Steve Wilks did not know Mike Thompson, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals’ head coach from reaching out to Thompson’s widow recently after Thompson’s unexpected death. Thompson was a Pop Warner coach and an assistant for Desert Ridge High School, and was only 51 years old.
“I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mike but feel as if I did after reading of his dedication to the sport of football as a coach at the Pop Warner and high school levels,” Wilks wrote in the letter to Carri Thompson. “We share in your grief over his loss but know that he lives on through the countless individuals that have been positively impacted by Mike.”
The letter meant a ton to Thompson’s family. It also underscored the type of person Wilks is, and how he keeps football in perspective.
At one point, when I was talking to Wilks for a story about who he is as a coach, Wilks emphasized his desire to let players know they have to have a life that goes beyond football. There was a famous story of Wilks as an assistant in Carolina striking up a relationship with a disabled man who worked at his local YMCA, not for the fanfare but because it just seemed like a good thing to do.
“I tell people all the time, and it’s the same thing I try to relate to the players,” Wilks said. “(Football) is what we do. This is not who we are.”
No, Wilks didn’t know Mike Thompson. But he knew what it meant for Thompson to put time in to teach children — and that his family is hurting right now. In a broader sense, that’s what Wilks was talking about in that interview a few months ago.
“I want to bring world championship here,” Wilks said. “But the true measurement of a champion does not lie within his or her trophy case. It lies within the people he or she has touched. If we’re not trying to make a difference in the lives of the people we come in contact with, to me, we’re missing the point.”
Tags: Steve Wilks
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Veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland was one of the first free agents signed back in March. He signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Panthers — only to have the deal voided when he came in for his physical and he had a foot infection suffered while on vacation. Since then, Breeland, who played last year in Washington, has been trying to get healthy.
He’s apparently OK now, because he reportedly is making visits again, and the Cardinals are on his list. Rob Demovsky of ESPN said Breeland is supposed to visit the Colts today and the Cards Thursday. The order in which a player makes his visits is always crucial, because the first team has a chance to never let him leave. Then again, it will be interesting to see what the market is monetarily for Breeland. Can he get another three-year deal like he did originally (with about $11 million guaranteed?) This is the time of year when it’s always about expectations: The expectations of the player and what he can earn, and the expectations of what a team thinks it can get a player for, especially when the free agent has made it to mid-May.
Certainly, the Cardinals have been looking at what they can do at their second cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. “We are looking for someone to step up on the other side of Patrick — whether it is Brandon (Williams), whether it is Lou Young, whether it is Bené Benwikere, whether it is (rookie Chris Campbell,” coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday. Maybe that someone comes from the outside.
Tags: Bashaud Breeland, free agency, Steve Wilks
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Not that it comes as a great surprise after a) Derrick Coleman was signed as a free agent Thursday or even b) Elijhaa Penny was getting reps in Phase Two work as a lead blocker for David Johnson, but Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy have brought the fullback back to the Cardinals. If you recall, Bruce Arians made very clear he was not going to use a fullback in his tenure (although there were times when he kinda did, even if it was embodied by a lineman like A.Q. Shipley or Evan Boehm.)
Arians preferred two tight-end sets if he was going to have only two receivers on the field. Wilks and McCoy see the fullback — or an H-back, depending on the situation — as a preferred option. The Cardinals also signed undrafted rookie fullback Austin Ramesh (pictured below).
“Derrick is going to come in and give us a boost,” Wilks said. “We really didn’t have a true fullback on the roster. Going against him within that division in the (NFC) South (when Coleman was in Atlanta and Wilks Carolina), the guy has proven himself.”
“Within our system and the things we do, a fullback is a part of that offense,” Wilks added. “It’s been a part of that offense for a while with McCoy, and even the same thing with me in Carolina. We think that’s a major part of what we are doing and we want to try and bring in a guy who shores up that position for us.”
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Austin Ramesh, Derrick Coleman, Elijhaa Penny, fullback, Mike McCoy, Steve Wilks
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The question was about how he and General Manager Steve Keim felt Saturday, two days later, about the ability to trade up and draft potential quarterback-of-the-future Josh Rosen, and Steve Wilks took the opportunity to flash back to January, when he was first hired.
“When you go back to January 22nd, when I was hired, there were questions,” Wilks said. “Here’s a guy with no head coaching experience, you have no quarterback on the roster, the offensive line has a lot of holes, there are a lot of questions about this team. And I would say this: Sight is totally different than vision. Sometimes you have to see past the difficulties. We had a plan. We had a vision.”
Wilks noted the additions on the offensive line, with Justin Pugh and Andre Smith. He noted signing quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. He reiterated the oft-used “aggressive” phrase the Cardinals have used in relation to the first-round trade and the Rosen pick.
“To be sitting in this situation now, to have what could be a future franchise quarterback for many years, you’ve got a dynamic running back who I consider to be the best in the league in David Johnson, we continue to build that offensive line, dynamic receiver (Christian Kirk) who will learn and grow from one of the best in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, so we got better,” Wilks said. “Going back and looking at it now, we’re in a great situation.”
Whether the draft class pans out is TBD. Keim has been excited about every draft class he’s had on the Saturday of the draft. Then, inevitably, some guys don’t work out. That happen with every team. But Wilks does have a point — the roster, particularly the quarterbacks, looked bleak a few months ago. Suddenly, not so much. That’s not to say Rosen — or Bradford — is a lock to star in Arizona. But they could. And if Kirk becomes the wideout the Cards want and need, if Chris Campbell fleshes out as one of Wilks’ late-round developmental gems in the secondary … yes, there are “ifs.” But the Cards are in a much different spot than they were.
— As for Keim and his Rosen reflection, he admitted “it’s a little bit of a relief” to have that future QB around. Finally.
“But at the same time, (I want) to have a little fun and watch how this thing plays out,” Keim said. “I don’t forget my evaluation on Sam Bradford, and if he can stay healthy, you could be talking about a guy who could potentially be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. I feel that strongly about how he can throw the football.”
— The Cards are in the process of agreeing with undrafted rookies. The official list won’t be out until Monday at the earliest, but I’ll probably retweet some names on Twitter if you want to look there. The official list always ends up a little different — those guys still have to pass physicals, and sometimes, players tweet out they are “signing” with a team even when they are only invited on a tryout basis.
— Last season, then-rookie safety Budda Baker missed all the offseason work other than the rookie minicamp because of an arcane NFL rule that prevented rookies from taking part until after graduation of their school. (The rule was in place to make sure guys could graduate without the pressure of having to miss time, although the reality is guys who are drafted most of the time are ready to go play football anyway.) There were a handful of schools that are on quarter systems and don’t graduate until mid-June. UCLA is one, meaning Rosen normally would have been out like Baker was. But the NFL changed the rule last fall, and Rosen will be able to be around.
“We all know you can’t get that time back,” Wilks said.
Tags: Budda Baker, Chris Campbell, Christian Kirk, draft, Josh Rosen, Sam Bradford, Steve Keim, Steve Wilks
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In the brief time Steve Wilks has been head coach of the Cardinals, he does not come across as someone prone to hyperbole. So when he praises 2016 first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche after Nkemdiche’s first two underwhelming NFL seasons, it’s easy to take note.
“Robert is a very intriguing guy,” Wilks said of the defensive tackle. “I constantly talk to Robert all week about tempo … (because) I really have to slow Robert down. We don’t have on pads. And that’s a great thing. That’s a real good thing. You want to be able to slow guys down, not tell them to pick it up. Robert is going to be tremendous for us this year. He’s locked in, he’s focused, he came back in shape, he’s ready to go.”
Nkemdiche needs to do more on the field. He has acknowledged that. But all last season, his work ethic and practice habits earned him praise from coaches. Now he’s getting more from a new staff. He just needs to translate it to the football field. At this point, his draft status doesn’t mean much — one-time undrafted DT Olsen Pierre, who had a very nice breakout season last year, was more effective than Nkemdiche — but he still has a ton of tools.
He’s also now playing for a coach who is known for getting different personalities to play well (right, Josh Norman?) and for honing in on developing players. A big step forward by Nkemdiche would be an awesome way for Wilks to immediately put that player-development stamp on his new team.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m committed to excellence this year,’ ” Wilks said. “So far, he’s been a plus on the football field. I’m excited about him.”
Tags: Josh Norman, Olsen Pierre, Robert Nkemdiche, Steve Wilks
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Steve Wilks said last week that there was “no rush” to get quarterback Sam Bradford on the field full-time, and that he would be limited in the first minicamp. And Tuesday, as the Cardinals got on the field for the first time, Bradford was indeed limited, and Wilks said afterward that wasn’t going to change.
“We will continue to do the same with Sam,” Wilks said, noting that Bradford did do “some things” with the first unit.
“He’s limited right now, so when we get a chance to work together, from what I’ve seen, which is on tape or standing across the field watching when he was playing for the Rams, he’s a pinpoint passer,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He’s extremely accurate, he can make all the throws than anybody would ever ask.
“Moreso me, I just need to learn (about) him, gain his trust by showing him every day I’m capable of making the plays he needs me to make.”
Wilks wasn’t going to get more expansive about Bradford, but it wasn’t limited to the quarterback’s status either. When asked about rehabbing players like tackle D.J. Humphries and defensive end Markus Golden, Wilks declined to talk much about what point they are at with their injuries.
“I don’t really try to put timetables on things,” Wilks said. “I don’t try to create promises. We just want to have results.”
Tags: D.J. Humphries, Larry Fitzgerald, Markus Golden, Sam Bradford, Steve Wilks
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Steve Wilks won’t be holding any joint practices in training camp in his first season — “I wanted to concentrate on us,” he said Tuesday — but what will be interesting is the amount of practices held inside University of Phoenix Stadium as opposed to not. In the heat of August, getting in the air-conditioning building holds heavy sway, but as the new Cardinals’ coach said, “we will try and get out as much as possible.”
“I know the weather is an issue out here,” Wilks said. “I’ve talked to the trainers about that on several occasions. (Head athletic trainer) Tom (Reed) has looked at me (like), ‘OK.’ We’ll definitely see how it goes. I think it’s all about building that callus up. But I’m going to be smart.”
Wilks isn’t unaware. He told a story about when he was an assistant with the then-San Diego Chargers, and when the team got off the plane, it was 118 degrees. The Chargers were staying in the Biltmore area, and Wilks, it being a night game, was looking to walk around and maybe get a bite to eat earlier on game day.
“I’m just going to get out and walk around,” he said. “I got out to the tunnel and I turned right around and said ‘room service.’ It was hot.”
So Wilks knows what it can be like, obviously.
“I’m listening to the stories,” Wilks added. “I’m saying we’re going to be outside, but we’ll see.”
Tags: Chargers, Steve Wilks, training camp
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Thanks to a new coaching staff, the Cardinals are allowed to have an extra couple weeks of offseason work. That means Tuesday, players will return for the beginning of the voluntary offseason program (azcardinals.com will have coverage). This is only Phase One of the three-phase offseason, which includes Phase Two (on-field work without helmets) and Phase Three (OTAs). There is also the mandatory minicamp in mid-June and a voluntary minicamp in just a couple of weeks — April 17-19 — which will be the first time the players will be doing football-related things on the field.
It’ll also be the first time the new coaching staff and Steve Wilks will be able to interact with players on more than just a cursory hello, because meetings can start. The heavy lifting of the offseason is still to come, but the relationship between staff and roster begins this week.
Tags: minicamp, offseason, Steve Wilks
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The majority of the Cardinals’ own unrestricted free agents have found a home going into the 2018 offseason, but there are still some that have not yet signed anywhere. The door isn’t necessarily closed that one — or a couple — could come back.
“It’s still a possibility,” coach Steve Wilks said at the NFL league meetings in Orlando. “I know some of those guys have gone on and gotten with (other) teams, but in that second wave, third wave, we can circle back and find out from a financial standpoint if it is feasible (for someone to return.)”
Feasible usually means how much the player is willing to take monetarily. He also has to still fit in the depth chart, and we are creeping closer to the time when teams will simply put free agency on hold until after the draft, to see what holes are filled in that regard.
Of the remaining free agents the Cards still have, some could make sense to return: guards Alex Boone and Earl Watford, since the line could still use more depth; safety Tyvon Branch after the release of Tyrann Mathieu (although the significant knee injury Branch suffered last season will be a factor, as will his age); running back Kerwynn Williams; defensive lineman Frostee Rucker; and, given a position shortage, tight end Troy Niklas. (The full Cardinals’ free-agent tracker is here.)
The Cardinals will eventually get to 90 on the offseason roster, but they are at 63 now. (Update: Make that 64.) Usually, between draft picks and undrafted rookies, the Cards add around 25 players. That would leave a couple spots still — and, of course, if they found a better option, they could also eventually release someone already in place.
Tags: Alex Boone, Earl Watford, free agency, Frostee Rucker, Kerwynn Williams, Steve Wilks, Troy Niklas, Tyvon Branch
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There has been a ton of roster movement for all four teams in the NFC West this offseason, and it was hard not to notice the most recent by the odds-on division favorite L.A. Rams. They signed Ndamukong Suh to add to Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers as an incredibly formidable defensive line. It does not bode well for the rest of the division, including — obviously — the Cardinals.
“I commend the Rams for what they are doing,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday at the NFL owners’ meetings. “You know how they are on offense already with (Todd) Gurley and (jared) Goff, and they are trying to shore up that defense. It’s going to be a very competitive year in the west with some difficult games in the division. But the biggest thing we will do, we are always going to keep the focus on us. That’s the most important thing.”
Wilks is still in the middle of getting together his initial roster. The draft hasn’t even occurred. To be clear, at some point, the focus will be on the Rams — or Seahawks, or 49ers — when those teams come up (twice) on the schedule. The Cardinals were already trying to upgrade the offensive line, so it’s not like a new Rams’ defensive line is changing that thought process. Wilks still hasn’t gotten a chance to fully outline his philosophy and culture with the players (that comes next week when the players return for the start of the offseason program), so there is still a lot to do before getting to opponents, division or not.
Tags: Ndamukong Suh, NFC West, Rams, Steve Wilks
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