Big picture, there are a lot of expectations around the Cardinals this season, as the games that count begin Sunday against the Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium. But sometimes, there is the smaller picture, the one of the journey traveled by individual guys to get to this point, like with Carson Palmer’s intense ACL rehab or Earl Watford’s roller-coaster career to suddenly starting right tackle or rookie Rodney Gunter going from nobody to nose tackle.
There is running back Chris Johnson, who everyone knows as the 2,000-yard rusher (way back in 2009) and the guy who didn’t quite fit in with the Jets. But now he’s the running back who was shot in a drive-by in March, his shoulder still carrying the bullet and leaving him mentally shattered.
“Lot of nights crying myself to sleep,” he said Friday.
Johnson was in mourning at that point, fearing the loss of his career. When he was forced into bedrest for six weeks, “that’s when I wondered about what direction my life would take.”
Flash forward to today, where he’s part of the three-pronged running back attack with Andre Ellington and David Johnson, prepping for the Saints. Chris Johnson may not be running for 1,000 yards this season, but he certainly sounds motivated to make yet another one-year deal for a vet by GM Steve Keim look like a bargain.
— Speaking of Johnson, he switched from jersey number 27 to 23. Why? He just didn’t like 27. Neither did Palmer, it turned out.
“It didn’t look good,” Johnson said. “Playing in it, always knew I didn’t like it but once Carson said something to me I knew it was time for me to get out of it.”
The two were playing cards on the plane during the road trip to Denver, and Johnson said Palmer asked him point-blank, “Twenty-seven? You going to stay in that number?” Johnson made up his mind then. “I was like, ‘Nah, I gotta get out of that number.”
— Arians said Michael Floyd was a game-day decision, but it certainly seems like Floyd is trending toward playing. Whether he’d be the “normal” Floyd in terms of gameplan, I don’t know.
— The tight end situation, and the iffy status of both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas, is the more interesting injury watch. Those two are also game-day decisions. If I had to pick one, I’d say Gresham would play, but we’ll see. If a choice had to be made is a gimpy Gresham or Niklas better than the just-got-here Joseph Fauria?
— There is a lot of talk about how Watford will hold up or the pressure on Palmer or the pass rush, but honestly, one of the top things I’m watching for is Patrick Peterson versus Brandin Cooks. Peterson has set himself up for a big year, a big year that’s needed. Cooks is a tough draw with his speed. Peterson said a key is to stay close, so a simple Cooks wiggle won’t let him get away and race for a big gain. The spotlight has never been brighter on Peterson, whose 2015 confidence is apparent.
— Bruce Arians had to be careful with the game plan this week. Don’t want to make it too hard on the players because of volume.
“You have so much offense and defense from training camp,” Arians said. “A lot of times you feel you have to use it all. That’s a bad feeling when you can’t practice everything you have. Then you have way too much in there.”
— Arians said the offensive prep remains the same with Palmer. Palmer gets to pick the top 15 pass plays with which he is most comfortable, and Arians puts in running plays for the top 30 calls for the game.
— If it’s the Saints, then you have to always tip your cap to the fingertip-less Rashad Johnson, still plugging away after that fateful day in New Orleans almost two years ago. “I’ve got nine more” remains one of the best quotes ever.
— The Cardinals have only lost once in nine home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium. That was 2009, a 20-16 loss to the 49ers coming off the Super Bowl appearance. Oh, and the Cards have yet to lose a home game to a non-NFC West team since Arians took over.
— There’s been a lot said and written the past week. If you missed Cardinals Underground, or Kyle Odegard’s story about the Saints-Cards trade that netted the Cards John Brown or my story on Fitz and where he is in his career, please check them out.
— Otherwise, it’s time for an actual game that counts. (OK, first I have to write a story about the facility renovations and the cool new Tillman locker tribute, to be posted soon). There’s been plenty of talk about it.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Earl Watford, Jermaine Gresham, Patrick Peterson, Saints, Troy Niklas, University of Phoenix stadium
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Darren Fells chuckled. I mean, what else can you do? It’s not funny with all the injuries the team’s tight end room has absorbed — the latest being a knee problem for Ifeanyi Momah, after he got hurt in Tuesday’s practice — but it’s better than crying. Or punching a wall in frustration. Fells is the one healthy tight end, although Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) did finally practice full on Wednesday and Troy Niklas (hamstring) was able to go limited.
UPDATE: Momah will reportedly have to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus. I would guess Bruce Arians will give the official diagnosis Thursday.
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Fells said, shaking his head.
(Wide receiver Michael Floyd also returned to practice on a limited basis, even diving to catch one pass.)
Fells laughed again when told that Bruce Arians said he wasn’t worried about his tight ends because at least “we’ve still got one.” That’s Fells, who has maintained his post atop the depth chart, the place he’s been since the summer when the tight ends began their roller coaster journey on the surprise retirement of John Carlson.
“That’s all you can do is laugh about it because … I mean, it’s a bad thing, but all you can do is, like B.A. always says, have next man up,” Fells said. Fells admitted, with all the two-tight end and three-tight end sets the Cards like to use, the lack of bodies makes things hard.
At least Fells is there, though, knocking on the wood of his locker.
Tags: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson, Troy Niklas
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Sean Weatherspoon as he noted the exact date when he had last played in an NFL game: Dec. 22, 2013. It took him a little longer to get back out there than he wanted – and the same goes for Chris Johnson – but there they were Thursday night. They didn’t play like superstars but they both played well, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals needed to see after aborted training camps for both.
Everyone can bag on preseason games if they want, but the two vets were exhibits 1 and 1A of why they are always a necessity for someone. Said Johnson, who hadn’t played in a game since last season and only had a handful of practices with the Cardinals with a bad hamstring, “I don’t think I needed to start the season not getting reps because I did it one time before and I just didn’t feel right the first game.”
Better yet, Bruce Arians said he expects both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to return to practice this week, so the feeling is that the Cardinals should have more tight ends available than just Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah. If Gresham does indeed return, it’ll turn out that those three vets signed on one-year deals – including Weatherspoon and Johnson – should be available for the opener against the Saints. And that’s what the Cardinals want to hear.
— Both Johnson and Weatherspoon said they need to work on their conditioning. “I’m just thankful to be part of the team and get a chance to go out there,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s good to make some hits, takes some hits.”
— Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points but Arians didn’t even let the question come up. “No, I’m not concerned about Cat Man and the missed extra points,” Arians said in his opening remarks, saying the question didn’t even need to be asked. I’m sure Catanzaro knows it can’t happen again, but as Arians said, at least it was in a preseason game.
— There were two penalties called on rookie tackle D.J. Humphries on back to back drives, but both were iffy. The false start might not have even been that much of a move. And the holding given to him was apparently on No. 64, Cameron Bradfield, and the officials just messed up the number.
— I thought Earl Watford held up at right tackle, and I fully expect him to be the right tackle starter going into the regular season.
— Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Shipley had 11 targets and nine catches (for 58 yards) and continued to push the best he can. Still, I don’t see him as more than the practice squad right now. He’s not cracking the top five. Same goes for inside linebacker Gabe Martin, who was working hard on defense all night.
— On the flip side, the way Alani Fua was used, I’m guessing he’ll make the 53 at inside linebacker.
— Markus Golden played well at outside linebacker and if Golden isn’t starting early in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get to the starting lineup at some point this year.
— He only had three carries, but Stepfan Taylor’s powerful run for 12 yards up the middle made an impression. Maybe he can be the Cards’ short-yardage guy over Robert Hughes, which could open a roster spot if the Cards only want to keep four running backs.
— I thought Phillip Sims came around. I thought Logan Thomas played better. I still think we are talking about the likelihood of carrying two quarterbacks, meaning Sims or Thomas would have to be practice squad. But we’ll see if, after the Cards watch the tape, they are convinced to do otherwise.
— Arians was asked if he was happy the preseason was over.
“Extremely,” he said, as a grin crept over his face.
You can’t see it, but I have a similar grin. Let’s get to the regular season.
Tags: Alani Fua, Broncos, Chandler Catanzaro, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Jaxon Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, Logan Thomas, Markus Golden, Phillip Sims, preseason, Sean Weatherspoon, Stepfan Taylor, Troy Niklas
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Troy Niklas is sidelined again, done in by the same hamstring that put him out of practice at the beginning of camp. It’s another blow for the young tight end, who flashes what the Cardinals want to see on the field. He’s just never on the field, thanks to a broken thumb/bad ankle/hamstrings over the past year-plus.
“He’s the player we liked,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We just have to keep him healthy.”
Can that happen? Niklas is frustrated and I’d guess the team is frustrated. Arians said he isn’t sure how long this will sideline Niklas, and with Jermaine Gresham hopefully playing this week — but still not a lock — the Cards must still think about where they are at tight end.
— Arians is hopeful the hamstring trio of RB Chris Johnson, ILB Sean Weatherspoon and CB Jerraud Powers will all be back later this week (which is running out of days), but all are sitting Wednesday. OL Earl Watford (ankle) is sitting again too.
— WR Michael Floyd (hand) said he is sticking with his rehab protocol but he expressed optimism he could be back for the regular-season opener. Floyd isn’t catching yet, but said he thinks it will be mental hurdles and not physical hurdles that will be the key. Arians too is hopeful Floyd will return. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he was ready,” Arians said.
— Another sign undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams is going to make this roster — Arians’ comment Wednesday. “We’d be very, very happy if he was our third- or fourth-round draft choice right now.”
— Arians said he is “anxious” to see OLB Shaq Riddick on the field after missing, well, basically almost every practice since he was drafted. It’s Riddick’s potential speed off the edge that has the Cardinals wanting more. Might be hard to get him through to the practice squad — which is another thing to keep in mind with the final 53-man roster.
— Both Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims are expected to play Sunday (and the whole game in Denver, likely). That third QB battle will go through the Denver game, Arians added. Sims may come in before Thomas this week, however, because Arians wants Thomas to get a chance at a two-minute drill.
Tags: Logan Thomas, Michael Floyd, Phillip Sims, Shaq Riddick, Troy Niklas, Xavier Williams
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Is it me, or does it always seem to be this way about this time, where everyone is just so ready to have football games that count and instead there is still so much time left on the preseason schedule. The Cardinals still have a week left at University of Phoenix Stadium for training camp, three preseason games and another nine days before they even have to have first roster cuts. Yet so much has happened — including the harsh news that Corey Peters is out for the season, which covered up the less-harsh-but-still-harsh Mike Iupati injury news — it just feels like it’s time for the regular season.
But it’s not.
— The Cardinals will play their starters about a quarter against the Chargers, and let’s be real, everyone will cross their fingers on Carson Palmer’s uprightness on every play. The first offense looked so good in the first game. Let’s see how game two goes, with Ted Larsen in the mix at left guard. Another part to watch there is Earl Watford and how much time he’s given at left guard after playing right guard all camp. Can he make inroads to possibly get on the field? It’s year three for Watford. Eventually, he’s going to run out of time to show he belongs in the starting lineup, and Iupati’s injury opens a door.
— I am interested to see Andre Ellington’s work a week later. He looked very promising in the first game. We are supposed to see Chris Johnson, but after he came off the field Thursday with a leg wrap, it’s possible his preseason debut will be delayed.
— Peters, by the way, was officially placed on injured reserve Friday. The Cardinals have two open roster spots.
— We definitely are going to see David Johnson for a good portion of two quarters in his debut. I know he can catch, and I think he’ll be fine there in the games. What I want to see is how he does running the ball.
— Jermaine Gresham ended up not playing last week. Does he make his debut? Bruce Arians didn’t say Gresham wasn’t going to play last week either, so that’s a wait-and-see. Seeing more game time for Troy Niklas, and the continued development of Ifeanyi Momah at tight end are other things I’d to which I’ll pay attention.
— If it turns out that rookie Rodney Gunter can do the job as a starting nose tackle, that will make his tremendous story all the better. (And quite the opposite of first-round tackle D.J. Humphries, although I thought Humphries did OK in the first preseason game, even though Arians clearly wants to see more in practice.) But I also agree with the vets like Calais Campbell who note that the Peters’ injury will be filled by committee. The plan all along was to have all these defensive linemen so there would be a steady rotation. That hasn’t changed.
— I don’t think the Cards will look for a free agent defensive lineman or free agent offensive lineman — at least not at this point — because of the injuries. I do think they will continue to scour carefully what’s out there, both in free agency and once teams start making cuts, to add another cornerback. This is a big game for any cornerback not named Peterson, Powers or Bethel.
— With a game on “Sunday Night Football” next week in Oakland, there is a funky start to the final week of camp. The Cards are off Sunday, practice Monday but then are off again Tuesday. They finish Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but the Friday schedule has been adjusted to the morning (Check our camp page for details.)
Tags: Andre Ellington, Chargers, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, David Johnson, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, Rodney Gunter, training camp, Troy Niklas
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Bruce Arians has never made it much secret — crystallized with his “Camp Cupcake” line — that he would prefer to have a couple of practices a day, instead of the one lengthy one and a walkthrough in the morning, as mandated by the CBA. But there is one big benefit of the walkthrough. Injured players can take part.
Arians pointed out that he wasn’t that concerned with the time missed by veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, because Weatherspoon is able to go through all the plays on defense every day. The same goes for running backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson, who can learn the playbook even though they aren’t stressing their problem hamstrings. The walkthroughs are a big reason the Cards had no problem activating tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from their respective lists even though they aren’t quite ready to participate much in practice. On the list, no walkthrough. Activated from the list and those guys can do just as intended — walk through the plays.
Ellington, for instance, is still the first-string running back on some plays in walkthrough. It’s not perfect. Guys still have to play football to get better at football — Arians pointed out he still needs to see Johnson in pads, for instance — but knowing that injured players aren’t completely shut out is important to Arians and his coaches.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, Jermaine Gresham, Sean Weatherspoon, training camp, Troy Niklas
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Both David Johnson and Andre Ellington aren’t practicing today because of hamstring issues. Bruce Arians doesn’t think Johnson’s problem is serious, and Ellington was pulled from Sunday’s work because his hamstring got a little tight and he will be kept from today’s practice as a precaution. Not ideal — especially for Johnson — but it’s early. At least cornerback Patrick Peterson said today his diabetes is under control to the point where he considers himself “diabetes free.” That’s great news.
The Cardinals also activated tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from the Physically Unable to Perform and non-football injury lists, respectively. Neither will jump right into practice, Arians said, but taking them off the list means they can at least participate in walkthroughs and hopefully soon at least some individual drills.
The news on rookie linebacker Shaq Riddick was not as good. Arians said he’ll miss some time after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring injury. It’s the same hamstring tear that has kept him out virtually the entire time he was drafted. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) remains day-to-day.
Tags: Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Jermaine Gresham, Sean Weatherspoon, Shaq Riddick, training camp, Troy Niklas
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Heading into camp, the Cardinals will ease Jermaine Gresham back into football. He’s coming off back surgery and hasn’t done anything football-related this summer, and so slow going makes sense. Gresham can come off the PUP list at any point, and like Tyrann Mathieu last year, I’d expect Gresham to be on the roster by early September. Hopefully, a return to the field will be even quicker for Troy Niklas, who ended up on the active non-football-injury list yesterday at the same time the Gresham news was announced. Niklas has a bad hamstring, I would assume hurt while working out in prep for camp.
But that’s two tight ends the Cardinals don’t have for the outset of training camp, and the one open roster spot the team currently has may end up being spent on another tight end just to keep the numbers up — depending on what the timetable might be for Niklas and/or Gresham. It’s another setback for Niklas too, who had his rookie season shredded with injuries — from a broken finger to a bad ankle that needed surgery.
Even without the latest hamstring issue, Niklas acknowledged his ankle isn’t quite 100 percent, noting that his doctor told him it’ll probably be into the season before he builds up all his strength and flexibility.
“I’m not going to make that an excuse,” Niklas said before his hamstring injury. “(The ankle) has healed to a point where I can do mostly everything I want to do.”
As it stands, the Cardinals still have five tight ends ready for camp’s first practice Saturday: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Ted Bolser, Gerald Christian and Gannon Sinclair.
Tags: Darren Fells, Gannon Sinclair, Gerald Christian, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, Ted Bolser, training camp, Troy Niklas
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It wouldn’t be an offseason for the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim without a veteran free agent signing or two by the time the team got to training camp. Given the retirement of John Carlson earlier this offseason, making a tight end one of those signings wouldn’t be a surprise. So it’s also not a surprise when Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning former Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham would be visiting the Cardinals this week.
Gresham, a former first-round pick who spent his first five seasons with the Bengals (and once a teammate of Carson Palmer), has started 67 NFL games (of 73 total) and has 280 receptions. He’s a pass catcher on a team that could use a proven one at tight end now that Carlson is gone. He had to have back surgery earlier in the offseason for a herniated disc, which is why he hasn’t signed anywhere yet. He also has been criticized for his inconsistency over the years in Cincinnati.
Gresham has already visited the Saints, who traded away Jimmy Graham, and there is interest there. Gresham also could visit other teams. The Cards have Darren Fells and Troy Niklas as blocker-first-types. Veteran combine signee Ifeanyi Momah — who has been working with Palmer in Palmer’s San Diego workouts — has looked good as a receiver in non-padded OTAs and minicamp. The Cards also have seventh-round pick Gerald Christian, Ted Bolser and Gannon Sinclair at tight end.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Darren Fells, Gannon Sinclair, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson, Ted Bolser, Troy Niklas
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So, before it’s time to take leave for a bit, we come to the second part of the “for what it’s worth” posts. Yesterday, it was the defense. Today, the offense, which starts with a healthy Carson Palmer, always a good thing. This team should be in a better place offensively this season, if for no other reason than the system is set and the offensive line should be better than it’s been overall in a long time. Of course, the Cards have to show it. And Palmer needs to stay on the field.
QB — Carson Palmer. Whatever else the Cardinals might have done on the field this offseason, just having Palmer back and working in 11-on-11 by the end would deem it a success. We’ll see how it plays out in camp — and more importantly, the first preseason game he takes part in — but it’s important that he is on track to be the starter.
RB — Andre Ellington. Rookie David Johnson should end up playing a role and could end up as a key on offense. But right now, all things still figure to go through Ellington to begin with. The entire running back situation is an interesting one. Will the offensive line upgrade trickle down to help this position? How might Kerwynn Williams fit in? The Cards just want Ellington to stay healthy, and see what that means.
WR — Larry Fitzgerald. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact, after another year under 1,000 yards, that Fitz was really clicking with Palmer before Palmer got hurt. If the two vets can play together, I’m curious to see what Fitz’s numbers can be, even in this system when not one receiver figures to dominate the stat sheet.
WR — Michael Floyd. It’s a big year for Floyd. The quarterback situation did not help last season, but there were times even when Palmer played where, for whatever reason, Floyd didn’t produce. Sometimes, that was a lack of targets. The Cards certainly have other options too. But the former No. 1 draft pick needs to make a greater impact.
WR — John Brown. In this setup, the Cards go three wide receivers (I’ll hit the tight ends in a minute.) Brown has added a little muscle and had strong self-awareness of what happened to him last season, including wearing out at the end of the season. Palmer can’t say enough good things about Brown, with whom he developed a strong bond with last summer. Smokey will get his chances.
TE — Darren Fells. Troy Niklas is going to be in this mix and when the Cards go two tight ends on running downs, Niklas will likely join Fells. But right now, with Niklas still trying to get healthy, it is Fells who as emerged out of a very inexperienced tight end room. One caveat: Can’t exclude the possibility of the Cards signing a veteran at the position, which could change this dynamic.
RT — Bobby Massie. D.J. Humphries is making strides, but as of now, it’s hard to see Humphries surpassing Massie. Things could change when the pads go on. Another possibility is if Humphries makes enough strides, maybe Massie is a guy who the Cards would consider trading, especially if another team loses a tackle in injury in camp. But if Massie is around for the first game, I think he starts.
RG — Jonathan Cooper. He’s in great shape. He doesn’t have any of the issues left from a broken leg or turf toe or any of the other problems he might have had. If Cooper is going to become the player the Cardinals hope he can be, this is the season he needs to do it. His confidence clearly has never been higher, and he comes across as a different player than he was at this time last year. A big, big camp awaits.
C — A.Q. Shipley. This is an interesting spot. Shipley and Ted Larsen will battle in camp. OTAs and minicamp are what they are, but Shipley was the one getting more first-unit snaps by the end and he has history with both Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. This will come down to how Shipley and Larsen perform in games. (And if they both struggle, I wouldn’t completely write off the idea of a Lyle Sendlein return either, as long as he remains a free agent.)
LG — Mike Iupati. For a second straight year, the big free-agent purchase was an offensive lineman. Iupati’s reputation is that of excellent run blocker and a guy who needs to work on his pass blocking. Iupati certainly looks the part, and it will be fun to watch him in pads during camp and see what collisions develop.
LT — Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals wanted a left tackle and after one season, it looks like they have gotten a pretty good one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Carson Palmer, D, Darren Fells, J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Troy Niklas
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