrison (5) and Jerry Rice (4).

— About not throwing to Fitz … 17 targets? They started throwing to him despite double-coverage. And he made several Fitz catches. Shades of his 2008 playoff run, I thought.

TE Stephen Spach said his calf injury was just something that would keep him out a couple of weeks. So nothing huge, but incredibly bad timing.

— Faneca said he hasn’t made any retirement decisions. “I’m going to step away and think about things and talk with the wife, the boss and figure things out.”

— That’s it for tonight. The Cards have one final locker room availability tomorrow morning, then a meeting, then Whisenhunt will meet the media. Then an offseason of overhaul.

I’ll cover it all, so stay tuned.

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Hyphen, Patrick, Porter sit UPDATE Spach out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2011 – 12:43 pm

UPDATE: TE Stephen Spach hurt his left calf in warmups — after inactives came out — so he can’t play today. Jim Dray is the lone tight end. It’ll be interesting if long snapper Mike Leach gets a chance to play a little tight end today. It’s an injury that obviously hurts.

LaRod Stephens-Howling won’t get a chance to add to his NFL-leading kickoff return yardage today. He’s one of the Cards’ inactives, still nursing his hamstring injury after pre-game work showed it to be a no-go. Andre Roberts will return kicks in his place. And as expected, LB Joey Porter (tricep) will sit again, with O’Brien Schofield playing in his place. Tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) is also sitting out after testing his leg out pre-game. The rest of the inactives:

  • QB Derek Anderson (third QB)
  • CB A.J. Jefferson
  • CB Marshay Green
  • LB Gerald Hayes
  • C Ben Claxton

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Injuries, illness and stepping away

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2010 – 2:00 pm

Linebacker Joey Porter (tricep) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) improved a bit and coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was encouraged by their efforts. “Whether that means they play Saturday, that’ll be tough,” Whisenhunt said. The players seem matter-of-fact about their situations — “Can’t do nothing about it,” Porter said — although with only two games left, there has to be optimism they can at least return for the San Francisco game, because otherwise, the team might just find another option and put them on injured reserve.

— Quarterback Derek Anderson and tight end Stephen Spach also were absent today because they were ill. But in the spirit of the season, Whisenhunt, while talking about Anderson, deadpanned “it wasn’t reported like Tom Brady was, when he was out with the flu, but it’s a similar situation.”

— Whisenhunt touched on the notion of giving some playcalling duties to passing game coordinator Mike Miller, saying it is a natural progression that will only continue to grow for Miller.

“There are a lot of things going on on game day you have to be on top of, and fortunately we have a number of good coaches on the staff to help with that,” Whisenhunt said. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction when you call good plays or call a game with good success. That’s part of what I have done successfully for a number of years and it’s hard to step away from that.”

— The next-to-last Big Red Rage is tonight. Adrian Wilson’s guest is kicker Jay Feely for the broadcast, which is live at 6 p.m. at Majerle’s Sports Grill at Chandler Fashion Center (give yourself time withe the traffic, if you plan on going). It will be aired live on Sports 620 KTAR (and also streamed live right here).

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Panthers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2010 – 6:50 pm

That high the Cardinals were on last week after beating up the Broncos? Gone today. In a season that has already been disappointing, to lose to a team with just one win hurts a lot. Plus, the Cards head into a short week and have to play a team Christmas night that has found its groove in the Dallas Cowboys.

It was tough not to notice the growing pains of quarterback John Skelton Sunday. The offense simply doesn’t have consistency – which was brought up time and again – and struggles to score touchdowns. “It’s just getting old,” Larry Fitzgerald said.

— The Cards actually seemed to do a good job putting themselves in manageable third downs, especially early. The Cards’ third down-to-go yardage in the first half: 4, 4, 3, 3 (after a five-yard penalty), 3, 4, 4, 4, 10, 5. Unfortunately, the Cardinals converted only four of those 10 plays (and one was the third-and-10.

“One of the things we’ve been battling is third downs and a lot of that is because we’ve had third and long,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We did a better job of getting into the third and (short) section.  We had good plays there and we didn’t execute.  We had guys open.  Part of that is a young quarterback and going through his reads on those things.  He’ll get better at that as he progresses.”

— Skelton was matter-of-fact about his day and his errors. He knows he is still learning. On his interception – a bad choice – he said “those are plays that at a lower level you can get away with but you come here and they’re going to make plays on defense. You know even though the plays might have gone the wrong place with the ball and they’re drops or incompletion or whatever, they are still plays I need to make.”

— One final note on Skelton: It was funny to see this quote from Panthers rookie QB Jimmy Clausen about Skelton: “That’s what I told him after the game. I said, ‘Everything will slow down for you. Just give it some time. Just keep working.’ I was in that situation before. He’s going to be a heck of a player.” Nice words, but considering Skelton actually had an NFL win before Clausen did – Sunday was Clausen’s first – and considering Clausen is just as green, it just struck me as odd.

— In terms of the quarterback situation going forward, wanted to note that Rich Bartel signed a two-year contract. Does that mean he’ll be around in 2011? Not necessarily. But he will be around in the offseason as the Cards try to figure out how they are putting together the QB puzzle for next season.

— The Cardinals used four down linemen quite a bit to battle the Panthers’ running game. It worked at times, although early on, missed tackles didn’t help the defense much. The Cards sold out to stop the run most of the day; that’s what happened on the Panthers’ lone TD when Adrian Wilson was caught on play-action and couldn’t recover to cover tight end Jeff King.

— Drops hurt the Cards again early. TE Stephen Spach, RB Beanie Wells and WR Early Doucet each had passes they couldn’t come up with (a screen to Tim Hightower, in my opinion, was a little too hard in a tight space to be considered a drop) as the Cards had those issues. Again, it might not be more than the past, but when you have trouble moving the ball, those mistakes are magnified.

“I said to our team last night, watching the Thursday Night game, early in that game they put a ball up and their player comes down with and scores a touchdown,” Whisenhunt said. “That kind of got them going and kind of set the table for San Diego.  I said that is what has got to happen for us. We have to have some guys step up and make a play for us.  We didn’t make any plays until late in the game.”

— The final defensive stats are always iffy, since coaches go back and tweak them for every team. But defensive end Calais Campbell had his best game of the season. He was credited with 11 tackles, a sack and four tackles for loss.

— Whisenhunt said he isn’t worried about losing the players or having them shut it down despite the record. “I haven’t seen it,” Whisenhunt said. And wide receiver Steve Breaston said you couldn’t think that way anyway. “You can’t cancel the season in the middle,” Breaston said.

Nope, you can’t. Fourteen down, two to go.

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Inside for the afternoon, Fitz coaches

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2010 – 6:01 pm

Larry Fitzgerald can’t practice, so he was out there coaching up the young receivers during this afternoon’s workout, which once again was in Walkup Skydome because of the rain. Even afterward, he was throwing passes to safety Hamza Abdullah on the sideline (in the picture below) as Abdullah worked on his interceptions. Fitz was reminding his teammates he was a quarterback once upon a time (not sure when, he had already broken out as gifted wideout in high school).

Anyway …

— The injury list remained the same. WR Ed Gant did practice, but WR Early Doucet (abdominal) is still out. So too were TE Ben Patrick (knee), LB Reggie Walker (hamstring, although Walker was running pretty good on the side), LB Gerald Hayes (back-PUP), LB O’Brien Schofield (knee-PUP) and S Aaron Rouse (neck). Rouse is banged up from the car accident; the Cards may have to figure out if they can hang on to him while he recovers.

— There was almost another injury of the freak variety when LB Pago Togafau was undercut by WR Onrea Jones as Jones tried to come up with a catch. Togafau was slow to get up, but he turned out to be OK.

— WR Stephen Williams had another fine showing. He was open deep on one play although the ball by Matt Leinart was slightly underthrown, allowing CB Tru McBride to knock it away. Williams also caught a nice 42-yard bomb from Leinart in the back of the end zone during the two-minute drill that looked close to good (although McBride informed me via Twitter after practice Williams was out).

— CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came in to break up what looked like a sure long gainer from Steve Breaston from Leinart a couple plays earlier.

— There were two tussles between LB Stevie Baggs and TE Stephen Spach. The first was a little more intense — facemask-grabbing and all that. At this point, it can’t be a surprise Spach gets in the middle of such things. It’s what he does (although he must do other things better too, because he started in the Texans’ game).

— Don’t forget I will be hosting a live chat tomorrow — Wednesday — at 1:30 p.m. Arizona time (4:30 p.m. EST).

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Patrick should be back for regular season

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2010 – 12:35 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said tight end Ben Patrick should be back for the regular season after hurting his left knee at practice last night.

“It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was when he was down on the field or what we thought afterward,” Whisenhunt said. “He displaced his kneecap, it’s back in, but there is no ligament damage. It’ll be a few weeks and he should be able to return. It was a lot better news than what we thought last night.”

Whisenhunt said the Cards will try and make it through Saturday with their current tight ends. Whiz doesn’t want to make a roster move, but right now, Stephen Spach and Dominique Byrd are the only healthy tight ends. Jim Dray (quad) and Anthony Becht (back) have been sitting out, although Whisenhunt said he hopes both will be back soon. Long snapper Mike Leach, who is a tight end by trade, can fill in as well.

— As for his thoughts on the night practice, Whisenhunt said “we had some mental mistakes but we have to work through them and that’s why you have those practices.”

— The coach praised the camp so far of new left tackle Levi Brown.

— As for the constant trash talking, Whisenhunt said it was part of the intensity of camp. “A lot of that chatter, that goes back to the team making each other accountable,” he said.

— A tidbit from quarterback Matt Leinart —  he took his offensive linemen on a trip to Hawaii this offseason, helping the bonding effort. Yes, Leinart paid. (UPDATE: Turns out he brought Levi Brown, Brandon Keith, Lyle Sendlein and Jeremy Bridges. Alan Faneca was already in Hawaii).

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Dockett, Levi lead an afternoon of scraps

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2010 – 6:16 pm

It was the first fully padded practice this afternoon, and it was a doozy.

It started early on, when Larry Fitzgerald and Joey Porter took a turn battling each other on punt coverage on the outside, and a Fitz blow left Porter with a bloody lip (more on that in a later blog). But that was just a taste of the 11-on-11 battles to come.

The donnybrook came first. Darnell Dockett — he’s always in these things, right? — blew up Alan Faneca and both tumbled to the ground right in front of quarterback Matt Leinart. Leinart was moving away, when Dockett swiped at his ankle and tripped him. A no-no, and Leinart wasn’t happy. When he and Dockett stood up, Leinart went up to Darnell and spiked the ball at Dockett’s feet in irritation. Then suddenly, tackle Levi Brown was there, punching Dockett in the shoulder pads sticking up for his quarterback, and the scrum was on.

The next play, tight end Stephen Spach and linebacker Cody Brown mixed it up, with Spach grabbing Brown’s facemask. It didn’t get overly heated until linebacker Joey Porter saw it happen. “Don’t let ’em grab your (expletive) facemask,” Porter screamed at Brown. A little while later, it was the third unit’s turn, when linebacker Mark Washington and offensive lineman Tom Pestock went at it, exchanging punches.

And when it was over, it was over.

“That’s what teams do,” Dockett said. “You compete, and don’t take nothing from nobody. I like it. I like the intensity, but I love at the end we come together as a family.”

Said Porter, “When you have a good team, you can fight all you want to, but when you go in the locker room, we are all one family. We’re just trying to make each other better. Fights are going to happen. As long as you can control them, it doesn’t matter.”

(Yes, we have video, and it’ll be up later tonight. The picture below of Dockett and Levi is from a video still. UPDATE: Here is the video).

Dockett admitted he was “kind of dumb” for taking out Leinart’s foot. “I shouldn’t have done that,” Dockett said. “But when you get caught in the battle, the engine turns on and you don’t think about it. I’m not trying to hurt him but I am trying to go 100 percent every time I put my hand on the ground. If I am doing that, I am making my team better.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it “typical” of training camp, but he said it was nice to see the players going hard.

“Emotions were running high,” Whisenhunt said. “When you get the crowd out here, things get revved up. You see that manifest itself in the chippiness.”

Dockett said he was proud of Levi Brown stepping in, saying it was what he expects.

“I patted him on the back and at the end of the day, that’s my family,” Dockett said. “It means something that he is doing it to me, but he better do it to another person if it is somebody else. As long as he does that, I’m happy.”

Porter said he barked at Cody Brown because a player can’t let an opponent get away with things. “You don’t have to accept that, even from a teammate,” Porter said. “My message was, don’t let that happen, especially in front of me.”

Whisenhunt thinks the Cardinals can be smart with the intense practices. Dockett thinks it’s the only way the Cardinals can get another NFC West crown.

“That’s what it’s all about. As much as you love your teammates, when you put the pads on, you have to try and kill them,” Dockett said. “That’s what it is all about. That’s the only way you can get better. You can’t come out and play 80 percent and expect to win a third divisional title. It ain’t going to happen. We have to treat (the offense) like they are the 49ers and they have to treat (the defense) like we’re the 49ers.”

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