Cards to take a look at CFL pass rusher

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2016 – 5:03 pm

The search for pass rushers is leading the Cardinals to investigate one of the best of the Canadian Football League. The agent of defensive end/linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo of the Toronto Argonauts tweeted that Okpalaugo is coming in for a workout with the Cardinals after doing the same with the Seahawks and the Jets. The agent also said the Jets have already made Okpalaugo an offer.

UPDATE: The Cardinals signed Okpalaugo.

Okpalaugo, 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, had 11 sacks in 14 games this season for Toronto after posting 12 in 17 games for the Argonauts in 2014. He went to the CFL after brief stops with the Dolphins, Vikings and Cowboys, failing to get on to a 53-man roster after being undrafted out of Fresno State. But he’s had CFL success, and perhaps that will change his NFL future.

It isn’t the first time the Cardinals have looked at pass rushers from Canada. The Cards had Cameron Wake in for a workout during the playoff run to the 2008 Super Bowl — presumably for the following season — but decided to pass. Wake turned into a Pro Bowler for the Dolphins with 70 career sacks since 2009. There is no guarantee Okpalaugo, 26, will become the next Wake. He might end up as the next Stevie Baggs, a pass rusher the Cards did sign and try and work into the defense.

Perhaps most interesting is the teams involved here. The Cards know each situation well. The Jets, of course, are led by former Cards’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. And the Seahawks are in an arms race with the Cardinals for NFC West supremacy.

Tristan Okpalaugo

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Cody Brown among cuts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2010 – 2:03 pm

Here are the players that have been reported as cut by the Cards so far; when coach Ken Whisenhunt meets with the media at 3 p.m. a full list is expected. Keep checking back here for updates.

Obviously G Reggie Wells was dealt. LB Gerald Hayes (back) was placed on PUP, meaning he’ll miss the first six weeks. And LB Mark Washington was waived/injured:

  • TE Anthony Becht
  • LB Stevie Baggs
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • T Herman Johnson
  • T Tom Pestock
  • LB Cody Brown
  • DE Jeremy Clark
  • DE John Fletcher
  • CB Trevor Ford
  • WR Ed Gant
  • WR Mike Jones
  • WR Onrea Jones
  • CB Justin Miller
  • G Jonathan Palmer
  • FB Charles Scott
  • WR Isaiah Williams

WR Max Komar tweeted he made the team, and QB John Skelton has also made the team. Matt Leinart hasn’t gone anywhere yet. Big surprise so far is Brown, given he was a second-round pick. Obviously he is a big disappointment, since the coaches knew what they had even though he didn’t play most of last year.

The Cards still have three moves to make by tomorrow.

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Titans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2010 – 11:29 pm

Obviously, the storyline coming out of Monday night’s game is the quarterbacks. It’s always the quarterbacks.

There’s nothing I can write to convince people who already believe Leinart is an epic fail that’s it could be otherwise. He connects with Stephen Williams on that bomb down the field – and Williams was easily open – everything is different. Leinart has his one bomb, the Cards move the ball a little, etc. But that didn’t happen, and it’s fair to argue it was on Leinart to get the ball there (coach Ken Whisenhunt did note Williams didn’t run the greatest route).

So where does that leave the Cards – and by extension, us?

Probably right where we were before. My guess is the Cards will break down the tape, see the Titans bringing the house (and Leinart under heavy pressure nearly every play), see the running game providing no support, and figure with a better game plan, Leinart would have been OK. Had Derek Anderson been awesome perhaps that’d change the dynamic, but aside from Anderson’s 37-yard pass to Williams – which was a nice pass – Anderson had a lot of the same issues and Leinart.

All I know is that I’m happy there is another game relatively quickly. Nothing been decided yet, and it takes games to push that progress.

Among the other things here late in Nashville:

— The defense looked solid early, forcing two three-and-outs to start the game. They just want to continue that. “It was decent, the thing is, the coaching staff was expecting us to sustain that passion we were playing with,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “I thought we did pretty well, but we have to do it every series.”

On the next drive, safety Kerry Rhodes took a bad angle on the Titans’ first big pass play (30 yards) and CB Trumaine McBride was beat on the next play for 28 yards, setting up the first TD. Still, the Cards are probably generally happy with where the defense is right now, especially when – again – game-planning is at a minimum.

— Linebacker Daryl Washington didn’t flash as much as the first preseason game. Who did? LaRod Stephens-Howling had some nice runs and he continues to look like a Pro Bowl special teamer. I thought linebacker Stevie Baggs made some plays, and the fact he afterward was lamenting the few assignments he missed is a good sign of focusing on getting better.

— I am interested in seeing what the analysis is on the offensive line. Very difficult to see what was happening since the Titans were bringing the kitchen sink early on. I don’t know what the assignments were or who was supposed to block who, but Tim Hightower lost four yards on his first three carries. One replay showed tackle Levi Brown looking to block someone but, given the circumstances, he couldn’t get his hands on anyone. Again, as Whisenhunt said, there were opportunities but the Cards couldn’t execute.

“This is the time of year where (coaches) are going to look to see who will win the one-on-one battles,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “When they are blitzing people, us up front, everyone has a man they have to block. Outside, you have to win routes and the running backs have to pick up players and the quarterback has to get the ball out.”

— Finally, the leap of Lavelle Hawkins over cornerback Marshay Green was ESPN’s top play of the night, but man, it’s hard to get on Green. It’s not like Marshay dove at the guy’s ankles and Hawkins went over. Green actually came almost all the way up on his 5-foot-10-ish frame and Hawkins still cleared him (Sure, Green could have extended his arms for the trip, but I’m trying to stay positive here). It was just a great individual effort. And made for a nice picture.

Talk to you tomorrow. (Today?)

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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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Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2010 – 9:58 am

Ahh, the preseason. Finally a game to watch, a game from which to make judgments instead of practice after practice.

But how much can be judged? That’s always the big question. Inevitably, we will be told that what we saw as media and fans wasn’t enough to know what’s what – like Matt Leinart’s bad game in Oakland in 2008 that, according to coaches, didn’t torpedo his chances to start.

But it is football. So the top five things I hope to see are:

— Leinart taking control. It’s early and Leinart’s playing time will be limited. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’s looking for intangible things as much as tangible, like the way Leinart works the huddle. Makes sense to me. Playing quarterback is about talent, but it’s as much about making guys believe they can follow you to victories. That’s what Leinart had in college (and, I believe, what he had when he first showed up in Arizona).

And yes, I want to see how Derek Anderson performs too, but I think this week, it’s mostly about Matt.

— Toler playing well on an island. In this vanilla-type of game, Greg Toler (and the other cornerbacks) will have a chance at one-on-one coverage. It’s not the easiest baptism, but necessary. Toler needs to make a play or two and take a step forward toward a starting job that, in my opinion, the Cards need him to grab hold.

— Who makes an impact at linebacker. The coaches like what Paris Lenon has done so far. But can rookie Daryl Washington avoid some rookie mistakes? Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are givens. But can Cody Brown look as improved against another team as he has against some of the Cards’ second-stringers? What outside linebackers hoping to make the team – a Stevie Baggs, a Mark Washington, for instance – can do enough to earn further consideration?

— Who can handle the bright lights. Wide receiver Stephen Williams has played well at camp, and quarterback Max Hall has impressed (and at this point, has clearly outplayed John Skelton). But that’s just in practice. When the lights go on, the stakes change. They and a bunch of other younger guys need to prove the play can carry over.

— Deuce versus Reggie versus the whole offensive line. Can Deuce Lutui play well enough to push Reggie Wells out of the starting five? How will Alan Faneca look? Levi Brown at left tackle instead of right? Brandon Keith as starter? The Texans have a pretty decent defensive line, so the starters should get a little bit of a test.

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Baggs taking nothing for granted

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2010 – 8:01 am

It was a typical interview after practice Friday, with questions about fighting to make the roster and assessing how his play had been thus far in Flagstaff. Linebacker Stevie Baggs was coming off what looked like his best practice of camp, and the former CFL star was asked — after spending seven years playing everywhere else trying to get a training camp shot in the NFL — if he was getting any chance to enjoy the moment.

“I had a real, real emotional moment in my room today,” Baggs said. “Just thinking about how, on my worst day, it’s somebody else’s paradise. My aunt passed from cancer last August …”

Baggs actually looked away for a few seconds, trying not to let the emotion — or the tears fighting to get out — take over.

“Even when I can’t play football, man,” he continued, “I still have my life, my strength. Those are the types of things I was thinking about. I think about it often. ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ If you want a lot in life, if you want a lot in what you do, you have to put in and work.”

Baggs is growing comfortable in what he is doing, even if the Cards have a logjam of outside linebackers. He is currently running third-team, behind starters Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, and backups Cody Brown and Will Davis. But he should get some chances to play in games, and — as a defensive end racking up sacks during his Canadian Football League stint — has a definite knack to get to the quarterback. He thinks he has done well at practice, which he knows is important.

“I think you can make a ton of inroads, because if you don’t show up in practice, you won’t be here,” Baggs said. “You won’t make it to the game, truthfully.

“I’m just so excited about this opportunity to be here. I want to take advantage of every play, every rep, so I get get better. The more comfortable you are with the playbook, the more comfortable you are playing football. Simple as that. I’m just trying to do my due diligence.”

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A full afternoon, yet shorter

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2010 – 5:48 pm

The Cardinals were in pads Friday afternoon, but considering they have to practice in pads again first thing in the morning — the Red-White practice starts at 9:15 a.m. — it wasn’t all that surprising to see them stop about 4:45, or 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. There were some nice plays, but mostly, that intensity that had carried through the week seemed to have dissipated a little bit. The players I am sure are tired. I would guess it’ll be ramped up by the end of tomorrow’s work, but that is tomorrow.

— Linebacker Stevie Baggs looked very good this afternoon. The former CFL star is still running third-team, but he still believes he has a shot. The way he looked today, I will say I am interested to see what he can do in a preseason game.

— Cornerback Trumaine McBride was out in the afternoon with a groin injury, so suddenly it makes a little more sense why the Cards were running so many corners through the first team during the morning workout.

— Quarterback Matt Leinart followed up a good day of practice yesterday with another pretty good day. There was a bomb to Steve Breaston that was broken up by safety Kerry Rhodes when it looked like Leinart could have thrown it a tad earlier (Breaston had to slow down at the end to try and make a catch). But Leinart did hit Larry Fitzgerald on a nice pass to beat DRC (although it was tough not to notice Fitz’s subtle push off on DRC. The official — in town for the practice tomorrow — didn’t flag Fitz. DBs coach Donnie Henderson wasn’t thrilled about that). At this point, I think Leinart has separated himself from Derek Anderson. Then again, I think games mean more than practice and we’ll see what happens starting a week from tomorrow.

— I don’t know what is up with WR Early Doucet,  but for the second straight day he didn’t do much in the afternoon even though he is out there and in uniform. Doucet did go down early in Wednesday night’s practice — for a moment, it felt like an “Uh oh …” kind of thing, but he returned. It did look like he banged up his knee a little that night; maybe they are just being cautious. I don’t know. And again, I am speculating.

— Last thing. While linebacker Joey Porter and defensive tackle Bryan Robinson took another veteran day off, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continues to look very good. I know Fitz hasn’t been in the league as much as some of these other guys, but as a superstar, you could see where maybe they’d at least slow him down. Nope. He seems to be taking all the reps he normally would, and doing it at a high level.

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Playing 60

Posted by Darren Urban on May 6, 2010 – 2:38 pm

I spent the morning out at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the NFL’s “Play 60” campaign — the one where the league tries to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day — was culminating locally with a special event out on one of the lawns around the stadium. Twelve local schools participated in the “Play 60” challenge and the top 50 students from each school got to attend Thursday’s fun, which included appearances by a handful of Cards: Stevie Baggs (pretending to take on a “ballcarrier” below), Ben Graham, Ryan Kees, Reagan Maui’a, Dean Muhtadi and Ed Gant (below both expressing surprise after a “made” field goal). Cardinals cheerleaders conducted a clinic, local “Biggest Loser” contestants Sione and Filipe Fa and ex-Cards Robert Tate and MarTay Jenkins took part, and of course, Big Red was there too.

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As minicamp arrives

Posted by Darren Urban on April 29, 2010 – 11:24 am

It feels like we were just here, prepping for minicamp, waiting for Beanie Wells to arrive from the airport for his introductory press conference, wondering what Fan Fest would be like coming off a Super Bowl appearance. The years certainly zoom by.

But this minicamp, for so many reasons, seems more intriguing that most. Many years there is a storyline or two that excites; in 2006, Matt Leinart’s first time on the field, last year it was about Beanie. But for sheer number of important and interesting topics to follow, this one may reign. A few of the key things to pay attention to starting tomorrow (minicamp is two practices Friday, two Saturday, one Sunday morning):

Lining up on offense: Adding Alan Faneca to the offensive line mix has really made that unit tops to watch. Faneca will be in there, that much seems obvious. How will Levi Brown do moving to left tackle from the right side? Who is the right tackle — Reggie Wells? Brandon Keith? Jeremy Bridges? Can Herman Johnson make a play? Does Deuce Lutui sign his tender and force the Cards to keep him on the field? Where does Rex Hadnot fit? Offensive line coach Russ Grimm told me “we will play the best five.” Who will that be?

Small-school corners: DRC is already a lock, hailing from Tennessee State. Now the other starting corner is probably going to be Greg Toler, from Saint Paul’s in Virginia. Toler did well in short stints as a rookie, but he has to prove he can hold up. And with Bryant McFadden gone, who steps up as a nickel guy?

Those inside ‘backers: Can Daryl Washington show something early? Will the pressure of replacing Karlos Dansby fall to Paris Lenon? And what about a guy like Ali Highsmith — can he make a run at playing time while Washington grows up in the NFL?

Oh yeah, there’s the quarterback: It’s Leinart’s time to take control of the QB position. But Derek Anderson has a little something to prove too, and he’s probably anxious to show that outside of what had become a toxic situation in Cleveland. Anderson should push Leinart. The Cards really need Leinart to respond in a good way.

There are other things to watch too, like how Dan Williams looks at nose tackle, or if Andre Roberts can outperform unknowns like Ed Gant, or even what the outside linebackers look like with Joey Porter and possibles such as Stevie Baggs and Mark Washington.

(And fans obviously can take a look at the public Saturday practice at Fan Fest; click here for all the details).

Football is here again.

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Some Tuesday thoughts

Posted by Darren Urban on April 13, 2010 – 12:46 pm

It feels like the calm before the storm. The Cardinals’ braintrust — general manager Rod Graves, head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the rest of the coaching staff and the scouts — continue their work building the draft board here at the end of the hall in the war room. Workouts continue downstairs (one co-worker remarked how amazing the consistent turnout of players was for the voluntary stuff, noting how dead the weight room was back in the Denny Green days). With that as a backdrop, a couple of brief talking points:

— The news the Dolphins might trade WR Ted Ginn is intriguing, at least at face value. The Cardinals could always use a dynamic return man (although Ginn hasn’t been a full-time punt returner since his 2007 rookie year) and could use a burner as a fourth receiver. That said, Ginn is due too much money for a fourth wideout (about $1 million in 2010, $1.4 M in 2011 and $1.8 M in 2012). If Santonio Holmes is only worth a fifth-rounder (and yes, he has had off-field troubles which Ginn has not), than the Dolphins can’t possibly ask for more than a sixth-rounder for Ginn.

— I don’t know if Stevie Baggs will pan out at outside linebacker, but if he sticks around, he certainly has a personality that would make him a fan favorite in my opinion. Even though he came out of college in 2004, he is practice-squad eligible. That could always come into play for a work-in-progress, although if Baggs doesn’t flash something significant in the preseason, it’ll be tough to keep an older player, even on the practice squad.

— More tomorrow, but that live chat I asked about? I am planning on it being Friday, probably late morning.

— I don’t see how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get suspended a game or two. What will be interesting is whether it comes from the league or the team, and how it impacts (if at all) the opening part of the Steelers’ schedule.

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