How to deal with Graham

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2013 – 10:40 am

Jimmy Graham is 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds. It’s the size of a scary looking pass rusher, only he’s playing tight end for the New Orleans Saints, and the Cardinals must find a way with which to cover him Sunday.

With 10 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown last week, Graham beat up the Buccaneers. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had their own issues covering the tight end in week one, when the Rams’ Jared Cook got loose for seven catches for 141 yards. The Cards did a much better job against the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew last week (three catches for 32 yards) but Pettigrew and Graham aren’t in the same zip code in terms of importance or talent. Cook’s big game, and the looming Graham issue, underscores the importance of having Daryl Washington in the lineup. But Washington is out for two more games, and it means the Cards will probably have to attack Graham in different ways.

Some have asked if the Cards could use Patrick Peterson. I don’t see that. For one, Peterson has wide receivers to deal with, like Marques Colston. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Colston himself has size with which to take on Peterson. I don’t see Peterson battling Graham. The Cardinals used safety Yeremiah Bell at linebacker some last week, and that makes sense to continue. That’s the lineup that got rookie safety Tony Jefferson on the field, and I could see a version of it again. Washington replacement Karlos Dansby will likely get some work in that regard. And any team is going to drop into a zone from time to time.

There’s another part of the equation that would help, and that would go for Graham or Colston or any of the receivers — getting some heat on quarterback Drew Brees. That goes without saying, but it will be crucial.

GrahamBlogUSE


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »

Quick hits after Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2013 – 1:03 pm

The Cardinals have changed up availability times for Mondays, so the players aren’t talking until later on, but a few notes from lunch with Bruce Arians:

— Rookie running back Andre Ellington continues to impress and it’s not like Arians only sees him has a third-down, change-of-pace guy. “This kid can carry the load,” Arians said. (And to clarify: “Can” carry it doesn’t mean he will. Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.)

— Of the seven game balls awarded for the Lions game, three went to special teamers: kicker Jay Feely, punter Dave Zastudil and Justin Bethel, who blocked a field goal and who has to be in the discussion as best gunner in the NFL. The others went to DE Calais Campbell, CB Patrick Peterson, WR Kerry Taylor and QB Carson Palmer.

— Palmer did have the pick-six interception, but Arians praised his leadership, especially late in the game with no Larry Fitzgerald and the offense struggling on third downs. “He sent the best signals (that) ‘We’re fine,’ ” Arians said.

— Arians was happy with the play of Taylor but he did not commit to keeping Taylor on the roster once Fitz returns to full strength. That, he said, will depend on injuries. The bottom five roster spots are always churning.

— The hope is tight end Rob Housler (ankle) will play this week. But it’s still we’ll-see mode, as it will be with the rest of the injuries. Arians said he wants to see where the Cards are Wednesday before talking about anyone else.

— Safety Yeremiah Bell actually was playing some linebacker Sunday (I can’t wait to hear from everyone who always wanted Adrian Wilson to do the same). It was part of the package to handle the Lions’ offense. “He played great,” Arians said. “We asked him to learn linebacker in two different fronts. I can’t say enough about the guy. He’s the ultimate pro.”

— Arians said the decision to stay back East after the Saints game came with the knowledge the team has back-to-back 10 a.m. Arizona time kickoffs. This will hopefully alleviate some of the issues with the early kickoff in Tampa.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 20 Comments »

Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2013 – 4:23 pm

First year with a new coach, tough division, players still getting comfortable with schemes. Maybe, just maybe, as the Cardinals prepare to fly to St. Louis tomorrow for the season opener against the Rams, a little patience is called for.

“No,” Bruce Arians very bluntly put it. “There’s no patience. I have no patience.”

If the Cardinals believe anything, it is that. Waiting around for success, or to build up to it, makes no sense to plenty of people, including the head coach. “Those days of building for the future in the NFL, I see them as gone,” Arians added.

When you put together the veterans like the Cardinals have, holdovers like Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell and mix in guys like Carson Palmer and Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell, no one wants to talk about down the road. That’s what makes this season so interesting. I’ve seen some pundits picking the Cards to have a three-win season, in large part because of the division they play within. I’ve seen many picking the Cards to have nine or 10 wins and sneak into the playoffs. If there is another team whose potential season holds with it such a wide berth, I’d like to see it.

It’s good the Cardinals open in the division, but against the Rams. There’s a certain symmetry to it. The Cards have, over the last decade, had their most road success in St. Louis. The Edward Jones Dome is also where the Cards’ season went off the rails last year, their first loss in what turned out to be a string of many.

So it’s time to start anew, with a new staff, a new offense, a (slightly) new defensive scheme, a new quarterback, a ton of new players and a new optimism.

“It’s win now,” Arians said. “Too many teams have done it, I’ve been around teams that have done it, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t get it done.”

Sounds like a pregame speech to me.

— This is Arians’ offense, but offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin has his role too. Arians is obviously the playcaller, but “leading up throughout the week a lot is on my shoulders,” Goodwin said. “So far, so good.” Goodwin, however, still focuses on coaching the line, which has always been his primary job in his coaching career.

“At the end of the day, in my belly, I’m still a line coach,” Goodwin said.

— The rumblings that Nate Potter would be tried at guard came as far back as the start of Arians’ first minicamp before the draft. But Potter didn’t get any work there until this week, when it became necessary. And it becoming necessary is why it took so long.

“We didn’t expect Coop to get hurt,” Goodwin said of the out-for-the-season guard. “That threw a monkey wrench into a lot of things.”

— Potter has gotten enough work at guard that he could play there Sunday if someone were to get hurt, Goodwin added. That means Potter will be in the mix to be active. All along, Arians has said he will have seven linemen active for the game, but he wouldn’t commit to that number Friday.

Good story from Jim Trotter about Arians, based around the anecdote about how close he came to cutting Robert Gill this summer after Gill accidently hurt Patrick Peterson during a practice. I didn’t know Gill might be cut, but I saw the play and I remember thinking that’s not a good thing for a guy trying to fight his way on to the roster. The day before, Peterson had made a one-handed interception over Gill on the same play. The next day, the ball was well overthrown Gill, Peterson was beyond him, and Peterson gathered in the interception over his shoulder. In the same motion, Gill leaped to tackle him, dragging him down from behind.

It was scary, with Peterson down on the ground for what probably seemed like longer than it was. You don’t want your Pro Bowl corner getting a major injury in May. Needless to say, Peterson ended up OK. Gill stuck around (only to be cut later). But those are the kind of plays that make coaches hold their breath every offseason (and practice and OTA and anytime their players step off a curb.)

— How much will we see Peterson on offense? “I can’t tell you that,” Goodwin said with a smile. “He’ll be in there some.” I’m looking forward to seeing Peterson in that role.

— Maybe it’s because everyone has been factoring it into the equation so long, but it seems like the absence of Daryl Washington has been under the radar. His suspension will hurt. Rules let Washington be at the facility and be around the team, but no practice, and no games.

— Peterson is anxious not to play offense or defense, but to get a shot at punt returns again. He clearly isn’t happy – nor should he be – after what he went through returning punts last season. He wants to get back to 2011 levels.

— There has been some speculation that the Rams, adding Tavon Austin and with Chris Givens, etc., might start throwing the ball a lot more often. That would be against everything coach Jeff Fisher has done in his career, and because of that, veteran safety Yeremiah Bell doesn’t see it.

“For the most part, coach Fisher is coach Fisher,” Bell said. “Once you are a coach in this league a long time and you kind of do things your own way, you are set in that. I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say he’s going to stray from anything he’s done in the past.”

— Larry Fitzgerald isn’t going to predict anything for himself, but you know the wide receiver wants to get back to his pre-2012 lofty heights. I expect he will.

“Last year is last year,” Fitzgerald said. “I put that to bed. Every year is different. When you see things in the rear view mirror, you can’t see what’s in front of you. Obviously I am aware of what happened last year and I don’t ever want to repeat last year, but moving forward I have to focus on what’s asked of me.”

That’s usually at least 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs. Anything short of that? Hey, we have no patience for that.

On to St. Louis.

BeforeRamspicUSE

 


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 17 Comments »

Making plays, and not, in practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2013 – 5:15 pm

Nothing super exciting today, other than a chance to talk to Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter on the Cardinals Daily Report (below). But here are some notes and observations:

— Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Tyrann Mathieu forced a fumble, punching a ball lose after a catch by tight end Jeff King. It’s going to be very interesting to see him in games because over the last week or so, Mathieu has been a playmaking machine.

— We’ve mentioned Jaron Brown, Charles Hawkins and Robert Gill as receiving options, and after the depth chart came out it was clear Kerry Taylor had made inroads as the No. 4 receiver. Someone who hasn’t been mentioned (and I will admit I didn’t think we would be) is recent rookie signee Robby Toma out of Notre Dame. He’s not big, he’s not real fast. But it’s tough not to notice him catching almost every pass thrown to him.

— Veteran safety Yeremiah Bell made a very impressive diving interception — he fully laid out to grab it — against Ryan Lindley. Who says being 35 has to hinder athletic plays?

— (By the way, both the Bell pick and the Mathieu play are caught in today’s highlight package you can see here.)

— Bell said he hadn’t expected QB Ryan Lindley to throw the pass. It’s been a rough stretch for Lindley, and now Arians is talking about keeping only two QBs. It’ll be very interesting to see how Lindley does in preseason games.

— Drew Stanton did hit Andre Roberts with a long touchdown pass at one point.

— RB Andre Ellington left practice early on Tuesday with what looked like some sort of neck issue. It didn’t look serious (he walked off the field fine) but he did not return.

— Those sitting included DT Ricky Lumpkin (ankle), RB Ryan Williams (knee), LB Karlos Dansby (hamstring), G Daryn Colledge (leg), WR Robert Gill (hamstring), WR Kerry Taylor (hamstring), TE Kory Sperry (ankle), CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring), LB Alex Okafor (ankle), DT Dan Williams (ankle) and LB Kenny Demens (not sure on his injury).

— Just when Arians was asked about a lack of scuffles in camp, there was a scuffle. Guard Scott Wedige and defensive end Ronald Talley got into it a little bit after one play, but teammates quickly broke it up. Perhaps they were all warning the pair about Arians’ rule against camp fights.

— Officially John Abraham is listed third on the depth chart at linebacker. But as proof as why the depth chart is dangerous, Abraham — as he has been since he showed up — is running first unit nickel as the right side pass rusher. Matt Shaughnessy is on the left, with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell in the middle. The linebackers are Reggie Walker (with Dansby out) and Jasper Brinkley. The corners are Patrick Peterson and Antoine Cason on the outside, with Jerraud Powers as nickel slot. Bell and Rashad Johnson are the safeties.

— Random note: Prior to Tuesday’s roster moves (which are unlikely to impact the salary cap anyway), the Cardinals had $5.76 million in salary cap space.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 16 Comments »

One year at a time

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2013 – 9:28 am

Eric Winston, a player who when he was first released was expected to command a healthy contract for multiple years, signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. It was another impressive step for GM Steve Keim, who has managed to corral quite a few players in one-year deals, providing flexibility going forward and incentive to those players to try and earn an extension.

It also has created quite a lengthy list of players that, as of now, are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season:

— S Jonathan Amaya

— CB Javier Arenas

— S Yeremiah Bell

— CB Antoine Cason

— LB Karlos Dansby

— TE Jim Dray

— K Jay Feely

— TE Jeff King

— RB Rashard Mendenhall

— G Chilo Rachal

— WR Andre Roberts

— DE Frostee Rucker

— DE/LB Matt Shaughnessy

— TE Kory Sperry

— S Curtis Taylor

— LB Reggie Walker

— T Eric Winston

— P Dave Zastudil

Obviously, not every name on that list is someone that the Cards are going to want to keep around long-term. Others will have to earn that right. It also doesn’t include other situations, like the inevitable Patrick Peterson extension that is assumed to be coming at some point after the season. The Cardinals definitely have a plan, however. Flexibility is key for Keim, who is trying to rebuild the roster.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 26 Comments »

For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2013 – 11:08 am

It’s that time of the offseason, when players scatter for some time away from the facility and so too does the author of a certain blog. Before that, however, I try and put on my analysis cap and attempt to project – sans injuries – who will be in the starting lineup come Sept. 8 when the Cardinals open the regular season in St. Louis trying to win their first game for a fourth straight season. This one is a little more difficult to sort out. By last year it was easier to get a sense of what Ken Whisenhunt wanted to do and who he wanted to do it with. No real way to know that with Bruce Arians yet.

For starters, he has said time and again judging players in shorts wasn’t enough to make any solid decisions – he said he knew how they could play soccer, for goodness sake – and so I’d expect training camp to be much more important than the past. The Whiz coaching staff, which generally stayed stable, knew very well what they were getting with holdovers. This staff is new and don’t know many of these players. Being unquestioned at your position is rare right now.

That doesn’t even take into account Arians’ desire to play young players. He clearly is much more willing to go with youth. He has also talked often about how the “starters” are more than just 11, especially on defense, thanks to the many packages a team has.

I suppose that’s all a roundabout way of saying this is my best guesstimate, and that’s all. We have defense today, offense tomorrow. There has been lots of speculation out there that the Cards may end up as a 4-3 team, and we’ll see how things are spread around, but they have been working in a 3-4 base the entire offseason.

Remember, this is only an exhibition and not a competition, so please, please, no wagering.

DE – Darnell Dockett. He will get more chances to get on the stat sheet. He will, probably, be used inside in certain packages and not just as a 3-4 end. He definitely is happier than he has been in regards to how he is being used. The Cards are counting on that showing on the field.

NT – Dan Williams. The team poked around potential free agents earlier in the offseason, and Williams came in to workouts needing to shed pounds. But he has, and Arians praised his condition last week. Like the ends, there is talk of Williams getting upfield and attacking more often. It’s so easy to forget he was a No. 1 pick, but the Cards need him to play that way.

DE – Calais Campbell. Had another very good year last season. He too sounds excited about his opportunities in Todd Bowles’ system, although he tends to be a little more muted than Dockett (who isn’t?) Has become one of the best in the league, period. At some point, it’d be nice to see him get a Pro Bowl nod.

ROLB – Lorenzo Alexander. This has been the spot for O’Brien Schofield, who recently told me camp was the place where jobs are won and lost. Could OB still make a starting run? Sure. But Alexander, wooed as a free agent partially on the strength of starting potential, is going to get his shot. I think, given his ability as a leader, he’ll end up there at least at first.

SILB – Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley was an early free-agent sign, but then the Cards drafted Kevin Minter. Minter is the kind of player who needs camp to show what he’s got. Arians thought he was getting too physical in the offseason. But I think Brinkley still holds him off at first, even if Minter pushes for playing time later this season.

WILB – Karlos Dansby. This is kind of cheating, because I don’t even have to factor Daryl Washington into this – Washington is suspended the first four games. When Washington returns, however, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out with him, Dansby, Brinkley and Minter. It’s been suggested Washington could end up outside in some scenario, but at no point in the offseason did Washington do any work there.

LOLB – Sam Acho. A very smart player and great in the locker room. He should start at the outset, but he needs to up his sacks to stay there. Otherwise they are going to start looking to upgrade.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Easiest position to peg.

CB – Jerraud Powers. The Cardinals did a good job building up depth at cornerback. Antoine Cason is slightly more established given Powers’ injury history, but Powers has an Arians connection from Indy and I think that will make a difference. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cason start, though. Another thing to chew on: With so many corners, is one traded before the season starts? You still have Javier Arenas, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming, Bryan McCann.

FS – Rashad Johnson. Tyrann Mathieu is going to play in some way, shape or form, including nickel corner sometimes. You just don’t see it any other way. But I don’t see Mathieu starting. Johnson is helped because he played strong safety last season. I can see Johnson moving to strong safety if Mathieu bullies his way into the lineup.

SS – Yeremiah Bell. Bell brings experience and he knows Bowles well from their days in Miami. He is a short-term solution, though.

WorthDefensePicUSE


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 28 Comments »

Enthusiasm for the defense

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2013 – 10:02 am

Levi Brown was talking about getting back on the field and what he might be able to learn about himself in shorts in the heat of summer. No pads helps, he said, because he can ease his injured arm back into work. But there are other challenges.

“Our defense is giving us tons of blitzes right now,” Brown said, shaking his head. “Things I don’t think I’ve seen.”

There has been so much talk about the Ray-Horton-To-Todd-Bowles transition and what that could mean for the defense. While the arrival of Bruce Arians — and new quarterback Carson Palmer — has shifted focus to what the offense will be able to do, the defense remains a unit burgeoning with potential and proven players. In a division where the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams all have created believers on that side of the ball, the Cardinals have done the same, like with ESPN analyst/former scout Matt Williamson:

(Williams is bullish on a lot of things the Cards have done, actually. This is an ESPN Insider link, but in a nutshell, Williamson gave them an A. “I love what Arizona has done this offseason.”)

Even with the Daryl Washington suspension and whatever else might be hanging over the linebackers head, you have enthusiasm over what could be from the defensive ends, a linebacker corps that (with Washington) will be stronger overall with the additions of Karlos Dansby, Jasper Brinkley and Kevin Minter, and a cornerbacks group that is better than last season and that’s even before any anticipated improvement of Patrick Peterson. Finding out what defensive end-turned-linebacker Matt Shaughnessy and Lorenzo Alexander can produce will be crucial, but they should help incumbents Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Are there some unknowns at safety? Sure, but if Tyrann Mathieu can make some plays back there behind vets Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell, I think the Cards can survive — especially in an NFL world where safety play has become more about coverage than big hitting.

The Cardinals need to make strides on offense. That’s obvious. But their base in 2013 will need to come from the defensive production.

DlineDEFENSEblog


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 28 Comments »

Bell is a thoroughbred

Posted by Darren Urban on May 17, 2013 – 11:32 am

Yeremiah Bell has flown under the radar a bit since his arrival in Arizona. He signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum, his signing was the only one not leaked early on a day when the Cards signed five and cut Kerry Rhodes. Now that he is on the field, though, it’s hard to miss Bell. He technically has been a free safety in his career, but to look at him certainly screams strong safety. Literally. Just look at those arms.

“I guess over the years, it’s just from lifting weights,” Bell said. He doesn’t mind talking about his physique but he clearly isn’t someone who is looking to brag. “Everyone always gets on me because my legs are small,” Bell added. “I was born with club feet, so it’s a little difficult for me to get my legs like my arms. I guess I just built over time. Everyone starting admiring them, so of course I started work them a little harder. It’s fun. Guys mess with me.”

That’s hard to believe. The Cardinals had another safety who treated his body as a temple — perhaps you remember Adrian Wilson? — and nobody was going to mess with him.

“When I was in Miami (with the Dolphins), the guys always used to get on me, saying I looked like a linebacker up top and a receiver down low,” Bell said, chuckling. “I told them it was good, because I’m from Kentucky. I asked them if they had ever seen a thoroughbred horse. A thoroughbred horse has little bitty legs and is big up top. I am a thoroughbred from Kentucky. That’s how I explain it to them.”

BellBicepBlog


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 17 Comments »

Roster age, not surprisingly, shrinks

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2013 – 3:25 pm

It didn’t take long before Bruce Arians made it known he was going to be comfortable playing young players after doing it last season in Indianapolis. Then, as March played out, the Cardinals either didn’t bring back older players who were free agents and released others who were on the wrong side of 30. Now, with the offseason roster nearly set, the numbers emphasize just how much younger General Manager Steve Keim has made his team.

The team’s 53-man roster by the end of last season — and that means younger players were on it in place of IR’d vets like Levi Brown, Kevin Kolb and Lyle Sendlein — had an average age of 29.7 years. The Cardinals’ current extended offseason roster (subtracting the 16 long-shot undrafted rookies who would obviously bring down the average age by their sheer numbers) features an average age of 25.8 years.

The Cards had 12 players 30 and older on their final 53. As of today, they have eight: Carson Palmer (33), Yeremiah Bell (35, pictured below), Daryn Colledge (31), Darnell Dockett (31), Jeff King (30), Jay Feely (36), Mike Leach (36) and Dave Zastudil (34). Take out those three specialists and the Cardinals’ current average age is 25.4.

The age could rise depending on how the roster is shaped going into the season, because of those 30-year-olds, I don’t right now see any of them being let go. But while Keim’s overhaul was in part about clearing salary cap room this offseason, it was also about an infusion of youth after a Ken Whisenhunt era that relied heavily on veterans.

YouthPicBellUSE


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »

Delving into the first Arians minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2013 – 4:42 pm

The Cardinals are done with the first day of their three-day voluntary minicamp. The tempo for the almost two-hour work in the afternoon was crisp. Coach Bruce Arians said there were fewer mistakes than might have been anticipated. The only player not there was Larry Fitzgerald, but Arians knew that he wouldn’t be and said Fitz would be back on Wednesday. A couple other tidbits:

— T Levi Brown and LB O’Brien Schofield weren’t taking part as they continue their rehab from 2012 injuries. Arians said there was no reason to push it. Schofield should be back soon. Arians just wants to make sure Brown is available by the Fall. Arians said he might consider putting Nate Potter at guard at some point, but there is plenty of time to figure that out. Arians said a player should be able to play either guard or tackle on the same side.

— QB Carson Palmer said 75 percent of the offense has been introduced to the players, although there is a long way to go to make it work in practice. This is the teaching/learning phase, clearly, although the pace of the workout was noticeably quick.

— With Schofield out (and for all we know, even if Schofield was available) it was free agent linebacker Lorenzo Alexander lining up on the outside with Sam Acho. Daryl Washington and Jasper Brinkley were the inside linebackers. The first string secondary was Jerraud Powers with Patrick Peterson at cornerback and Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell at safety.

— Washington obviously won’t be able to play the first four games because of his suspension. Arians said it was too early to know who will be the starter in Washington’s absence. “We will get Daryl ready to start just like I did with Ben Roethlisberger (before his suspension in 2010) and whoever was taking his place in September was more than ready to,” Arians said.

MinicampWorkBlogUSE


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »