Monthly Archives: August 2017

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It seems like all the criticism the Arizona Cardinals receivers took during training camp has died down. The unit has gotten healthy and began playing more consistently toward the end of camp. Still, there are questions.

How does the WR group look after camp for the Cards? #cardsmailbag

— Nathan (@TheNathanKropp) August 25, 2017
Overall, I think this receiver group can be solid. It’ll have a lot of speed and good depth, and give quarterback Carson Palmer enough options to improve on last year’s offense.

Here’s what we know about the Cardinals’ wide receiver room: There are five spots secure out of six, maybe seven, potential openings.

It’s tough to argue that Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown, John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams won’t make the 53. That leaves six players vying for one, maybe two spots. But realistically the battle will be between Brittan Golden, Jeremy Ross and Aaron Dobson.
Aaron Dobson appears to be among six receivers vying for one or two spots on the Cardinals roster. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Two weeks ago, head coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will “probably” keep six. That gives him the flexibility to keep seven.

But what I think what this group of receivers will be missing is a clear-cut No. 2 option to Fitzgerald, like it had the last five years with Michael Floyd. What Floyd gave Arizona was a tall, big-bodied receiver who could work the sideline and take a big hit across the middle.

Floyd was 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. No other receiver on the current roster — aside from Fitzgerald and rookie Krishawn Hogan, who will likely end up on Arizona’s practice squad — fits that type of profile. Ross is 6-feet and 215. Dobson is 6-3 and 205 pounds. Jaron Brown is 6-2 and 205 pounds.

While I think the Cardinals can still be successful — quite successful, at that — with the current crop of receivers, I do also think they would benefit from adding a receiver the size of Floyd.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are three traits that Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians thinks every punt returner needs to have.

Good hands. The ability to stretch the field. Fearlessness.

It looks like Kerwynn Williams can check all three.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on trusting Kerwynn Williams as a return man: “He’s extremely competitive but he’s extremely reliable, too.” Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
Once rookie T.J. Logan went down with a fractured wrist during the Hall of Fame game two weeks ago, the Cardinals were on the hunt for a new return man for kickoffs and punts. They had two options. Find someone for each or find someone to do both.

“So many guys can’t do it because they can’t catch (punts),” Arians said. “And you have to be fearless. If you can just make one guy miss, that’s the key. Just make one guy miss, you’re going to make yards so if you can stretch the field, make one guy miss and you have those three things, it’s pretty much all there is to it.”

Arians knew if he gave Williams a chance, the fifth-year player would come through — just like Arians has seen before.

“Kerwynn’s one of those guys that if you just give him his opportunity, he does great with it every time,” Arians said. “And you’re kind of stupid if you don’t give him one. I’m sure he’ll do a great job with the punt return, kick return job right now.

“He’s extremely competitive but he’s extremely reliable, too.”

That could allow Williams to bring some consistency to the Cardinals’ return game. They’ve had 10 kick returners and six punt returners since Arians was hired in 2013. He thought the battle for the job was over in 2014, when the Cards drafted J.J. Nelson but he was injured in the second game of the season after muffing a punt against Chicago, all but ending his tenure as Arizona’s punt returner.

The carousel of returners has been frustrating, Arians said. It’s included running back David Johnson, who won’t be allowed to return another kick for as long as he lives; safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had his knee torn up the last time he returned a kick; cornerback Patrick Peterson, who’s ultimately too valuable to the franchise to be put out there as a sitting duck but is still in Arians’ back pocket as an option; and wide receiver John Brown, who wants to do it and was finding some success with 17 punt returns for 119 yards last season before health issues curtailed his performance.

 

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Finding a kick returner this time around was going to be the easier of the two. Kicks have a tendency to be more routine. They tend to come straight at the returner and take longer to get there. Fielding punts, on the other hand, is a hidden talent.

“It’s just a rare, rare knack to return punts,” Arians said.

There are more factors involved.

“Really, the timing,” Williams said. “You have more time to catch a kick because there’s no one inside your face. You’re catching a kick moving forward whereas a punt, you got to be stationary. You got to make sure you have a good feel for how long the ball’s in the air because that determines whether you get blown up by somebody.

“I feel like with punts, the biggest difference is you have to trust your teammates more on punts. You got to trust they’re going to keep the guys out of your face and you get a secure catch.”

Or as Nelson put it, a punt returner needs to pray.

“You’re praying that this guy on the outside got his block as well as you have eight or nine more guys in the box, praying that they got their block,” Nelson said. “With you looking up, hoping you catch the ball and hoping that the defender don’t run into you while you catch the ball. There’s a lot that goes into it.

“I feel like it’s one of the toughest jobs out there.”

And it’s Williams’ for now.

He’s not a complete novice at returning punts. He’s fielded punts before, during practice. He’s also spent time during offseasons working on his punt and kick returns to make sure his timing is right.

But there are aspects of returning punts that Williams won’t be able to prepare for.
It’s more of a judgment play than anything else, Nelson said. The wind could be a factor. There are various kicks — Aussie-style, spiral, end-over-end — and various ways to angle a punt. A punter might place it outside the hash marks or outside the numbers or on the sideline or over Williams’ head. Punts can come from different depths, whereas a kickoff is usually launched from the 25-yard-line.

However, Williams feels “pretty comfortable” doing it. In his debut as the Cardinals primary returner in Saturday’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Williams returned a punt for 13 yards and a kickoff for 35. If he can average those types of numbers during the regular season, Arians feels Williams could lead the NFL next season.

“I thought he was very decisive, took it north,” Arians said. “Just continue doing what he’s doing.”

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last time cornerback Tramon Williams was a free agent, he was coming off eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who had averaged 11 wins per season and had won Super Bowl XLV.

In the Cleveland Browns, he saw a franchise that, on the surface, was building toward winning. The Browns had just finished 7-9 in 2014 under first year coach Mike Pettine. It looked like the right fit for Williams, who signed a three-year contract worth $21 million with the Browns.

But over the next two seasons, Williams won only four games.

“I actually thought those guys were on the right direction,” Williams said. “They had just come off a good year and then once I signed, they started going in another direction right away. You got to live and learn. That’s all it is. Experience.”
Tramon Williams and the Browns won just one game last season. Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire
So after his release in February, Williams wanted his next team to be, well, built to win.

The 34-year-old versatile defensive back feels rejuvenated with the Arizona Cardinals, who have averaged 10.25 wins since 2013. He knows he won’t be winning just one game next season like the Browns did last season.

“It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” Williams said. “I’ve won a Super Bowl and we won one game last year, and we played our heart out to win that game. And I feel that’s my second best game winning in my career.

“And I won a Super Bowl, so that tells you how it was.”

When Williams was evaluating potential destinations, he saw the opportunity to compete for and potentially win the right cornerback job. He also looked at how former Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper turned his performance last season, when he had four interceptions and was a Pro Bowl alternate after being traded for in September and not starting the first two games, into a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears worth a reported $16 million.

 

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Williams said he studies other cornerbacks around the league, focusing in on the ones who are playing well. He wants to know what defenses they’re playing in and how their skills fit the scheme. Cooper was one of the corners Williams studied last season.
When Williams had the opportunity to sign with Arizona, he saw the same defense he played in with the Browns just with different terminology. Williams was confident he’ll have the defense down by Week 1, should he make the 53-man roster.

Should Williams make the team, he knows what it’ll be like playing alongside a star cornerback and the effect that causes. He played with Charles Woodson and Al Harris in Green Bay and Joe Haden in Cleveland. Williams knows he’ll be tested if he’s on the field.

And while Williams is aware nothing in the NFL is guaranteed, he’s comfortable with his decision to sign with the Cardinals last week.

“I can truthfully live with it because I know these guys try to win,” Williams said. “And if we don’t, I can live with it.”

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The Arizona Cardinals could have as many as five new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:

Offense

Quarterback (Carson Palmer): As long as he’s healthy, Palmer will be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in four of the past five seasons, and another such season will be expected if he can stay upright in 2017. This might be his last chance to win an elusive Super Bowl trophy.

Running back (David Johnson): In his second season, Johnson proved himself to be one of the best players in the NFL — not just one of the best running backs. He had more than 100 all-purpose yards in his first 15 games last season, setting an NFL record. He finished with 1,239 rushing and 879 receiving yards — 121 short of becoming the third running back in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

Wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald): The older Fitzgerald gets, the better he is. He led the NFL with 107 receptions last season and had his second straight 1,000-yard campaign. The question that will linger for Fitzgerald this season is whether it’s his last.

NFL Training Camp Coverage
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Tight end (Jermaine Gresham): Gresham returned to the Cardinals after signing a four-year deal in March. He has become part of the heart and soul of the offense after displaying raw emotion throughout the past season, though at times it was detrimental when he drew penalties for his outbursts. Another season with Palmer, his former teammate in Cincinnati, might mean more action for Gresham in the passing game.

Right tackle (Jared Veldheer): After an entire career at left tackle — dating to his junior year of high school — Veldheer is moving to right tackle. Well, that’s the plan at least. He transitioned to the other side of the line during OTAs and minicamp, but his biggest test will come during training camp, when contact with defenders is allowed. Veldheer is coming off a torn triceps.

Right guard (Evan Boehm): It took Boehm one season to prove to head coach Bruce Arians that he’s capable of being a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. Arians installed Boehm as the starting right guard after last season, and it’ll be his job to lose during camp, with a handful of competitors pushing him.

Center (A.Q. Shipley): Shipley will be enjoying his first season starting at center with a two-year contract after he secured his status as the starter last season.

Left guard (Mike Iupati): One of two offensive linemen returning to play the same position he played last season, Iupati has been consistent for the Cards since he came over from the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.

Left tackle (D.J. Humphries): Humphries is the other half of the Veldheer switch, moving back to his natural position. He played on the left side for three games last season after Veldheer was hurt but finished the season on injured reserve because of a concussion.

Tight end (Troy Niklas): On IR for the final 13 games last season, Niklas has plenty to prove this year. He impressed enough during OTAs and minicamp, so it’s likely that he’ll be part of the offensive plans as long as he’s healthy. But with Niklas, that’s a big if.

Wide receiver (John Brown): Coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2015, Brown struggled last season, as health issues plagued him on and off the field. He was diagnosed as a carrier of the Sickle Cell trait in October and revealed in May that he had a cyst on his spine drained after the season. By all accounts, Brown is looking more like the receiver he was two years ago than the one from 2016.
The Cardinals have been impressed with Haason Reddick’s transition to inside linebacker this offseason. AP Photo/Angie Wang
Defense

Outside linebacker (Chandler Jones): He got a new deal, and now Jones has to prove that he is worth it. He signed a five-year contract in March that’s worth $82.5 million. That’s a ton of money, but Jones has had double-digit sacks the past two seasons, and he told ESPN last year that with another season in the Cardinals’ scheme, he’ll get even better.

Defensive tackle (Frostee Rucker): Mr. Steady. Rucker played through a lingering ankle injury last season but is healthy and recovered. Although he has been an influential presence in the Cards’ locker room during his time in Arizona, he’ll have to step up his game on the field and in the locker room with the departure of Calais Campbell in free agency.

Defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche): After a disappointing rookie season in which the first-round pick played in just five games, the expectations are great entering his second season. With Campbell gone, the Cardinals need him to secure a starting role and be productive in 2017.

Defensive tackle (Corey Peters): Peters has become a key cog in the Cardinals’ defensive pressure up front. That should continue this season, as his role becomes more important with Jones’ continued success and Markus Golden’s breakout season a year ago.

Outside linebacker (Markus Golden): Speaking of Golden, he had a team-high 12.5 sacks a year ago, his second season in the NFL. This season, sacks might be harder to come by as offensive lines, which focused on Jones last season, focus their game plans on Golden. But he has shown that he can adapt and learn, and he should produce another double-digit-sack season.

Inside linebacker (Haason Reddick): Arizona’s first-round pick this year found himself practicing with the first-team defense during OTAs and minicamp after inside linebacker Deone Bucannon had ankle surgery. The starting job will be Reddick’s to lose during training camp, and thus far, the Cardinals have been impressed with his transition from hand-in-the-dirt edge rusher to standing up at inside linebacker.

Inside linebacker (Karlos Dansby): He’s back for a third stint with the Cards, but with him 35 years old, the biggest question surrounding Dansby will be how much he can contribute. He started seven games last season and played in all 16. His presence in the locker room and as a mentor to Reddick will be invaluable.

Cornerback (Patrick Peterson): Simply put, no quarterback wants to throw Peterson’s way anymore. He averaged a league-high 8.5 coverage snaps per target last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Each year, it seems, Peterson turns in performances worthy of being in the conversation for the NFL’s defensive player of the year, but because he doesn’t have sexy statistics, he tends to not be part of it.

Safety (Tyrann Mathieu): This might be Mathieu’s most important season in the NFL. He finished last season on injured reserve — the third time in four years that his season concluded with an injury. There’s no doubting Mathieu’s talent, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season. He practiced without a knee brace toward the end of offseason workouts, a sign that the Honey Badger of old is back.

Safety (Tyvon Branch): Another defensive back who suffered an injury last season, Branch was able to come back from groin surgery, albeit briefly. He finished the season on IR.
Cornerback (Justin Bethel): Bethel will be part of the most hotly contested position battle in training camp, against Brandon Williams at cornerback opposite Peterson. After looking strong in OTAs and minicamp, Bethel has shown that his experience might be enough to get him the starting job, but there isn’t a clear favorite because contact isn’t allowed during offseason practices, and the Cardinals are a press-man team.

Specialists

Kicker (Phil Dawson): Forget his age. Dawson was the most important offseason acquisition for this franchise. His foot could win the Cardinals close games, which last season’s kicker couldn’t do.

Punter (Richie Leone): This position is a toss-up. Leone is a bit bigger than Matt Wile, who punted for the Cardinals last season. Leone is also a convert from the CFL, which might make for some interesting stories.

Long snapper (Aaron Brewer): Unless the Cardinals bring in another long snapper to compete with him during training camp, the job is Brewer’s.