Monthly Archives: July 2017

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the past five months, as the debates about who will be in the Arizona Cardinals’ rotation at right cornerback raged on, one name was often left out.

Until Friday.

Anytime the right cornerback battle was discussed, Ronald Zamort was rarely, if ever mentioned. That’s not hyperbole. On paper, it’s been a two-man race between Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. But when Zamort took the field at right cornerback with the first-team defense Friday as an injured Bethel watched from the sideline, the conversation about right cornerback quickly changed.

The undrafted Zamort had scaled the depth chart, leaping Williams in the process.

“[Read] whatever you want to read into it,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s playing with the first team instead of Brandon.”

To some degree, Zamort’s appearance with the first team shouldn’t be a surprise.
Cornerback Ronald Zamort, who made a play to make the team as an undrafted free agent last season, is having “a great camp,” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. Matt York/AP
Arians said a decision whether to keep Zamort on the 53-man roster last year “went right to the wire.” Zamort was released during final cuts and returned home to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he attended Western Michigan University. The former criminal justice major got a job as a counselor at a local detention center and spent the next three months working with kids until the Cardinals called again on Dec. 20, signing him to their practice squad for the rest of the season. He was then signed to a futures contract on Jan. 3.

That led him to taking first-team reps Friday.

“It means a lot,” Zamort said. “It’s a humbling experience just to be out there competing day in and day out.”

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Zamort’s ascent has been due in part to simple improvement.

“Ronnie’s having a hell of a camp,” Arians said. “He had a good camp last year, went right to the wire. He’s better outside. He was more of a nickel last year. But he’s really worked himself into the outside rotation and is really solid. He’s having a great camp.”

Zamort said he left Arizona last year with improved technique, a better knowledge of how to play against bigger receivers and more confidence.

“I put myself in better positions and learned the defense,” Zamort said.

 

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When Zamort returned to the desert last December, he was a better man from his experience at the detention center. He listened to their stories, which often included adversity. And they listened to his. He could tell his presence “was a blessing to them.”

“It was very humbling,” he said. “It was a great experience, just to go out there and see how kids react, see if I could drop a positive value in their life.”

As the 25-year-old Zamort continues to prepare for first-team reps as long as Bethel is out with a hyperextended knee, he’s not paying attention to the battle at right cornerback that he’s crashed.

That shouldn’t be surprising. He didn’t even know he wasn’t part of the conversation.

“I ain’t even know y’all were talking, honestly,” he said.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The preseason is usually when teams rest their starters for the regular season.

That’s what the Arizona Cardinals did last year. This year, however, coach Bruce Arians will change his approach a bit. Quarterback Carson Palmer can expect to play more this preseason, Arians said on Saturday.

But it won’t come in the preseason opener — the Hall of Fame Game — on Aug. 3. Arians ruled Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and possibly linebacker Karlos Dansby, out of that game, but said Palmer can expect more reps in the games he does play in.

“He’ll probably play more than he did last year,” Arians said. “We’ll play our starters more than we did last year.”

Arians wasn’t talking about rewriting preseason norms. Instead of playing, say, six plays in a preseason game, Palmer may get 12 snaps.

As usual, Palmer will have his most playing time in the Cardinals’ fourth preseason game — which is the rest of the league’s third. Arians said the plan is to play Palmer more in Arizona’s third and fourth preseason games and not at all in the finale on Aug. 31 at Denver.

Last season, Palmer didn’t finish the first quarter in the second preseason game and took three snaps in the second quarter of the third preseason game before he was replaced by Drew Stanton. That’ll change this season.

And Palmer has accepted Arians’ decision.

“I’m excited about camp. I’m excited about preseason games,” Palmer said. “I’m ready to work. I’m available and I’m going to do what I’m told as far as that’s concerned.”

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Joe Thomas will take part in an NFL version of “Celebrity Family Feud” on Sunday night.

Expectations of “good answer” shouts might best be kept to a minimum.

Thomas will join four other current NFL players against a team of NFL legends for a Family Feud that will benefit charity. The hour-long show on ABC starts at 8, and was put together by the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA All-Stars team includes Thomas, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Five Hall of Famers will play for the NFL Legends team: Marshall Faulk, Andre Reed, Anthony Munoz, Derrick Brooks and Rod Woodson.

The “Feud” involves contestants trying to choose the answer picked most by a crowd of 100 before the show. Traditionally, players yell “good answer” and applaud their teammates’ choices — unless the answer is a dud. Those answers draw blank stares.

The pressure will be on Thomas to avoid that stare from host Steve Harvey.

The present-day players will donate their winnings to the Professional Athletes Foundation, which helps retired players transition after retirement. The legends will play for Active Minds, which raises mental-health awareness among college students.

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It’s no secret the NFC West is a two-team race between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle has proved it’s capable of making the Super Bowl — but with a dominant running back like Marshawn Lynch. Whether all the internal discord is true or not will go a long way toward determining if the Seahawks make the playoffs again.

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Compared to the Seahawks, the Cardinals might have a better shot at a run to Super Bowl LII. Their offense is more potent and their defense is younger at the right spots. Beyond that, locker room harmony, guided by a significant veteran presence, can go a long way.

This could be the last season the Cardinals have the trifecta of quarterback Carson Palmer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and coach Bruce Arians. Compared to the rest of the division, what are the Cardinals’ chances of making a run to Super Bowl LII?
Carson Palmer is 37 and regressed to the middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks last season. Does he have one more big season left in him? AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Alden Gonzalez, Los Angeles Rams reporter: I just don’t see a Super Bowl team when I look at the Cardinals. That’s crazy to think, given the 13-3 season they had in 2015 and the hype they carried with them heading into 2016. But let’s go through it. David Johnson is a stud, perhaps the most talented and versatile offensive player in the NFL, but is there enough around him?

Palmer is 37 and had a 58.9 Total QBR that ranked 18th among 30 qualified quarterbacks. Fitzgerald is coming off another great year, but he will be 34 at the end of August and the Cardinals didn’t get much of anything from the rest of their receivers last season.

Then there’s the defense, which lost defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Marcus Cooper and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals did a nice job drafting a talented pass-rusher (Haason Redick) and a versatile safety (Budda Baker). Their offensive line should be better, and it’ll be fun to see Baker team up with a healthy Tyrann Mathieu.

Nick Wagoner, San Francisco 49ers reporter: Comparison to the rest of the division might be damning with faint praise at this point. The Niners and Rams are in rebuild mode, leaving the Cardinals as the most likely challenger to the Seahawks for the NFC West crown. Realistically, though, that would seem to be the ceiling for this Arizona team. The Cardinals had what looks like a strong draft, and the defense should be good, though it will miss Campbell.

But the question that must be answered is the same one that has existed in their recent run of success: Can Palmer lead them to the promised land? Palmer threw for a lot of yards last year but had his worst completion percentage since 2011 and threw more interceptions than he had in a season since 2013. Palmer’s playoff struggles have been well-documented, and it’s hard to see that changing at this stage of his career even if he can get Arizona to the postseason.

Sheil Kapadia, Seattle Seahawks reporter: Even though they lost Campbell and Jefferson, I still like the Cardinals’ defense a lot. First-round pick Reddick and second-round selection Baker should be able to come in and contribute right away.

The question is: Can the Cardinals’ passing game get back to 2015 form? To be effective, Palmer needs the offensive line to make great strides from a year ago, and Arizona might not have done enough up front unless rookies such as Dorian Johnson and Will Holden prove to be quick learners. At the very least, this should be a team that can run the ball and play good defense. Special teams can’t be worse than last year. I’d say they’re a Super Bowl sleeper in the NFC and behind the Seahawks in terms of expectations within the division.

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I actually don’t think the Arizona Cardinals losing Calais Campbell to free agency will have as big of an impact as it could. That’s not saying his absence won’t be felt; it’ll leave a major void in the defense, and not just because he’s 6-foot-8. If the Cardinals didn’t have two dominant outside pass-rushers as they do in Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, then, yes, I’d say losing Campbell would have the biggest impact on next season because opposing offenses would have one less pass-rusher to worry about and could focus their attention on one side of the defensive line.

But with Jones and Golden on either side of the line, losing Campbell won’t be felt as much, especially if Robert Nkemdiche begins playing as the Cardinals expect him to. As long as the Cardinals can get pressure off the edge, the interior pass-rushers could reap the rewards. Campbell broke out for eight sacks in 2016 because he wasn’t double-teamed as much with offensive lines paying so much attention to Jones and Golden. As long as those two continue to play at high, productive levels, Arizona’s interior pass-rushers – Nkemdiche, Frostee Rucker, Rodney Gunter, Ed Stinson and Josh Mauro — will continue seeing one-on-one blockers, which makes their life all the easier.

But if Nkemdiche doesn’t play like the first-round pick he was in 2016, the Cardinals’ defensive line could be in trouble. Rucker will be steady all season and Gunter will be solid, but Nkemdiche has the most talent on that line. If he doesn’t use it, Arizona’s interior pass rush could struggle.

Where I think Campbell’s presence will be missed is in the Cardinals’ locker room. He was a steadying force, someone who was even-keeled and a leader. He commanded a lot of respect from teammates and was the type of player any franchise would want to represent it in public.

However, I think the biggest question for 2017 will be how the veterans keep the locker room in line, something that was an issue last season. Too many of the younger players didn’t use the older players as mentors and did their own thing to an extent. That was one reason why the Cardinals pursued veterans in free agency, particularly Karlos Dansby. Getting a locker-room presence like him will fill the void left by Campbell’s departure and help change the culture of the locker room yet again.