Over at the Titans’ facility …

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2010 – 4:48 pm

Just got back from the Cards’ practice with the Titans. There will be a story up in a bit, but I have to say, it was cleaner than I expected — no scuffles at all. But it was still interesting. Unfortunately, with three fields, each team’s offense was taking on the opposing defense simultaneously on the two outside fields, so you had to pick and choose what battles to watch. Given the circumstances, I watched more of the Cards’ offense. The offensive line versus the Titans’ defensive line was fun to see. It’s clear the Cards have some nasty cusses on the second unit — Rex Hadnot (pictured below in a one-on-one battle), Deuce Lutui and Jeremy Bridges — who like to stir things up. That always lends itself to intensity.

Some quick other notes from today:

— The injury list was expected — WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), WR Early Doucet (abdomen), LB O’Brien Schofield (knee-PUP), LB Gerald Hayes (back-PUP), TE Ben Patrick (knee) and WR Andre Roberts (shoulder). LB Will Davis left during practice after aggravating his right knee bruise, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said he will be OK.

— Greg Toler was running with the first unit at CB with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and he had told me earlier in the day there would be some shuffling. Whether that is “permanent” (which is a term that must be used loosely this time of year) or not, we will see. I also notice rookie NT Dan Williams getting a couple of first-unit snaps, but I didn’t see enough of the defense to know if that meant anything, or if it was just a sub-package or maybe veteran Bryan Robinson was just getting a blow.

— Max Hall did run with the second unit at the end of the two-minute drill, but only after Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson each got some work. Hall could have (should have?) had a TD pass at the end, but a pass was slightly tipped, changing trajectory a little for WR Ed Gant, who had the ball bounce off his upper chest. Hall threw a nice long TD earlier to Stephen Williams during 7-on-7.

— No, during my time watching the QBs, I didn’t see anything much noteworthy from Leinart or Anderson, not to add to the chaos of a story right now.

— The Cards practice one more time tomorrow at Vanderbilt, and fly to Chicago Friday.

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On a chilly night at Coconino

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2010 – 9:42 pm

The Cards just finished up their last night practice of camp. The crowd at Coconino High School wasn’t as big as the first night practice. The intensity wasn’t quite at the same level either. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said at lunch what he wanted to see fewer mistakes and some plays made. There were plays made, mostly by the defense. Cornerback Marshay Green picked off Derek Anderson in the end zone to finish the practice. There were a handful of “sacks” too (remember, no tackling).

Wide receiver Max Komar stood out, and quarterback Max Hall did drill a 15-yard TD pass to tight end Dominique Byrd through defenders LB Chris Johnson and S Rashad Johnson, but for the most part it was a defensive night. Rookie John Skelton also  had a tough sequence, as he twice turned the opposite way of the running back in one drive, botching both handoffs.

LB Reggie Walker (hamstring) was back in uniform but limited. LB Will Davis sat out to “calm down” some right knee soreness. The rest of the injury list was short: WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), TE Ben Patrick (knee), WR Early Doucet (abdomen), LB Gerald Hayes (PUP-back) and LB O’Brien Schofield (PUP-knee).

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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 14, 2010 – 4:10 pm

Back in 2007, when I was still at the East Valley Tribune and just about three months into a blog for the first time, I wanted to come up with something that could stand at the top of the blog for several days while I – gasp! – actually took some vacation time.

Guestimating the starting offensive and defensive lineups for the regular-season opener, in June, seemed to make sense, especially on the heels of the just-completed offseason work. So that’s what I have done every year and will do again the next two days. Today, we’ll hit the defense. Tomorrow’s swan song entry will be on the offense.

We’re going with the 3-4 alignment because that makes the most sense as a base, although the Cards continue to mix it up and use plenty of other sub-packages (would they really use a four-safety set this season, like we have seen at times in OTAs?). But this is how I think they’ll line up Sept. 12 in St. Louis.

DE – Darnell Dockett. He’s done all the right things this offseason. OK, except for the shower thing. But you know what I mean.

NT – Bryan Robinson. Dan Williams will get plenty of playing time this season, and he may even be starting at some point (after the bye?). But coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear the past three years rookies, even first-rounders, have a hard time getting playing time early. And as good as Dockett said Gabe Watson looked this offseason, it’s tough to bet against Robinson once again starting, even if he ends up with fewer plays.

DE – Calais Campbell. If anyone is poised to have a big year, it would seem to be Campbell. With his potential and what Williams can become, the Cards have to be happy with the future D-line.

ROLB – Joey Porter. No-brainer. The Cards need a pass rush upgrade off the edge. The preseason will be about narrowing down Porter’s eventual heir apparent. You figure Cody Brown, but we’ll see.

SILB – Gerald Hayes. I still think Hayes finds a way in there, although the coaches like what Reggie Walker brings and Hayes is battling the back issue.

WILB – Paris Lenon. Replacing Karlos Dansby isn’t going to be easy (Thanks, Mr. Obvious). This is eventually Daryl Washington’s spot, but maybe not this year and certainly not to start the regular season. I’ve already talked about the coaches’ aversion to giving rookies a lot of time early.

LOLB – Clark Haggans. Will Davis looked good in his pre-injury stints last season. But Haggans was pretty consistent last season. And he’s exactly what Whisenhunt likes having around the field and the locker room.

CB – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. His knee will be fine. So will his toe. I am interested to see how he handles DB coach Donnie Henderson, who can be in-your-face.

CB – Greg Toler. The Cards have moved around the candidates thus far, but Toler should find a way to win the job. He has to step it up though. And I still think there may be a veteran to be had after the other 31 teams make their cuts.

SS – Adrian Wilson. I am curious to see how he meshes with Kerry Rhodes on the field …

FS — Rhodes. … because you know everyone is going to be measuring what Rhodes does to what Antrel Rolle might have done.

OK. That’s it for the defense. I’ll close out with the offense tomorrow.

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Porter visit encouraging

Posted by Darren Urban on March 7, 2010 – 9:01 pm

At least, it’s encouraging for defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who continues to wear his emotions on his sleeve and in Twitter. On the news linebacker Joey Porter is visiting the Cardinals this week, Dockett tweeted “I NOW HAVE A KOOL AID SMILE JOEY PORTER IS VISITING AZ THURSDAY, BIRD GANG WILL BE BACK IN THE MIX. ..FTW… We’re going to get stronger. LOL!”

Now, just because Porter is visiting doesn’t mean it’s a lock he comes to Arizona. But ESPN reported coach Ken Whisenhunt and linebacker Clark Haggans — who not only played with Porter in Pittsburgh but went to college with Porter at Colorado State — were having dinner with Porter in Pittsburgh this weekend, and I’d guess they weren’t just talking about old times. I’d guess they’re talking about what could be in the desert.

Porter isn’t young anymore and he can be a loose cannon. But Whisenhunt knows what he is about and I am guessing there will be an understanding before Porter ever would sign. But having Porter and Haggans as the starters while Cody Brown and Will Davis grow into those roles I think would be a positive move. I also think Porter’s landing spots are limited; the Cards are probably his best place for familiarity and playing time.

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A pass on picking Peppers

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2010 – 1:59 pm

In some ways, the situation reminds me of how math can look simple yet get much more complicated quickly by adding variables: A (The Cards need a pass rusher) + B (Pro Bowl pass rusher Julius Peppers will likely be an unrestricted free agent) = C (The Cards try to sign Peppers) … right?

Not so much. Not when A comes with the caveat that the new guy needs to be able to play OLB in a 3-4, something Peppers hasn’t done. Not when B comes with the caveat Peppers will be a free agent in part because he wants a boatload of money. Not when C could be impacted by the uncapped year and the “rule of eight” to which the Cards must adhere.

The biggest obstacle I see for Peppers is the idea he could suddenly become an effective linebacker after playing his whole career — college and pro — with his hand down. There are few defensive linemen as athletic as the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder, and he made it clear last year he thought he could make such a transition. But Peppers is also 30, and while he isn’t exactly an old dog, it is a new trick. There is a reason there is a learning curve for young DEs coming into the league trying to move to LB (Will Davis, Cody Brown, for instance) and doing it with a high-priced free agent may not ay off in the risk-reward department. (Sure, I remember Peppers jumping up on the block to grab Kurt Warner’s pass and scoring a touchdown — as seen below — but that was still as a defensive end, as athletic a play as it was).

That’s the other part of this. Peppers made $17 million this past season and, after reaching the Pro Bowl again, is going to be looking for a mega-bucks contract now that he wants out of Carolina. He had 10.5 sacks this year — or about the same amount Calais Campbell would have had if Campbell could have held on to David Garrard and Vince Young when he should have. Peppers is good, but guaranteeing $25 million-over-three-years-good? (And yes, I am just throwing numbers out there).

I just don’t see it. And Peppers may not see that money anywhere. Barring a miracle there will be an uncapped year and while that does mean teams don’t necessarily have to worry about spending, the fact there could be a work stoppage in 2011 means teams will worry about spending. I just don’t see free-flowing free-agent riches anywhere, and that includes the Cards. Besides, if you are going to shell out that kind of money, I’d think you’re more likely to reward your own guys (see Dockett, Darnell) than go outside the facility.

The Cards need pass rushers and they could chase a free agent. More likely, the draft is where the Cards will look to fortify that spot. At least in Arizona, the possibility of picking Peppers is probably poor.

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About the pass rush

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2010 – 11:30 am

When you talk about the Cards’ pass rush, you can’t get away from the fact the Cards were very successful this season piling up sacks. They finished with 43, sixth in the NFL and easily the most the team has had since moving to Arizona. In fact, it was the third-most in franchise history, behind the 1984 (55) and 1983 (59) defenses.

The Cards had another five sacks in the Wild Card win over Green Bay as well. But that game was a microcosm of the way the pass rush operated. All five sacks — two by Bertrand Berry and one each by Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett and Michael Adams — came because Aaron Rodgers couldn’t make the throw on his initial read. Adams’ sack, which led to the fumble that ended overtime, came after Karlos Dansby got his hands in Rodgers’ passing lane, forcing Rodgers to wait. The other four all came after Rodgers was flushed from the pocket. There is a bit of irony that they could be considered “coverage” sacks, given the way the Packers were able to pass on the secondary.

But flashing forward, that’s what the Cards are searching to improve — they’d love to find an edge rusher who can get a sack because he quickly whips his man and the quarterback simply doesn’t have time to react. That’s what Berry was in 2004 when he went to the Pro Bowl, and that’s why the Cards are giving a shot to CFL star Stevie Baggs. The DeMarcus Wares and Elvis Dumervils don’t grow on trees of course, so it isn’t as simple as “just go get one.”

Dockett obviously can get to the QB from inside, and I think Calais Campbell should evolve into a double-digit sack guy. But in the 3-4 alignment, the Cards need speed and youth outside. Will Davis looked decent as a rookie before getting hurt. We’ll see on Cody Brown; he’s going to go through a rookie year all over again after getting injured in the preseason. The Cards think Mark Washington looks the part and could be a find after getting him on their practice squad. Baggs isn’t young (he’s 28) but maybe he has turned the corner in the CFL.

If one of those guys — plus whomever the Cards draft at the spot, and they will take a pass rusher, I’d think — pans out, the Cards’ pass rush could be formidable, given what they already showed they can do.

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Porter and reality

Posted by Darren Urban on February 2, 2010 – 3:43 pm

So Joey Porter wouldn’t mind playing for the Cardinals? Given the Cards’ linebacker circumstances — Bertrand Berry retiring, Chike Okeafor likely not returning, Cody Brown and Will Davis still raw — he certainly sounds attractive. Porter had nine sacks for the Dolphins, and while he is 32, he has history with Ken Whisenhunt from their days in Pittsburgh (as well as fellow former Steeler and Colorado State alum Clark Haggans). He also is good in a 3-4 alignment.

But the Cards are trying to get a little younger on defense and that doesn’t necessarily help. If Karlos Dansby leaves as a free agent, it would free up early draft picks for an inside ‘backer if the Cards could nab a pass rusher on the open market.

First, of course, the Dolphins would have to cut Porter, which is no sure thing (although it seems like, through the radio interview linked to above, the Dolphins will want to rid themselves of him). Then we’d have to see what Porter is looking for contractually — because it’s likely a big payday. Do the Chargers or 49ers — the other teams Porter is eyeing — provide a better landing spot.

Plus, I’m not sure how the final eight berth for the Cards would/could affect this situation, seeing that Porter will be released instead of just being an unrestricted free agent.

That’s a lot of hoops to get through before Joey Porter could ever land in Arizona.

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On losing Gandy, injuries, and Beanie

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2009 – 1:29 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the decision to put Mike Gandy on IR was tough but “the fact we were probably looking at the (NFC) championship game (for his return) and then to throw him in and compete in that situation is a difficult situation.” Jeremy Bridges is the starter at left tackle now but Whisenhunt said if something were to happen to Bridges, Levi Brown would move from right to left tackle and Brandon Keith would take over at right tackle.

Tight end Ben Patrick and wide receiver Sean Morey (concussions) remain out and will be game-day decisions if cleared. Spach can play for Patrick. Linebacker Will Davis (knee) had another good day and it looks like he will be available this weekend, although we will see if Whisenhunt makes him active.

On a non-injury note — and because I know the Beanie storyline remains topic A for many — Whisenhunt was talking about Wells getting more carries than Tim Hightower of late. Part of it is because Beanie is running well, Whisenhunt said, part is because Hightower’s thumb has been an issue. But, and I know this will bother some out there, that doesn’t mean it won’t balance out again. “It’s play-driven, package driven,” Whisenhunt said. “They can go in and out on a play-by-play basis. It’s really not a conscious effort (to give Beanie more carries) as much as it is a game-plan-type thing.”

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Kurt loses a TD pass, and after practice

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2009 – 1:56 pm

Every week, the NFL goes over the official scoring of each game and makes corrections. Rarely do they make much of an impact, other than changing whether a player gets a full sack or half-sack. But it did Wednesday, when Kurt Warner’s five-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin to win the game in Detroit was changed to a five-yard touchdown run by Boldin. It was ruled that Warner threw a backward pass, meaning it was a lateral and a rush attempt. It changes Warner’s TD passes for the season from 25 to 24, becomes Q’s first career rushing touchdown, and costs the Cards five passing/receiving yards while adding five rushing yards.

Not a huge deal — unless, of course, Warner was your fantasy QB and you needed those points.

As for practice, the Cards have brought back linebacker Ali Highsmith to the practice squad. Linebacker Will Davis returned to work and said he actually did more than he originally was going to do. And WR Sean Morey and TE Ben Patrick seem to have suffered concussions Sunday, making their availability Sunday in doubt.

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Fitz officially active today

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2009 – 9:30 am

As expected all week, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is active for today’s game in Detroit. There were no surprises on the list, not with the knowledge kicker Neil Rackers (groin) and tackle Mike Gandy (pelvis) were already out. The others inactive:

  • QB Brian St. Pierre
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • LB Will Davis (knee)
  • T Herman Johnson
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • WR Jerheme Urban

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