Kolb back by Wednesday, to start Sunday

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2012 – 12:22 pm

Quarterback Kevin Kolb indeed has a right thigh contusion, and while he may not practice this afternoon, coach Ken Whisenhunt said Kolb will return by Wednesday and he will start in the Hall of Fame game Sunday against the Saints. Starting Sunday doesn’t mean much; I’d expect that John Skelton will get a start or two in the preseason as well as the two continue to compete for the permanent starting job.

— CB Crezdon Butler has been nursing a hip flexor suffered Saturday. He is day to day.

— The Cards are considering adding a running back because of injuries, Whisenhunt said, but with Beanie Wells’ return apparently imminent (well, next week), the team doesn’t want to have too many backs either.

— Whisenhunt said LB Stewart Bradley “will be involved” this season and is pushing Paris Lenon for the starting spot.

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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2012 – 8:31 am

OK, so I missed a year (darn the lockout!) but with the end of offseason work and with my time off finally arriving, it’s that time. The proper sendoff into that dead area prior to training camp is my educated guesstimate for the starting lineups come Sept. 9 when Seattle visits University of Phoenix Stadium. Defense today, offense tomorrow. We’ll see if these choices come to fruition, although there is a long, long way to go. A lot can change. So, as always, remember this is just an exhibition and not a competition, so please, no wagering:

DEDarnell Dockett. I’m anxious to see how he performs with a full season of knowing what he’s doing in Ray Horton’s scheme.

NTDan Williams. He was playing better when he got hurt. David Carter was solid as a rookie, but Williams is the key here. He needs more consistency. He knows that.

DECalais Campbell. New contract in hand, time to build on what he started.

ROLBSam Acho. He was better than anyone could have expected as a rookie.

SILBParis Lenon. Maybe Stewart Bradley emerges at some point, but Bradley’s time on the bench has been as much about Lenon’s incredibly solid play as Bradley’s own play. Lenon just won’t let anyone dislodge him.

WILBDaryl Washington. Hard not to see him as emerging star.

LOLBO’Brien Schofield. He’s itching to be a starter and to prove he belongs. Now’s his chance. He wants to have the same impact Acho did, and the Cards need him to do just that.

RCBGreg Toler. Yes, William Gay was there this offseason and yes, Gay has a good chance to be the starter. But for some reason, I think Toler finds his way there. Both are going to play regardless.

LCBPatrick Peterson. Pro Bowl status as return man. Now he needs to make it so as cover guy.

FSKerry Rhodes. Remember how Adrian Wilson burned so much in camp last year – before he got hurt – to make up for his struggles the year before? That’s the sense I get from Rhodes, who is still frustrated from last years’ broken foot and I think wants to show everyone how good he can be.

SS – Wilson. One thing you never have to worry about from Wilson is motivation. The boulder on his shoulder draws from different places, but it never goes away. Horton thinks Wilson will be even better this year now that he’s comfortable in the defense.

Offense is up tomorrow.

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Cards looking for the Quan

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2012 – 9:08 am

The Quan was in the Cardinals’ locker room long before the 2011 draft, thanks to Rod Tidwell and “Jerry Maguire.” But then the Cardinals refreshed their supply last year when they took linebacker Quan Sturdivant in the sixth round of the draft, a prospect for the inside of the 3-4 alignment that seemed promising.

But Sturdivant never was able to make a serious run at the roster. He was put on the practice squad, and while he stuck around there, he was the lone member of the 2011 draft class to not make the opening day roster (running back Ryan Williams was on injured reserve, but would have been on the team) and couldn’t even get a late-season promotion. Now he’s taking part as one of nine veterans at rookie minicamp, trying to get the work he didn’t get with the lost (to lockout) 2011 offseason.

“I know I’m just as young as (the rookies),” Sturdivant said, laughing, “but I do feel kind of old.”

Once the Cards signed Stewart Bradley, the need for Sturdivant wasn’t as urgent given the Cards’ rotation of starters Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon along with Bradley (who struggled himself) on the inside. It may not have mattered. Sturdivant acknowledged he had a tough time and a “big learning curve” trying to figure out the defense of Ray Horton.

It was also hard watching the rest of the draft class make the team without him. Only Williams, because of the injury, and seventh-round receiver DeMarco Sampson didn’t receive significant playing time. Sturdivant’s fellow sixth-round pick, nose tackle David Carter, actually was a key component of the defense as a rookie.

“It was hard, because I have always been able to play,” Sturdivant said. “Even when I was a freshman in college, I played. (Last year) was a learning experience, and hopefully I have learned enough that this year, I can make the team.”

There is a long way to go before that can happen (Sturdivant is also battling key special teamer Reggie Walker at inside linebacker, in addition to the top three guys.) He has embraced the need to be in minicamp this weekend, and came up with an interception in each of the first two practices Friday.

“I just compete and try and get better,” Sturdivant said. “I want to learn the defense even more and compete. That’s all you can do to get a roster spot.

“The defense, I think I am adjusted to it now. To not have an offseason (last year) … this offseason, I think it’ll help a lot.”

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No rush to linebackers

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2012 – 3:48 pm

Before the draft, it seemed  — at least, in my opinion — the Cards had three areas that most warranted help: offensive line, pass rusher and receiver. The Cards took care of the latter right away with the Michael Floyd pick. They obviously hit the line hard with three choices, including potential right tackle starter Bobby Massie. But, sticking to their board — and perhaps revealing just how much they think of their young players — the Cardinals didn’t take a pass rusher. Didn’t take a linebacker at all.

Right now, the Cards have 14 linebackers on the roster. Six could be classified as outside linebackers, seven as inside guys and Stewart Bradley as a swing guy (although obviously guys can always move around.) Three of the inside linebackers are undrafted rookies (Marcus McGraw, Colin Parker and Paul Vassallo) and one is definitely untested (Quan Sturdivant.) But one the inside, Darryl Washington is established, Paris Lenon continues to outperform everyone’s expectations and both Bradley and Reggie Walker have shown they can fill in.

But it’s on the outside that will always get the attention. Young players usually have a ton of confidence that they will do the job as long as they get the opportunity, and that’s certainly the vibe you get from O’Brien Schofield when you talk to him. Sam Acho had seven sacks after barely playing the first five games, so he seems to be a potential game-changer. Both must up their games. And then what? Will Brandon Williams, signed late last season on to the practice squad after not finding a place with the Cowboys, surprise some people? Can the Cards find a diamond among free agent Antonio Coleman or undrafted rookies Zach Nash and  Broderick Binns? (Clark Haggans could also still return.)

It’s not like the Cards didn’t sack opposing quarterbacks last year. As a team, they had 42, tied for seventh in the NFL. The Cards had an NFL-best nine different guys with at least two sacks. The way defensive coordinator Ray Horton does things, pressure by committee works and is much harder for which to handle. But developing those linebackers, especially the rushers on the outside, is one of the keys to any 3-4 scheme. After passing in the draft, development will be one of the things to watch at the position.

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Changing Bradley’s contract

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2012 – 9:43 pm

There has been so much talk about the contract of linebacker Stewart Bradley. The news came down Tuesday, first reported by Adam Caplan, that Bradley had his $5 million salary reduced to $2.5M this season. Kent Somers added the detail that Bradley could recoup the money in incentives, but it is a cut. As we have talked about before (ironically, using Bradley as an example) a player doesn’t usually mind restructuring a contract because that doesn’t cost the player any money. In this case, Bradley does lose money. In reality, he probably wouldn’t get a $2.5M salary at this point on the open market so it’s still worth it for him to take a cut. And the last three years of his contract remain, for now, unchanged, meaning he can get back to a $5M salary next year if he plays well enough.

That’s the big question. He couldn’t beat out Paris Lenon last season. We will see what an offseason can do for Bradley, who right now is expected to help both outside and inside at linebacker. In some ways, he’s the defensive version of Kevin Kolb, both with the need of an offseason and the need for a rally year after 2011.

— Bradley can feel more comfortable in one way: He’s back to his familiar jersey No. 55 now that Joey Porter is gone. Cornerback William Gay also has switched already, getting No. 23 (from the original issue No. 29.) That probably doesn’t bode well for free-agent safety Hamza Abdullah. Wide receiver DeMarco Sampson switched from No. 89 to No. 10, and defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin went from No. 60 to No. 95.

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Restructuring isn’t free

Posted by Darren Urban on March 20, 2012 – 4:20 pm

The Cardinals are up close to the salary cap. How close, I am not certain — a lot is fluid these days — but it is clear it impacts their ability in the free agent market. For everyone expecting (or for those who had been expecting) a chase of five or six key free agents, it was never going to happen. I’ve been asked a few times my opinion of what the priority right now should be, and I still see a tackle, a pass rusher and then a receiver. Something could (should?) still come in free agency. The draft will be crucial and likely a more important aspect.

Clearing cap space, however, is not always simple. Even when you cut a player, there is “dead” money to take into account, and usually, the players making the most money when it comes to to impacting the cap are the guys you can’t necessarily throw away. You cut a starter or a key reserve, he’s got to be replaced.

When a player restructures his contract, it is not a pay cut. Lowering the cap hit by cutting salary or bonus is just that — taking a pay cut. Restructuring merely means moving the money around legally to ease the current cap hit. Players usually aren’t adverse because in almost every case, to do so means giving the player more of his money now. But it also means that the cap pain is pushed into the future, not eliminated entirely.

For explanation’s sake, let’s look at linebacker Stewart Bradley. This season, his salary cap number is $6.5 million: a $5 million salary, $500,000 workout bonus for the offseason and $1M prorated signing bonus. He has four years remaining on his contract. The Cards could, in theory, turn $4M of his salary into some kind of signing bonus. Bradley would get $4M of his $5M salary now (rather than have it parceled over 17 weeks of the regular season), and the Cards could then pro-rate that $4M over the final four years of the deal — meaning his cap number would drop to $3.5M this season: His $1M salary, his $1M signing bonus pro-rate, his $1M option bonus pro-rate, and the $500,000 workout bonus. But it also means next year’s cap number would grow from $6.5M to $7.5M, assuming nothing else changes and he remains on the team (cutting him would create extra “dead” money too.)

Do that once or twice, OK. Do it too often, and you end up like the 2012 Steelers, who had to cut a bunch of players and restructure a bunch more just to get under the cap (and again, those restructures will come home to roost eventually.) Just something else to keep in mind when wondering when the Cards are going to create more cap room.

P.S. I haven’t yet seen the signing bonus for tackle Levi Brown, but the NFLPA website lists his 2012 salary at only $1 million (it had been scheduled for $8.3M before he was cut). The salary jumps to $4.75M in 2013, $6M in 2014 and then $5M in each of the final two years of the deal. Without the bonus it’s impossible to know the current cap hit, but that salary structure eases a lot of cap issues.

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Putting a cap on it

Posted by Darren Urban on February 7, 2012 – 11:50 am

Sitting here in early February, more than a month before free agency (March 13), exact salary cap numbers are not yet important. But they will be. So with that, and to get some perspective (if not concrete groundwork) for what lies ahead for the front office, this breakdown by Omar Kelly at the Sun-Sentinel is helpful. The Cards, as of now, are schedule to have about $118 million against the cap, which is projected to be in the $123M-$124M range (it has not yet been set). This is a 2012 projection, so it already eliminates contracts that are expiring.

That number includes for now the contract of tackle Levi Brown, who is scheduled to have a cap number of almost $17M but won’t have that by the time free agency begins. Brown will either have to be restructured or be released, but even if he comes back, that will lower the number considerably. Right now, the Cards have 11 players who are scheduled to have cap numbers of at least $3M in 2012: Brown, WR Larry Fitzgerald ($14.5M), QB Kevin Kolb ($10.5M), DT Darnell Dockett ($6.6M), S Adrian Wilson ($7.5M), S Kerry Rhodes ($5M), LB Stewart Bradley ($6.5M), G Daryn Colledge ($5.5M) CB Patrick Peterson ($4.2M), C Lyle Sendlein ($3.3M) and TE Todd Heap ($3.4M).

That number will increase by one, one way or the other. Defensive end Calais Campbell’s cap hit should easily join that group, whether it is through a new long-term contract or because of a franchise tag (projected to be at least $10.5M for defensive ends.) That also doesn’t include the handful of restricted free agent tenders that must be submitted before free agency starts.

(A reminder, however, that the offseason cap is figured with only the top 51 salaries. The entire roster doesn’t have to be taken into account until the start of the regular season.)

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Washington, Stephens-Howling inactive for Redskins

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2011 – 8:34 am

In what is no surprise after both missed all week of practice, LB Daryl Washington (calf) and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) are inactive for today’s game. Paris Lenon will slide into Washington’s spot and Stewart Bradley will get his first start for the Cardinals as the other inside linebacker. Chester Taylor will get Stephens-Howling’s spot.

John Skelton remains inactive at QB, meaning that, for the time being, Rich Bartel has won the No. 2 quarterback role, since Skelton has recovered from his ankle injury.

The other inactives include CB Crezdon Butler, who suffered a significant ankle injury last week in practice, CB Korey Lindsey, TE Jim Dray — who is still recovering from his pectoral strain — and T D’Anthony Batiste.

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Friday before the Redskins

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2011 – 4:56 pm

It was hard not to notice back in training camp. Tight end Jeff King had scored a touchdown in a practice, and he leaped afterward and spiked it through his legs. He said it was his trademark – kinda funny, since King is known as a blocker – but he followed through.

There King was, scoring on his 48-yard TD reception last weekend and, boom, a spike between the legs. He even recounted the play this week, saying that on his mind as he sprinted for the end zone “I was just thinking I have to spike it at some point.”

“It’s been a constant throughout my career,” King said. “I think was that number 10, so that was my 10th spike.”

King knows his TDs. That was indeed his 10th career touchdown, and he certainly went between the legs last season when he scored against the Cards when he was playing for the Panthers. The tight ends have been let loose in Arizona.

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week he liked his linebacker play and apparently, so did the website  After grading film they put together an all-Pro Football Focus team for the week. Not only did Daryl Washington make the NFL-wide list but so too did veteran outside linebacker Clark Haggans. It would be huge if Haggans is able to keep up that sort of work.

— This will be the week, I think where we see some things from a pair of veterans who didn’t do anything last week: running back Chester Taylor and linebacker Stewart Bradley. Obviously, Taylor was inactive last week, having joined the Cardinals too late for Whisenhunt to want to play him. Bradley was active, but played little other than special teams because he was still getting his feet under him.

I think both would have had a role against the Redskins, but with both Washington (calf) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) questionable to play, it would just up the ante of needing Taylor and Bradley. When it comes to Bradley, the Cards have long lauded the flexibility of starter Paris Lenon – who played both inside linebacker roles last year – and Lenon could switch to Washington’s side to allow Bradley to be in his more natural spot.

— As for the ex-Cardinal running back, Tim Hightower said this game is “going to be little extra sentimental and a little more emotional, just because I kind of grew up (with the Cards).

“The incentive there is like when that teacher has been teaching a student, and that student finally gets to a point where he is kind of on his own and you get a chance to come back and see the teacher, you want to put your best foot forward,” Hightower said. “That’s the mindset I’m taking this week.”

— On the other side of that trade, Cardinals defensive end Vonnie Holliday smiled when he thought of playing the Redskins. “I feel like I kind of raised some of those guys up,” Holliday said. “I feel like I know what it takes to beat them, some of their weaknesses and some of their strengths. I can tell my guys about that here.

“Same thing on the offensive side of the ball … if a guy is shaded this way, this is what that means. I know they know that too. Certainly at this point in my career I have to be a student of the game. I take a lot of pride in that. The fast-twitch is not the same, so you have to anticipate. That’s what I do in the game, from the front to the secondary, I pay attention.”

— Speaking of learning and teaching, in some ways, the Redskins did just that with the Cardinals. After Mike Shanahan was fired by the Broncos and before he was hired by the Redskins, he did a training camp tour that included a stop in Flagstaff to look at the Cards — and specifically, how they ran the 3-4 defense.

“When I came back to Washington something I wanted to do is run the 3-4, because if you look over the past 25 years, it’s probably the most successful,” Shanahan said. “I like the indecisions, from an offensive standpoint, of not knowing which linebacker was coming and the overall philosophy of keeping an offense off balance.”

— The last two times the Cardinals have gone to Washington  — 2007 and 2008 – they have stayed in the game and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, except they were unable to come up with a winning kick. I’d think it’ll come down to whether the defense can come up with a more effective outing. There’s no question Rex Grossman has a history of making mistakes if you pressure him enough.

Offensively, you’d think the Cards will be effective. The hope is Larry Fitzgerald is able to be more involved, but quarterback Kevin Kolb did a good job looking elsewhere when necessary.

Who knows, maybe King will get a chance to spike the ball again.

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Bradley, still learning, waits for chance

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2011 – 8:08 am

Stewart Bradley is a smart man. He reads Nietzsche and James Joyce. He studies French. He loves architecture and hopes to one day build his own house.

The linebacker, however, is still learning about the Cardinals’ defense, and the nuances of the 3-4 compared to the 4-3, the scheme he played his first four NFL seasons while with the Eagles. The players he is with at inside linebacker – Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington and Reggie Walker – all played the 3-4 last year, albeit with a different defensive coordinator. So Bradley is playing catch-up after an absent offseason, and that’s the big reason why he played little on defense in the season opener.

It was a surprise, to be sure. Bradley signed a five-year contract worth about $25 million to come to the Cards. An immediate impact was expected. It just hasn’t turned out that way – yet.

“I don’t know if struggling is the right word,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I just think he needs more reps.

“There are quite a few guys who can’t just look at a book and enact what they see in the book. A lot of guys have to go out and actually experience it. They have to get the reps or they have to walk through it. … It’s a big difference, as far as adjustments, where your eyes have to be, what you’re looking at, calls you have to make, gaps you have to fit.”

Bradley played only in the Cards’ goal-line defense in the opener (plus special teams). He is remarkably good-natured about his situation. He understands his learning curve, and if the frustration is getting to him, he hides it well. He just wants to keep plugging away, knowing it will come.

“I’ll make little quizzes, write all the plays out and time myself, see how quickly I can write all the adjustments out without thinking,” said Bradley, who has been used to mentoring other players on the playbook when he was in Philly. “It has to be automatic.”

Bradley said a big difference is gap coverage – in a 4-3, he said, your gap is your gap, and “there’s solidarity in your brain.” That changes in a 3-4, and he is still gaining a comfort level.  He made the point that learning an offense has an advantage because the offense is picking the plays. The defense doesn’t have that luxury, so a more wide-ranging playbook is essential. “We don’t have a first 15 (script) on defense,” Bradley said with a smile. “‘OK, guys, we’re going to go nickel and then try goal-line, regardless of how they line up.’ ”

The Cards do have some packages in where Bradley doesn’t have a lot of responsibility, he noted, and those are “nice.” “But the deeper we get into this, the more reps I will get (everywhere),” Bradley said. “It’s just nose to the grindstone and help where I can. It’s all about winning games.”

And it’s reps, not just self-times tests at home at the dining room table, that Bradley needs.

He said his biggest adjustment was something as basic staying square to the ball. “In Cover 3 and red zone, I used to man everything up,” Bradley said. “I’d turn my body and get with a man, and now it’s ‘Stay square.’ I used to get my ass ripped for staying square, now it’s like, I better stay square.

“I know what all my assignments are. I know my coverages. I can pick that stuff up. It’s having reps … you’ve just got to see it.”

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