Monthly Archives: May 2017

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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, and organized team activities and minicamps in full swing, here’s a starting lineup projection for the Arizona Cardinals:

OFFENSE (ONE RB, TWO TEs, TWO WRs)

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QB: Carson Palmer: Despite his age (37), Palmer is still one of the few no-brainers on the roster because he hasn’t dropped off in production.

RB: David Johnson: Who else would the Cardinals start above one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position?

TE: Jermaine Gresham: He re-signed with Arizona over the offseason and brings a mix of athleticism and passion to the field.

LT: D.J. Humphries: The plan is for Humphries to play left tackle, his natural position, for the first time as a professional.

LG: Mike Iupati: One of the toughest players on the roster, Iupati continues to be one of the best run-blockers in the league.

C: A.Q. Shipley: Rewarded with a multiyear contract, Shipley has established himself as a firm starter in the Cardinals’ offense.

RG: Evan Boehm: Drafted in 2016 as a possible replacement for Shipley, Boehm moved to guard late in the season and flourished.

RT: Jared Veldheer: Veldheer may be under the brightest spotlight this offseason as he moves from left tackle to right tackle for the first time in years.

TE: Troy Niklas: Niklas is penciled in as the starter for now, but injuries have set his progress back, which could put him in jeopardy of losing this spot.

WR: Larry Fitzgerald: Will this be Fitzgerald’s last year? He’s hinted at it, but the future Hall of Famer keeps putting up 1,000-yard seasons into his early 30s and he led the NFL in receptions last season.

WR: John Brown: Brown’s performance will be dictated by how well he’s handling his health issues stemming from being diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle-cell trait.

DEFENSE (3-4-4)

OLB: Chandler Jones: Now that he has a long-term mega-deal, Jones has to live up to the expectations that accompany it, but he said another year in the Cardinals’ defense will mean more opportunities for him to get to the quarterback.

DT: Frostee Rucker: Rucker has established himself as a foundation of the locker room and defensive line, and he will be relied on even more this year with the departure of Calais Campbell.

DT: Corey Peters: A steady veteran, Peters is expected to see more snaps now that the defensive line room has shrunk a bit.

DT: Robert Nkemdiche: The hopes are that Nkemdiche can build on an underperforming rookie season and be the first-round talent the Cardinals hoped he’d be.

OLB: Markus Golden: There’s some pressure on Golden to repeat or better his 12.5-sack performance from 2016, but he’s continued to improve each season.

ILB: Karlos Dansby: Dansby will make his third stint with the Cardinals, but at 35 how much does he have left to be an everyday starter?

ILB: Deone Bucannon: Like the linebackers before him who worked alongside Dansby, Bucannon will be given an opportunity to be mentored by an experienced veteran.

CB: Patrick Peterson: He wasn’t talked about much as the Defensive Player of the Year last season because quarterbacks stayed away from him, which likely will happen even more this year.

FS: Tyrann Mathieu: This could be a make-or-break season for Mathieu, who’s returning from another serious injury (shoulder). But if Mathieu can regain his Honey Badger form, everybody will forget about his recent run of ailments.
SS: Tyvon Branch: Injured for most of last year, Branch brings a steady and veteran hand to a Cardinals secondary that added young faces through the draft.

CB: Rudy Ford: There’s no clear-cut starter at cornerback, but the rookie Ford has the most experience at the position among the Cardinals’ other defensive backs. It could put him in a position to beat out both Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams .

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Phil Dawson: He was signed to make field goals, and that’s just what Phil Dawson does.

P: Matt Wile: The job is his for now, but he could face competition in camp.

KR: T.J. Logan: He’s a proven kick returner who was drafted for his speed.

PR: T.J. Logan: He’s not a proven punt returner but said he’ll spend the offseason learning how to field punts.

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The buzz around John Brown is beginning to take hold in Arizona.

During recent offseason practices, the fourth-year wideout has displayed a “speed and explosiveness” the Cardinals haven’t seen from Brown since 2015, according to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic.

“‘Smoke’ looks like John Brown,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday, referring to Brown’s nickname. “A couple of those routes he ran, he did not run one route like that last year. Knock on wood, it stays that way.”
FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ Ranking the 5 best offseasons
▹ Who will snap playoff drought in ’17?
▹ Projected Starters (NFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ Projected Starters (AFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ All-32: One major question for every team
▸ AFC | NFC
▹ Most vulnerable division winners
‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017’
▹ Ike Taylor’s Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61
Last season saw Brown struggle through a concussion in training camp and symptoms tied to his sickle-cell trait, which created moments of deep fatigue for the receiver.

This offseason, doctors also detected and treated a cyst on Brown’s spine, which has made a vast difference for the pass-catcher, who said: “Twenty-four hours after they drained the cyst I was feeling normal. After a week or two, going back home and I was running around … I just realized I was feeling real good.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer has noticed a difference in Brown all offseason.

“He just has a different energy about him,” Palmer said. “He’s heavier, he’s stronger. He looks more explosive than he did last year. He’s got that smile. He’s having fun, enjoying it. It’s not a grind.”

Brown’s transformation looms large for a Cardinals team that needs help at the position. Two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard campaign, the wideout is needed to help boost a cast led today by an aging Larry Fitzgerald.

After the team parted ways with Michael Floyd, Brown and J.J. Nelson will be asked to pick up the slack, something Brown wasn’t able to do last season.

This time around, the arrow is pointing up.

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TEMPE, Ariz. – While the rest of the football world speculated one way or the other, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim felt all along that his two most prized players – quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald – would be back for the 2017 season.

Call it intuition or just a GM’s sense. Keim had a hunch.

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“I would’ve bet that they were going to play just because I know how both of them are wired,” Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “There’s no two players in our locker room who are more competitive and more passionate about the game.”

Keim started getting a sense of which way Fitzgerald was leaning during the day of Jan. 9, when Keim and Cardinals president Michael Bidwill were in Tampa, Florida, for the College Football Playoff national championship between Clemson and Alabama. Fitzgerald called Keim to tell him about his offseason, which at the time was a week old, and to ask about a few college prospects and free agents.

As a general manager, Keim loved that one of his top players was calling to discuss personnel.

“He’s a football junkie,” Keim said. “He told me that day that, as much as he tried to get away and take a break, the itch that he’s getting, that at that point, which was January the ninth, [was] getting as strong as ever.

“That was a good indication for me, even though he didn’t say, ‘Steve, I’m back.’”

When it came to Palmer, Keim knew there were still things the veteran quarterback wanted to accomplish. But it wasn’t until the two sat down for dinner and uncorked a few bottles of Caymus cabernet sauvignon soon before Palmer announced he was returning on Feb. 9 that Keim knew for sure Palmer would play a 15th season.

“He certainly, in my opinion, didn’t want to go out the way we went out last year, knowing that we can build a few more pieces to the puzzles and he can bounce back and have the kind of year he had in 2015,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do that.”

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TEMPE, Ariz. – When the Arizona Cardinals decided to let safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger sign with other teams during free agency instead of trying to keep them in the desert, finding their replacements became an instant priority, which is why former Washington defensive back Budda Baker was rated high on Arizona’s draft board.

In Baker, the Cardinals knew they could land a multi-dimensional defensive back who was capable of playing four positions. Baker, single-handedly, could help the Cardinals replace both Jefferson and Swearinger, which is why they traded up nine spots to draft him with the fourth pick of the second round.
Budda Baker offers plenty of versatility in the secondary for the Cardinals. Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire
Where he fits: As long as Baker stays healthy during training camp, there’s no reason why he can’t see the field Week 1 in Detroit. But the question will be: from where? While Baker can play strong safety, when he’s on the field as a base safety, he’ll most likely line up as free safety, giving him the flexibility to roam or crash the box. But where Baker will see the most action next season is when the Cardinals go to a sub package, which they do on 79 percent of plays. He has an opportunity to become the a nickel or dime corner. Baker’s positional flexibility will allow defensive coordinator James Bettcher to line Tyrann Mathieu up at one nickel corner and Baker at the other, if offenses go four wide. If they go three, Bettcher could use Baker or Mathieu as the nickel corner and the other as the free safety.

What he said: “I feel like I can bring versatility,” Baker said. “I feel like I can play free safety, strong safety, corner, nickel. I showed a lot of stuff on film. I’m able to read the quarterback, make certain tackles, open-field tackles, and all that kind of stuff.”

What they said: “A hybrid player that has the ability to play multiple positions,” general manager Steve Keim said. “There is some foot speed, some explosiveness, has the ability to play free safety, strong safety, play the nickel.”