Fitz remembers all, Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

The last time the Cardinals played in Houston in a game that counted, Larry Fitzgerald was only 22 years old, in the days when the Cards never talked about the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. Fitz was asked this week about a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught in the game – a loss to a Texans team so bad they ended up with the No. 1 overall draft pick – and it took him no time to recall that it was the great John Navarre who threw him the pass.

“I have a photographic memory,” Fitzgerald said. “Slant route in garbage time. Fantasy owners were happy.”

Fitz proceeded to say he remembers almost every catch he’s ever made, and that’s quite a few. I mean, that’s 1,185 in his career and counting – a number that came into even sharper focus Friday morning with Fitz’s contract extension through 2018. As I said before, it’s good he’s under contract but for me, it doesn’t guarantee Fitz playing next season. Good sign, yes. But until I hear it from his mouth – I am guessing it will be a topic postgame Sunday – I can’t go all in.

This season, though, Fitzgerald is here and playing very well. If you can have a quiet 10-113 as a receiver, Fitz did last week against the Seahawks. With Blaine Gabbert starting Sunday, I’m guessing the new QB will lean on Fitz targets again, both because, duh, he’s a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but also because of the troubles the pass catchers not named Fitz had with drops/near-catches against Seattle.

— It made a lot of sense all week that Gabbert would get the nod to play Sunday. He’s healthy. Drew Stanton is not. Bruce Arians wanted to keep Stanton in the lineup, and I do agree with B.A. that Stanton played pretty well against Seattle. Gabbert is playing because of injury but I also understand the idea of getting a chance to see what Gabbert can do, in this offense, in a game that counts.

— Fitz was asked if Gabbert’s success in the preseason gives him confidence in the new QB. It led to a long pause. “I’ve been in it a long time,” Fitzgerald finally said. “Preseason is preseason. I’ve seen him have success in regular-season games.”

— Interesting (to me, at least) that the Cards become the first team to start three QBs this season, given that it comes against the Texans. The long-ago loss in Houston, in which Navarre found Fitz? It was the only time the Cardinals have played three quarterbacks in a game. Kurt Warner started, completed all 10 of his passes (Fitz isn’t the only one who remembers all this stuff off the top of his head) before exiting with a knee injury. Josh McCown was the backup and came in, but he was horribly ill that day and he couldn’t continue. So the Cards turned to Navarre.

— Arians was asked about those receivers this week after the struggles they had collectively. “Practice is fine,” he said. “When those lights turn on … it’s going to be a big week for them.”

— The Cardinals have only played the Texans three times in the regular season. The loss in 2005, and the Cardinals getting home wins in 2009 and 2013.

— Stanton hurt his right knee when he was hit low by Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was flagged on the play (and it kept alive the TD drive that ended with the Stanton TD screen pass to Jermaine Gresham). Richardson was fined $18,231 for his play, and was not happy about it. Also fined $18,231 was Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was flagged for the hit to Russell Wilson’s jaw. Dansby is appealing, and the Seahawks are still dealing with the fallout for not properly checking Wilson for a concussion.

— Corey Peters has been solid in the middle of the defensive line this season. Not having him in the lineup is notable. The Texans are going to want to run to protect struggling QB Tom Savage. We will see who plugs the middle of the line.

— The Texans are putting former all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, their version of Fitz, into their Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday. Current star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked to name his favorite Johnson play. It turned out he named a reception over Patrick Peterson in Arizona in 2013.

Late in the game, Johnson was blanketed by Peterson, who actually got his hand on the ball and looked like he might get an amazing end zone interception. Instead, the ball bounced and Johnson somehow tipped it to himself and kept his feet in. (Here, look for yourself, around the 52-second mark.)

“I don’t know how he caught it,” Hopkins said.

— Fitz on Johnson: “He exudes class. He’s one of the best to ever do it. This is just a precursor to greater things down the road. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I’m happy as a fan of his to witness and see it go up.”

— One final Fitz note. It was mentioned in his “A Football Life” episode that he buys suits for all the coaches. Fitzgerald said he’s been doing that “forever.”

“Our success on the field, it says our numbers, but those guys spend hours … (assistant head coach) Tom Moore is here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning figuring out new innovate ways to be able to feature guys like myself and Adrian (Peterson),” Fitz said. “A lot of hard work was put into those schemes and you want to do right by those guys.”

“They all get custom stuff, make sure they look good. Some of them look better than others.”

See you in Houston.

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In little time, Bettcher has left big impression

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2015 – 3:55 pm

We won’t know for a few days at least why exactly Bruce Arians picked James Bettcher to be his new defensive coordinator. Arians is on vacation this week, so the press conference to discuss Wednesday’s news is on hold until Arians returns. We know that Arians wanted to stay in-house to keep continuity and the same verbiage. We know that Arians wanted to get a young up-and-comer. He likes how he has his offensive setup with Harold Goodwin the young up-and-comer on offense; I’m still curious to see if the Cardinals eventually come up with a Tom Moore-esque guy for Bettcher. There was an attempt at Dick LeBeau (he didn’t want to be that far from family and took a spot with Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans), there has been contact with former Falcons coach Mike Smith. We’ll see if there is anyone else.

Regardless, Arians has long thought highly of Bettcher. When Arians was in his Coach of the Year season in Indianapolis, it was Bettcher who was in the middle of the drama that played out with Chuck Pagano’s cancer. Bettcher was not only the outside linebackers coach in Indy, he was also Pagano’s right-hand man.

“It was a role I will never forget,” Bettcher told me in 2013.

Bettcher is from Indiana and Pagano was “like a second father to me in many ways,” he said. Working with the Colts was a dream job. That’s why Bettcher’s move with Arians after one season is so important; As close as Bettcher and Pagano were, you have to assume Bettcher and Arians forged an important bond too as they maneuvered through such an emotional season. Maybe Arians always knew Bettcher was on the rise. Arians always targeted Todd Bowles to be his DC when he got the Cardinals’ job but if Arians believed Bowles was going to be a head coach sooner rather than later, maybe Bettcher was long the next in line. (Kind of like Goodwin, who was immediately installed as offensive coordinator under Arians/Moore.)

Are there questions about Bettcher, at 36, getting this job, especially after what Bowles was able to accomplish? Sure. There’s no arguing that. But Arians (and Bowles) had to have seen enough of Bettcher the past two seasons to feel comfortable with this ascension. Bettcher is a good guy who, from my vantage point, has respect of the players. Just last week, safety Tyrann Mathieu said “I think I’ve heard enough and I’m confident enough to know we’ve been playing too well to have the scheme change. We look forward to one of our position coaches being DC.”

The way Mathieu was talking, he knew Bettcher was the choice already, so I read the comment through that prism.

— Bob Sanders has a long history of coaching some pretty good linebackers — Kahlil Mack had a very nice rookie season this year under Sanders with the Raiders — so that looks like it could be a promising hire. He also spent some time as defensive coordinator with the Packers, so that puts someone else on the staff who is experienced in such a role. Even without a direct “mentor,” Bettcher could use that to his advantage.


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LeBeau as linebackers coach?

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2015 – 11:00 pm

In the void of no news (yet), speculation and reports continue on the Cardinals’ still jumbled defensive coaching staff. But Dick LeBeau’s name has been part of the story almost from the moment he left the Steelers earlier this month, and that possibility certainly hasn’t lost steam.

Fox’s Alex Marvez reported Tuesday night that the Cardinals are closing in on a deal to hire LeBeau. But Marvez reported that LeBeau is actually close to being named linebackers coach.

The Cardinals do need a linebackers coach, since inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell is expected to join departed defensive coordinator Todd Bowles with the Jets. They might need more than one — or maybe one main guy for all the linebackers — if outside linebackers coach James Bettcher is the one elevated to defensive coordinator.

This doesn’t necessarily mean LeBeau wouldn’t still serve as a mentor for whomever is named defensive coordinator. It would be foolish not to lean on a guy like LeBeau no matter what his official role might be. Getting LeBeau, like adding Tom Moore once upon a time, would be a big deal for the Cardinals.

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B.A. talks Sims, Badger, Coop

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2014 – 12:21 pm

Some quick notes from Bruce Arians’ lunchtime presser, on the last day of availability before the Cardinals actually get to play a game Saturday against the Texans at home:

— The only player Arians said he plans to hold out from the game is center Lyle Sendlein, who is still dealing with the bad calf. Wide receiver John Brown was shut down in practice again yesterday due to fatigue in the hamstring, but Arians emphasized again it’s not injured. He also said Brown should have no issues in the game because he will be getting rests between possessions.

— The Cardinals cut LB Ernie Sims because he was not a fit, and Arians figured, as a veteran, the team owed it to Sims to let him go now to see if he could find a team that he could actually fit. As for the two empty roster spots with Sims’ release and the Jake Ballard retirement, he said the Cardinals aren’t in any hurry to fill them. “We’ve got way too many now,” Arians quipped.

— Ballard’s retirement was not a surprise to Arians. “I was in pain watching him trying to make it through practice,” the coach said. Ballard’s last MRI showed bone-on-bone, and Ballard’s future in the NFL was grim. “Hate to see it because he has such a passion for the game,” Arians said. “But it was the right move.”

— Arians dismissed the optimism of Tyrann Mathieu yesterday (although Mathieu’s demeanor and full comments at the time showed he too understood he wasn’t exactly at the doorstep of coming off PUP.) “We’ll still stick with our timetable and see how it comes out and when he comes off,” Arians said.

— Guard Jonathan Cooper’s play has improved since he had his knee drained, Arians said. “I thought he moved around much better.” No word on whether the knee is any concern. Arians didn’t make it sound like it was.

— Teams are able to use tablets on the sideline for the first time, but Arians sounds wary after using them during the Fan Fest practice. Like most tablet users, coaches have had some issues with glare from the screen, whether it’s the lights indoors at University of Phoenix Stadium or an outdoor stadium. “I’ll go back to the (still) pictures,” Arians said. “I’m old school.” he smiled. “Tom (Moore) will handle all the high-tech stuff.”

Moore, of course, is 75. Arians is 61.


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The black stripes are not a band

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2014 – 7:32 am

Those looking at the photos from yesterday’s OTA or the video seemed to notice the black stripe on the Cardinals’ helmets. OK, it wasn’t on all their helmets. It was only on the helmet of the quarterbacks. That alone should give you a hint that it was something else besides some interesting new tweak to the team’s headgear. So no, the Cardinals aren’t going for a new look (although it is kind of catchy, no?)

In fact, it’s a simple way for the coaching staff to have an easier time to see what way the quarterback’s eyes are pointed when watching some of the videoed-from-high-above practice footage every day. The shots that include all 22 players on the field can make everyone look a little small on the screen. This is just another tool to make sure Bruce Arians, assistant head coach Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens have all the information they can in their work with the QBs.


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Stanton more than just a backup

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2013 – 10:04 am

Drew Stanton spent last season working with Bruce Arians and his offense in Indianapolis, so he’s been ahead of the curve when it comes to learning the playbook. Arians also likes how Stanton (below with assistant head coach Tom Moore) has been able to help out starter Carson Palmer, with the coach noting he has long used a reserve quarterback as a coaching aid. Charlie Batch, the long-time third-stringer in Pittsburgh, was that guy for Arians when he was with the Steelers.

“Sometimes as a coach you can tell a guy over and over and over,” Arians said. “But when a player tells him, they get it. I saw that with Charlie Batch and Ben (Roethlisberger). Whenever I wanted Ben to get something, I said, ‘Charlie, tell him to do this.’ I’d always cuss Charlie out for Ben. So Drew, he’s used to it too.”

Stanton laughed when told Arians might have him absorb some of the coach’s wrath for another player’s sake. Sometimes, that’s the role you play.

“I think it starts with BA wearing a lot of different hats and he has a lot of different responsibilities on his plate,” Stanton said. “But I think being in the system last year, I kind of already know what he wants, what he expects out of certain things. Especially me being out there and being able to still see it, I can see it through Carson’s eyes. So when we talk we’re speaking the same language as well. If I can relate one thing, flip one thing and relate it to a different protection or something, I think it allows (Carson) to digest it easier.”

Stanton could have a lot riding on him this season. Not only is he helping decipher the offense, he might be the only thing between the Cardinals and Patrick Peterson at quarterback should Palmer get hurt if Arians goes with only two QBs.


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Colledge’s beard and injured backs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2013 – 12:19 pm

Daryn Colledge cut his hair this offseason. He said his face got a little lonely, so he’s decided to grow a beard. He had a beard when he played for the Packers when they won a Super Bowl. Foreshadowing? Colledge wouldn’t mind it.

“I’ve always been a facial hair aficionado kind of guy,” Colledge said. “It’s one of those things where I cut all of my hair off my head for the heat and I got lonely. I thought I’d grow the beard out this year and now that I’m injured I got to leave it on. I don’t even got time to shave anymore with all the treatment I got. I might just let it go the whole season we’ll see where it goes. The last time I grew my beard out I won a championship with Green Bay  and maybe we can use this as a catapult this year.”

The Super Bowl is, after all, in New Jersey this season — outdoors — so …

“When you hold a cold-weather Super Bowl like this year you’ve got to plan ahead of time,” Colledge said. “So maybe I’m just getting ready for what I expect this team to be able to do this year.”

— Colledge, by the way, should only be out a couple more days, coach Bruce Arians said. That’s good, because Arians also said Paul Fanaika could challenge for that right guard starting role. Colledge has never missed a game on any level, so he’d rather not miss the Packers preseason game.

— RB Rashard Mendenhall is dealing with patella tendinitis and will rest at practice today. Arians has no concern about Mendenhall’s issue and he is expected back Monday. RB Ryan Williams, with his knee issues, is going to be back “maybe after Green Bay, hopefully before Green Bay.” DE Everrette Thompson has an arm injury and will miss a practice or two. No other changes on the injury front, he said.

— That makes it tough on the running backs. No question that Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington and Alfonso Smith are getting plenty of reps these days.

— Much more about Patrick Peterson-on-offense to come, but Peterson said he has no problem taking the extra reps and Arians said it was natural to want to use Peterson on offense in a package that has already grown to 15 plays or so. “You think, ‘Hmm, that’s a lot of weapon sitting next to me.’ ”

— Arians was happy about his offensive showing in practice Friday. “The light went on offensively for a lot of guys,” he said.

— The Cardinals have a lot more reps in practice than other teams might, Arians said, although more teams have added reps and tempo now that the CBA prevents more than one practice a day. “When you had an afternoon practice and a morning practice you split it up,” Arians said. “We’re trying to get a two-a-day practice (work) in a one-a-day practice with the reps we’re getting.

The Cards do a lot of 11-on-11 work. “Coach (Bear) Bryant used to call it ‘country coaching,’ ” Arians said. ” ‘Let’s go out and scrimmage because we only have 22 guys so let’s play football.’ I think you can become a smarter football team that way.”

— Arians, always good with the soundbites, had this to say of why he likes having assistant head coach Tom Moore around: “Two things: I look young, and I have someone who has been there and done it.”

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Not wanting to repeat, Fitz is on the move

Posted by Darren Urban on June 13, 2013 – 4:10 pm

Last year, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts had a breakout season not coincidentally, he believed, after attending Larry Fitzgerald’s Minnesota workouts (where Shorts also decided to swim for the first time in the lake behind Fitz’s house, FYI). He noted recently that Fitz “works like he is broke.” So, after an offseason of change in which Fitzgerald for the first time is trying to learn three receiver positions so coach Bruce Arians can move him around more, Fitzgerald was asked Thursday exactly why he’d work like that.

“This last year would be enough to drive anybody over the edge,” Fitzgerald said. “I just don’t ever want a repeat of what happened last year. You put that kind of stuff on tape, it’s hard to keep a job.”

There were some laughs in Fitz’s impromptu, I’m-about-to-leave-until-camp-so-ask-what-you-need press conference. But talking about last year, and talking about why Fitz hasn’t talked a ton this offseason, Fitzgerald was definitely serious.

“It’s ‘Prove it’ for me,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not about the talking and the soundbites. It’s about getting back to the level of play I am accustomed to, and the level of play everybody is accustomed to.”

That apparently is starting, via Arians and assistant head coach Tom Moore, with moving Fitzgerald all over the place. That has made this offseason uncomfortable for Fitz. He’s played one spot since high school. Coaches have moved him in motion, but he’s never really lined up in the slot or in other facets of the passing game. Arians made it clear that was going to change, and Arians had huge success doing it with Reggie Wayne a year ago. The goal is obviously to make sure Fitzgerald doesn’t have another 71-catch, 798-yard season like 2012.

“Do you want 100 balls? If you want 100 balls, move around,” Arians said. “If they know where you are at it’s easier to take you out of your game. Reggie bought in right away last year and Larry is buying in now. It’s hard because when you are a veteran of their stature, you don’t like making mistakes. You get embarrassed. You have to put that behind you and learn multiple positions.”

There have been moments, especially earlier in the offseason, when Arians got on Fitzgerald during practice. Fitz, save for the Todd Haley years, rarely heard such things on the practice field. Now, that was mostly because he was so very good at what he did. He’s learning all over again.

“I’m a bit of a creature of habit,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve played the same position since I was a junior in high school, I’ve never had to move around, and I’ve gotten good at it. I think we all resist change to a certain degree, especially if you have had a little success. But as I have gone through these offseason workouts I have definitely become more receptive of it.

“Coach Arians has a wealth of knowledge with the defense that will be thrown at us and he tells me there will be a lot more opportunities to make plays inside and it will give my teammates like Andre Roberts and Michael (Floyd) and Rob Housler and guys like that better matchups as well. It’s not all about me, it’s about making this team go.”

As much as Fitzgerald will help Carson Palmer, he too can learn something from Palmer, who threw to a couple of pretty good receivers in Chad Johnson/Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Moore has backgrounds with Peyton Manning, Wayne and Marvin Harrison, along with Steelers Hall-of-Famers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Fitzgerald is hoping that knowledge comes in handy and was frequently talking with Moore prior to workouts this entire offseason.

Make no mistake, one of the reasons Fitzgerald was so salty about last year was the drop in his production. The losses were the biggest reason, but Fitzgerald wants to be considered one of the best and that’s tough when you aren’t even reaching 800 yards. If there are ways to avoid that again, Fitzgerald will buy in. He’ll work as if he’s broke — which is most certainly is far, far from — and figure out new positions. He’ll probably mention to Palmer too that single coverage means get Fitz the ball — just not right now.

“I’m too busy trying to learn where I’ve got to be and figure out my assignments,” Fitzgerald said. “Once I have that down, then I’ll try to get in his ear a little bit.”


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“Lap” for Kitchens, God makes left tackles and OTAs end

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2013 – 1:54 pm

Bruce Arians was planning on seeing recuperating QBs coach Freddie Kitchens in the hospital Thursday afternoon, as the Cardinals wrapped up their 2013 OTAs earlier in the day. Kitchens, of course, underwent emergency surgery Tuesday night to fix his aorta. Arians said he received a text from Kitchens’ wife Ginger that Freddie “took a lap down to X-ray and walked back and was breathing fine” Thursday morning. Doctors took the tube out of Kitchens last night, and while it was a rough night, Kitchens was doing much better today.

“Something just didn’t seem right,” quarterback Carson Palmer said, echoing the thoughts of fellow QB Drew Stanton. “Freddie is about a tough of a guy as you are going to meet. We had the trainers come and look at him. Freddie is lucky we have a phenomenal training staff because they knew exactly what to do.

“We’ve just been praying and thanking God that he’s doing better … The first thing I thought of was his wife Ginger. She had to fly across the continent and I can’t imagine how scared she was.”

— As for the team in the meantime, assistant head coach Tom Moore (talking to the quarterbacks, below, Wednesday) is taking Kitchens’ spot for now. Moore has been a integral part of the quarterbacks’ learning curve up until this point anyway. “He’ll keep the seat warm until Freddie gets back,” Arians said.

— OTAs are over. The Cardinals have a three-day mandatory minicamp next week (with Fan Fest at the outset on Tuesday) before the vets scatter for the summer. The rookies will stick around a little longer.

— Arians said next week’s goal is just to “continue” and “watching the little mistakes disappear.” The offense is “97, 98 percent done.” The defense “might add a blitz or two.” Arians joked that the Cards worked on taking a safety during today’s workout and “usually that’s the end of training camp.”

— Arians was asked if he had any concerns about the struggles of Levi Brown in the past. Once again, Arians backed up his left tackle.

“I don’t really care (of Brown’s past),” Arians said. “I don’t care about anybody. You start with a new slate. It’s what you do now.”

Arians reiterated he sees Brown as “elite” when he is playing well. And there is little question Arians doesn’t use the term lightly when you consider how important he sees the position.

“If you have to protect your left tackle all the time you’re really game planning with one hand behind your back,” Arians said. “You can find guys who can run and catch, you can find guys who can play in the middle. But left tackle and quarterback, God makes them.”


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QB coach Kitchens has surgery to fix aorta

Posted by Darren Urban on June 5, 2013 – 8:35 am

Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens had to leave Tuesday’s OTA when he wasn’t feeling well. Turned out he had a defect in his aorta that needed surgery. Kitchens is doing well this morning. Here is the team’s official statement:

“During Tuesday’s practice Freddie Kitchens began to feel ill – dizzy, light-headed – and was sent to the training room. After being evaluated by the team’s medical staff it was determined that he should be taken to the hospital for more evaluation and testing. During that process, a CT scan revealed a defect to his aorta that required surgery, which he had Tuesday night at the Arizona Heart Institute. According to the doctors who performed the surgery, it went very well and the early prognosis is positive. The Kitchens family is grateful to everyone who has and continues to extend their support, well wishes and prayers.”

UPDATE: Head Coach Bruce Arians credited the quarterbacks for making sure Kitchens was looked at by head athletic trainer Tom Reed. Quarterback Drew Stanton said the group was just having their normal warm-up conversations before Tuesday’s workout.

“Anyone who knows Freddie’s personality, he’s jovial and easy-going,” Stanton said. “He was joking around asking if a heart attack is on the left or right side, going for the chuckle, and then said ‘Actually, it’s kind of in the middle here.’ I told him, ‘Freddie, that sounds kind of serious,’ and Carson (Palmer) said ‘Yeah Freddie, you don’t look so good, you’re kind of flush.’ He tried to say he was OK, but we called Tom over and he was monitoring him.

“Luckily and thank God it worked out and he was taken care of in time. It puts things in perspective real quick. You count your blessings, things that we might just take for granted.”

The team held a pre-practice prayer for Kitchens Wednesday.

Kitchens has been on staff since 2007 and was the tight ends coach before moving to coach quarterbacks when Bruce Arians arrived. The one-time quarterback at Alabama was coached by Arians for a season with the Crimson Tide. While Kitchens recovers, the Cardinals have assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore who can work with the quarterbacks.


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