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Gollin's Pre-Draft Blog - by Jeff Gollin

Last 4 Days: What to Look For...
Sun. May 4, 2014 -The Sunday before Draft Day is traditionally Draft Special Day in the Sunday sports pages of in all the local dailies (including an assortment of mocks from an array of beat writers). Today: Nada. I think I know why. Mocks have become very competitive and no fan-fearing football writer wants to come across as "the guy who got it all wrong" compared to his brothers and sisters in the football writing community. So they're all waiting till the very last minute to file their mocks in order to get a leg up on the others. I'm guessing that there will be an avalanche of mocks published in local sports sections on Wednesday (or even as late as Thursday) morning.

Which drives me nuts - because a lot can happen during those last 48 - 72 to change the NFL Draft landscape: Last minute blockbuster trades and, most revealing, late-breaking scuttlebutt published by those beat writers. Things I keep my eyes out for:

1. Updated mocks from a few plugged-in writers who always seem to have insider info - Peter King of SI is one. Paul Zimmerman (in his hey day) was another. Gary Myers of the NY Daily News spent some time in Dallas earlier in his career and always seems to have the inside track to Jerry Jones. Their mocks and their late info always seems to carry a little bit of extra weight.

2. Local reporters often know stuff about the NFL team in their city - They live with their local teams day in and day out and may be tight with one or more team officials who'll feed them scraps of info. Or the team might reward their local beat guy with a tidbit or two just to make him look good.

3. Football writers and reporters talk to each other - Look for patterns in their mocks. If you suddenly notice, for example, that Eric Ebron's name is suddenly slotted at the #9 hole on a whole bunch of late-minute mocks, it's quite possible that the Buffalo beat guy "knew something" and shared it with his fellow reporters in other cities.

Of course, anything can happen on draft day. A blockbuster trade or a surprise sleeper pick high up in the draft can cause the dominos to fall in strange and unusual directions and screw up everyone's mock draft. (Not always but more often than you'd expect). Stay tuned.

And Down the Stretch They Come!!!!
Sat. May 3, 2014 - Today - as we head down the backstretch toward Draft Day -we're reminded that today is also Derby Day. And, as residents of the Great State of NJ, how can we not root for a horse with a NJ name ("Danza") ridden by a Jersey jock with a Jersey name ("Joe Bravo)?

Enough with the irrelevent prattle - let's talk Draft:

With 5 days to go (& counting) we still don't have a clue as to which way the Cardinals are leaning. (Steve Keim and Bruce Arians positioned the team so that, with few if any glaring needs to fill, we could go in a number of different directions following a Best Player Available (BPA) strategy (or, at least one that only "cheated" a little toward strengthening a given position). You can see this in the number of mock drafts that have the Cardinals drafting all over the place. (With some teams, the mocks tend to zero in on a couple of players (like Detroit with either Watkins or Ebron or the Giants with Ebron or Zach Martin).

The following draft prospects have been mentioned in the same breath as the Cardinals in various mocks: QB Derek Carr, (the Cards trading up to take) TE Eric Ebron, OG Zack Martin, DT RaShede Hageman, DT Timmy Jernigan, OLB Anthony Barr, OLB Ryan Shazier, ILB CJ Mosley, DE/OLB Dee Ford, CB Darquez Dennard, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Calvin Pryor.

As expected, the Cards have been extremely tight-lipped about how their Top 20 (or for that matter, Top 120) Board is stacked. Perhaps there are other prospects Mr. Keim has high up on his short list.

As the draft proceeds past #20, additional dynamics may (or may not) come into play: The Cards may remain rigidly faithful to their Top 120 Board and grab the highest remaining player each time they pick. Or they might shift a little toward filling a remaining need (i.e. if they picked Shazier at #20, they probably wouldn't pick another OLB at #52 if it meant passing on one or two remaining quality safeties (like Bucannon or Ward). This suggests that dwindling "supply at a given position might serve to juice-up the value of its remaining players.

And what about QB? (Assuming we pass on Carr in the first round) is there any QB we like well enough to draft as high as #52? Bridgewater? Mettenberg? (Buhler?). Or do we wait until #84 or #120 and hope that one of the 2nd echelon prospects drops down to us or that Logan Thomas (if BA loves him) will still be there in the 4th round? Or do Steve or Coach Arians really care? (Maye they actually believe that Ryan Lindley is the answer as our #3 QB - I just don't fully buy it).

As I've mentioned in other sections of this Draft Issue, trying to scope out what the Cardinal's 6 picks will turn out to be is well nigh impossible, but here's one scenario I wouldn't be unhappy with:

#20. Ryan Shazier OLB Ohio St.
#52. Deone Bucannon S Washington St.
#84. Zach Mettenberg QB LSU
#120. Damian Southward S Wisconsin
#160. John Brown WR Pittsburgh St.
#196. Larry Webster TE/LB Bloomsburg

So that's where we are "the Saturday before." No doubt trades, trade-posturing and adjustments to trades will change the landscape of all that, so stay tuned (preferably on a daily basis) because a lot can happen. Ciao for Now! - JGG

Cromartie a Cards
Thurs. March 20, 2014 - The news kind of
snuck in under our radar in the form of an innocuous crawl at the bottom of the FoxSports Midwest screen near the end of a StL Cardinal - Marlins exhibition game - "Cards Sign CB Antonio Cromartie."

Cromartie had visited Arizona but then had returned back East where he publically announced that he really hoped he could remain a Jet. Apparently, the Jets-Jets-Jets had other fish to fly within ever-narrowing cap room (including the possiblilty they might sign Michael Vick-Vick-Vick) and suddenly, on a dull and boring Thursday afternoon in mid-March, Cromartie was ours.

The book on Cromartie is that he was a two-time Pro Bowler who had a subpar 2013 and wound up on the "overpaid" and not worth the cap space" list. What many critics may have ignored is that Cromartie injured his hip played hurt through most of the season but still appeared in all 16 Jets games. He figures to be one-half of the Cardinals' starting CB tandem ( "Peterson & Cromartie"), with Jerraud Powers moving inside to nickel corner with Tyrann Mathieu (rehabbing on schedule from knee surgery), Bryant McCann and Justin Bethel adding quality depth. The pairing of Cromartie with Peterson gives us two corners who are 6-2 and 6-1 respectively - a key to competing in a division chock full of big physical receivers.

What remains to be determined is: (a) Has Antonio fully recovered from the hip injury? (b) Can he (will he?) return to the high level of play he delivered during his Pro Bowl glory days? (c) How well will he fit-in as our "other corner" within Todd Bowles' defensive scheme - will he thrive or struggle? One other thing that really impressed was the number of positive tweets from Cardinal players on the Cromartie signing (I'm not sure whether it's due to Antonio's magnetic personality or because we just happen to live in an expanding Twitter society).

The signing of Cromartie was pretty much considered a "get" by the media pundits and represents one more example of Steve Keim methodically checking off one more box on his To-Do list. Pretty impressive, no?

Cards Sign Ginn
Fri. March 14, 2014 - We signed off on Day #2 by making "speedy slot receiver a top Cardinal priority. After spending most of the day pondering reports that CB Antonio Cromartie had stopped by for a visit, standpoint, out of nowhere came reports that speedy KR and WR Ted Ginn Jr was in Arizona followed soon thereafter by reports that he had indeed signed a 3-year contract. Ginn (who supposedly ran a 4.28 forty in college) is known for (a) his explosive home-run speed and (b) questionable hands. One observation out of the blogosphere was that he was among the top 2 or 3 kickoff returners last season. Hands notwithstanding, we like the signing because Ginn is an upgrade from Arenas returning kicks and gives us a more explosive dimension out of the slot than we had from Andre Roberts.

As for Cromartie - he stayed over in AZ last night as originally planned and is still in play One NFLN dude pointed out out that having Cro opposite Peterson in press coverage would allow Todd Bowles to be even more creative in his blitz packages than he's already been.

Two other bits of house-keeping: Matt Shaughnessy's re-resigning was finalized. Cards cut OLB Dontay Moch (which - along with Dansby's departure on the inside and our need for another edge-rusher even when he had Moch - suggests a move may be about to be made at OLB. We can't ignore the news that former Steeler James Harrison was released by Cincy. Hmmm)!

"Football Monopoly" - Day #2
Thurs. March 13, 2014 - From a Cardinal standpoint, Day #2 was pretty much a non-day - until bedtime on the East Coast, that is. Not that we weren't diligent - we had NFLN going 24/7 and repeatedly checked, Jurecki, KFFL Rumors and the official Cardinal website
for scraps of info, rumor, innuendo...anything. We turned in at 11 pm (ET) with our only news a crawl reporting that we had re-signed OLB Matt Shaughnessy and were considering Steeler DL Al Wood (Urban also reported that we were interested in GB defensive lineman Mike Neal - we hadn't heard that; but, in any case both Neal and Woods decided to play elsewhere). Then this morning, came an update from Darren Urban that, in addition to Shaughnessy, we re-signed LB Marcus Benard and added free agent center Ted Larsen and RB Jonathon Dwyer to the Cardinal roster. Larsen started 2 of 4 seasons in Tampa and provides solid backup depth to Sendlein. Dwyer (nicknamed "Baby Bus" in Pittsburgh) is solid between the tackles and should challenge Stepfan Taylor. Coach Arians shrugged off the loss of Karlos Dansby to the Browns by pointing out that they "loved" 2nd-year ILB Kevin Minter and expected him to step up next to DWash on the inside.

While the signings of Shaughnessy was critical (especially considering the loss of Dansby) and the inking of Benard, Larsen and Dwyer solid beneath-the-radar depth moves, we still need at least one more dynamic slot receiver, at least one ball-hawking and thumping safety, additional offensive line depth...along with an edge-rusher and inside LB depth as well - to give us maximum flexibility in the draft. No doubt the Cardinal moves thus far aren't as sexy as Revis to the Pats and Decker to the Jets; but, from a football standpoint, they're solid football moves that are methodically filling out the blanks on Steve Keim's checklist. Keep 'em coming.

And....They're Off!
March 12, 2014 - The Free Agency period kicked off 4 pm (ET) yesterday capping a long weekend of hype and hoopla. It was preceded by lots of "insider news" leaking from various team headquarters advising fans in advance what to expect in the way of early signings once the official starter's gun was fired. Early buzz was that the Cards would, indeed, sign a quality veteran LT and all indications are that Jared Veldheer would sign a multi-year deal (There were reports that Michael B flew his jet up to Michigan to pick him up and fly him back to AZ). That was the good news - not-so-good was the report on the NFLN crawl that our #! re-signing priority, LB Karlos Dansby had agreed to terms with Cleveland. No surprise (but unnerving nonetheless) was news that Andre Roberts would be heading elsewhere. Add to this, the previous info that Rashard Mendenhall was retiring and the Cardinals had re-signed TE Jake Ballard, DL Frostee Rucker and K Jay Feely after signing free agent TE John Carlson and that's the roster picture as of right now (10 AM ET Wed):

The initial starting shot has been fired, but there's a lot left to do. We got our LT but lost arguably our best LB. We have a gaping roster hole at slot-receiver, released our starting LG (in anticipation of Cooper's return) and have bolstered our TE depth. Part of Steve Keim's overall "grand design" philosophy is that "the more holes you can fill in free agency, the less likely you'll be tempted to pass over a more talented player overall in order to fill a roster-need. Accordingly, I'd expect Keim and Arians to place a gifted slot-receiver, athletic safety and reliable inside linebacker high on their FA priority list. If successful, it will free us up to cherry-pick special players in the draft regardless of position and maximize our likelihood of coming up with such gems as Andre Ellington and The Honey Badger in the May draft. Stay tuned.

On the Eve of Free-Agency
March 8, 2014 - A few FO odds and ends: Cards bid conditioning coach (and Combine star) John Lott a fond good-bye. Lott has been replaced by Buddy Morris (who says he is a fanatic on technique and "the little things" and said to believe that traditional lifting methods are not necessarily the right strength and conditioning strategies for football players - stay tuned). One of the first things Morris did was to turn around and hire former Olympic hurdler Roger Kingman to bring speed-training to the Cardinals. Player-wise, the Cards have been quietly stockpiling "below-the-radar" interior offensive linemen and tight ends. My guess is that this may be part of an overall "throw enough mud against the wall" strategy that's part of the way FO's re-stock their rosters. One intriguing TE addition is enormous 6-7 281 pound Darren Fells whom I'd guess would represent a formidable blocking presence.

We are now in the new NFL "imbo" - the long-weekend where teams may speak with FA player agents but cannot sign anyone till early next week. Two items rumored to be at the top of Steve Keim's "To-Do" list figure to be: (1) Re-signing Karlos Dansby and (2) locking up (Darnell Dockett's latest Twitter buddy), former Chief LT Branden Albert. Cards got a jump on the signing period by inking TE John Carlson (cut last week by the Vikings) who has an impressive resume but also a history of injuries and concussion issues. This represents a bit of a coup since the Jets and a couple of other NFL teams were said to be very interested in Carlson.

From what I hear (&/or deduce) the Cards are said to have a short list of roughly five priority FA's they covet, so fasten your seat-belts.

Post-Combine Odds & Ends
Feb 27, 2014 - Before we get into football, a shout-out to the Cardinals and the NFL for publicly advocating that the AZ Governor veto the discrimination bill.

Till now, I've been reluctant to post much Draft material, because the early scouting information (especially scouting reports, heights/weights/forty-times tended to be all over the place. Also, trying to scope out team-needs and drafting strategies seems especially difficult this year due to the growing trend of drafting players with special make-ups and skills to fill specific team needs (This can turn Top 120 Boards and Position Ranker lists totally upside down). Here are some general observations by position:

Quarterback - The four top ones figure to be gone by #20. I'd keep an eye on Garoppolo if he's available in the early-50's. I'm leery of drafting or signing QB's purely on potential. Either the dude's got it right now...or he doesn't. (I'd love to see an analysis of the percentage of successful QB's made it after a few years vs. those who succeeded right away).

Running Back - The only RB I think will be drafted in the 1st round is Hyde (who happens to fit the Cardinal need-profile for a big tank with speed). One troubling thing about Hyde is that he's another Ohio State RB who might follow Beanie's footsteps into the Hall of Busts.

Fullback - Obsolete in Arians' system - he'd prefer one-back sets with an H-Back who can be moved around pre-snap (making our offense less predictable) though he's not adverse to lining up an offensive or defensive lineman as an upback in pure run situations.

Tight End - There are a couple of good ones in the draft - Ebron can both block and catch (a BA requirement). Amaro (like Housler) is considered more of a pass-catcher. I wouldn't rule out Ebron as a possible Cardinal pick, but guess that Keim and Arians would rather graze for an all-purpose TE later in the draft.

Offensive Line - It looks like Kouandijo's (injury) may downgrade him from a mid-1st round pick to a 2nd or 3rd round possibility - which gives us one less elite offensive tackle available to us at #20. The LT line-up figures to look something like: G Robinson, Matthews, Lewan and Z Martin. If any of these guys are there at #20, there's a good possibility the Cards (regardless of whether or not they sign Albert, Monroe etc. in free agency) would leap on one of those puppies. With Kouandijo losing traction, that leaves A. Richardson on the cusp - we could draft him...or not. (SK and the scouting dept have 8 weeks to check out Richardson's game-footage).

Defensive Line - Within the Cardinal version of the 3-4, they seem to prefer pair Dockett (a DT) and the 6-8" Campbell as bookends with Shaughnessy (when he's not forced to sub at SOLB) backing up Calais at the other DE surrounding a couple of big space-eaters (Dan Williams and Ta'amu) in the middle. It's not easy to find a perfect fit at either outside positions, and the pool of quality 3-4 DE's doesn't look especially deep this season anyway. If Ta'amu's injury status remains a question, I wouldn't be shocked if SK drafted another NT with one of his 6 picks.

Linebacker - Last season, Steve Keim did a masterful job of rebuilding a decimated LB corp and turning it into a team strength, but Cards have free agent starters (including Karlos Dansby) to re-sign and our top edge rusher (John Abraham) is close to AARP eligibility. Although highly regarded Texans (Okafor and Acho) are scheduled to come off the iR, there is a bit of maintenance and rebuilding work to be done. If the right edge rusher is available at #20 (& we don't grab a LT or TE), the Cardinals could wind up drafting an OLB (Barr, Mack or Ford if available). Inside, they could look to add some depth later in the draft (Keep an eye on ILB's Christian Jones or Lamin Barrow). How active we are ferretting out LB's in the draft and free agency will depend on whether we're able to hang onto Dansby, Shaughnessy and/or Brinkley.

Secondary - Buzz throughout the Combine was about (a) how deep the pool of quality CB's there were and (b) the trend toward bigger corners to cover bigger receivers. There has been some talk about the need to find a better corner than Powers to pair up with Patrick Peterson - open to some debate, given Powers' pretty good size and improvement later in the season. There is also the matter of getting backup CB's (Cason and Arenas) re-signed (or else replaced in free agency). We're intrigued about whether Justin Bethel (who has limitless athletic ability) can make the giant leap into a prominent role at CB. (Frankly, we can't help but wonder why he wouldn't be a better fit fleshing out a thin group of Cardinal safeties). The Cardinals had major problems matching up with physical opposing TE's last year. Johnson was pretty good (but not elite) at one safety position. His partner, Yeremiah Bell was more of a "5th LB." UDFA Jefferson helped out at safety when Rashad got injured and did pretty well. The Cards got an unexpected "gift" in the form of hybrid safety/slot-corner rookie, Tyrann Mathieu. Question is: Will the injured Badger will be game-ready by start of next season? And do SK and BA now consider Mathieu's surprise role to be an integral part of the Cardinal defense and worthy of their uncovering a Tyrann "clone" (if that's even possible)? Don't be surprised if the Cards opt to draw from a deep CB draft pool (since "you can never have too many CB's") and wind up with someone like Dennard, Gilbert, Verrett or Roby (or McGill, Dixon, Gaines, Price, McDougle, B Jackson, Reynolds or Davis later on) or even a safety like Pryor, T Brooks (or Derby or Southward later on).

Special Teams - I don't think the Cards will draft a special teamer (unless he's considered draftable at another position) but it wouldn't shock me if we brought in a couple of kickers and punters during free agency for a look-see.

Bottom Line - Both Keim and Arians have their own unique way of viewing the world and evaluating/coachjng-up players. Until we can get inside their minds as to who's good/not-so-good, fits/doesn't fit, can/cannot be coached-up, we can only make educated guesses. The next 8 - 9 weeks should be an exciting ride.

Post-Super Bowl Odds & Ends
Feb 3, 2014 - (This probably doesn't belong in a pre-draft blog, but this is where I'll do my posting between now and mid-May, so I may as well say what I have to say here).

First of all, congrats to Aeneas Williams for being selected for the NFL Hall of Fame (not only was Aeneas an outstanding corner, he's been a class act both on and off the field)...Second, congratulations (ulp!) to the Seahawks for its lops-sided victory over the Broncs in the Super Bowl. (I admit to rooting for Denver because I admire Peyton Manning, but in hindsight, feel proud that the Champs turned out to be a division rival that we beat late in the season - which says a lot about us). The true "game-changer" may very well have been the crowd-noise (which made MetLife Stadium sound like "Seattle East" - I'm not quite sure how that happened). Within that noisy context, the Broncs fell victim to a typical Seahawk game-dynamic where, according to one Cardinal, "they get you to make a couple of early mistakes and the walls seem to begin closing in on you").

There was a lot of post-game grousing about mass-transit game-exit foul-ups (most of it deserved) but the underlying reasons need additional explanation: Starting with New Jersey...In February. There are two typical super Bowl venues - (1) stadium situated in big city within spitting distance of downtown (where all the hotels and cool watering spots are located) and (2) stadium situated in the suburbs of the big city (where various mass-transit routes travel from one location to the other in a fairly straight line). What makes MetLife Stadium different is that it's located in a different state...across the river...surrounded by marshland in the midst of more industry than suburbs. Although Route 3 goes in a rather straight line from Manhattan, under the Lincoln Tunnel to NJ and direct to the stadium, rail-transportation does not. The main rail-route is well south of the stadium and you have to switch trains at Secaucus Junction to travel the remaining 2 or 3 miles to the stadium. This is not a "seamless" operation. One mistake NJ made was in not giving tourists on both sides of the river a heads-up that they could expect delays approaching 3-hours (They apparently did communicate this in the local press, but overlooked the fact that most spectators were from out of town and didn't read the Star Ledger or Bergen Record or tune in to 101.5 or Channel 12). NJ and NFL officials apparently didn't take into consideration that visitors faced delays as the weather continued to grow colder between 10 pm and 1 am.

Prior to the game, there was more than the usual grumbling in the NJ-media and local retail businesses about how NYC got most of the attention and NJ got short-changed financially by the NFL and didn't get enough of the credit. I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but NJ has only itself to blame. Pretend for a moment that you're a visitor from Denver or Seattle (or anywhere else in the country) in town to take in some of the sights and watch the game Sunday evening. What would you rather do: Take in a Broadway Show, visit Lincoln Center, check out a couple of museums, catch the Knicks or Rangers at Madison Square Garden or check out Greenwich Village or SOHO? Or would you rather hole up in a nearby NJ motel and maybe visit downtown Newark or "a mall?" The problem is that NYC developed into an urban-center with a well-developed transportation infrastructure and many of its attractions located relatively near one-another. Instead of compact, convenient pedestrian-friendly urban development, NJ's commerical, industrial and residential growth has mainly consisted of a spread-out network of residential complexes, industrial parks and shopping malls (all requiring the extensive use of the automobile). While NJ continues to make an effort to re-develop Newark's downtown, to compare it with NYC is kind of like the Major Leagues vs. Tee-Ball.

I bring this up because of my unique vantage point of being a Cardinal fan, NJ resident and former New Yorker. Next year, the Super Bowl will be in Glendale. Will it be enough to assume that: "we did pretty good the last time we hosted the Super Bowl and will have learned enough from past mistakes to make the fan-experience an exceptionally good one?" Or should the City Fathers in the Valley take a long hard look at what's made venues like New Orleans or arguably, San Francisco or Tampa so fan-friendly and apply some of those lessons to the relatively young but growing (& somewhat stand-alone) area of Glendale - i.e. Is its mass transit up to speed? Are there enough things going on in and around Glendale to keep visiting fans occupied and happy? Lodging? Eateries? That sort of stuff? Happy Lunar New Year everybody!

Pre-Senior Bowl Odds & Ends
Jan. 25, 2014 - Compared to last year, the off-season thus far has been quieter than pool-side at a Florida retirement village - the only personnel changes being the departure of Director of Pro Personnel, Jason Licht to Tampa Bay (no surprise) and the elevation of the highly-respectedTerry McDonough to fill Jason's shoes. That plus a raft of Pro Bowl snubs (including Campbell, Dockett, Dansby, DWash) accompanied by a chorus of "The Cardinals don't get no respect" moans. (Speaking of the Pro Bowl - how lame was the Pro Bowl Draft coverage on NFLN? (I realize it was all in the spirit of "fun", but it was pretty obvious that Deon, Jerry Rice & Co. were trying a little bit too hard to manufacture false excitement over what was little more than a "once, twice, three shoot" schoolyard ritual).

This afternoon, we get to watch the Senior Bowl (ironically, I found the NFLN coverage of Senior Bowl practices to be fascinating because it gave fans a better sense of "how front office people think" when it comes to assessing needs, stacking boards and evaluating players. Barring a trade, the Cards pick at #20 - which means that correctly predicting whom they'll pick will be difficult at best come Draft Day and flat-out impossible this early in the process. What I do think is that - assuming the Cards stick with their Best Player Available (BPA) philosophy (or even a modified version which places more player-ranking weight on "system-fit") - Steve Keim will continue to employ a "Catcher in the Rye" approach (by which he sees which player falls over the cliff at #20 and then selects the one he feels can most help us). Given the offensive systems put into play by Coach Arians and Todd Bowles, look for the Cards to cherrypick players who - due to their unique size, height, speed, agility or other athletic qualities - can make our offensive or defensive systems better. (I don't have inside information as to what Steve and BA are looking for, but they might elevate the ratings of a 5-10 waterbug receiver who can run a 4.37, a 6-7" dancing bear" offensive tackle, a 225+ feature RB who can run a 4.5, a cagey QB with sound footwork, and a quick release who can zip the ball accurately into the teeth of a brisk winter wind, or an OLB of any size or shape who can get to the QB 75% of the time). So when you watch the Senior Bowl, look for guys like these.

I finally posted my Master List of 2014 draft prospects. You'd think this would be a simple matter of copying and pasting draft-ranking information from ESPN, CBS or; but as the dude on ESPN says: "Not so fast." First of all, the lists of players on the various draft boards aren't entirely identical (i.e. a few highly-ranked players on aren't listed at all by ESPN and others are listed at different positions - an OLB on one list may appear as a DE on another. Ditto CB's and safeties).

And, oh yeah; technological "breakthru's" in web-authoring have made it nearly impossible for me to simply write content, format it and post it - MS WORD-style - the way I used to. After my latest bi-annual hard-drive crash 6 months ago, I switched from Windows to a MAC and converted to web-authoring software called "Dreamweaver." Without getting into technical gobbledygook - Dreamweaver likes to re-format anything I write down so that, to you the reader, it looks like a child went crazy with a magic marker: Typefaces mysteriously change fonts. Paragraphs partially disappear. Yellow smudges mysteriously appear throughout a paragraph. It's taking me a long time to understand Dreamweaver (& remedy the problems). Till then, please bear with me.

Looking Toward 2014
Jan. 9, 2014 - The 2013 season ended abruptly when SF kicked a last-second FG that - coupled with the NO win over the Panteras - ended Cardinal playoff hopes for season. One moment we were in the hunt; the next we were in the locker room saying "buh-bye" to fans, coaches and teammates.

To maintain some degree of sanity, we shift our attention immediately to the off-season and what needs to be done in the off-season to set the table for a playoff run next year.

Typically, we'd review the roster, analyze strengths & weaknesses and then match them up with BPA and Position Rankers. But we couldn't help but notice that Keim-Arians & Co. do things a bit differently from than your basic average football team. Because Coach Arians and his staff have displayed uncanny resourcefulness in "turning lemons into lemon-aide", there's less panic over what seem to be gaping holes at a few roster positions.

This gives GM Steve Keim the luxury of not needing to squander resources on expensive but risky "wrong guys" to plug a few holes in the dyke. Instead, the Cardinal scouts can develop a much broader "wish list" profiling specific types of players they feel will help the team and not worry so much about whether they've filled every single vacancy (because they know BA will find a way to compensate for any perceived weakness at any position. That gives Keim enormous leverage to take a flyer on a unique talent like Tyrann Mathieu even though he didn't fill an apparent roster need.

The Cardinal shopping list herefore, figures to be a lot more flexible and complex than your typical Big Board or Position Ranker chart. I believe Steve and Bruce will identify certain player-profile types to go after - a 225 lb back with sub-4.5 speed; a 6-5" edge rushing OLB; or a big physical "centerfielder" to anchor the deep secondary. (Note - the NFC West has quickly emerged as a tough place to compete, with each team stocked with players presenting unique challenges - mobile QB's like Kaepernick or Wilson; Edge-rushers like Quinn; TE's with receiver-speed like Vernon Davis; speedy buzz-bombs like Austin and Harvin. This puts pressure on a GM to find players who can neutralize these freaks of nature).

It's unlikely, however, that the Cardinals will fill every wish on their list (They might be intrigued by as many as a dozen unique special players) but they may only have enough resources and roster spots to acquire half that number. Plus - the big unknown going into the draft figures to be: Out of 12 or so types of prospects that might intrigue us, which half-dozen or so will be the ones we actually come up with?

With this in mind, here's a brief thumbnail analysis of how I see the Cardinals position by positions:

Carson Palmer, though by no means perfect, represented enough of an upgrade over Skelton, Kolb and Lindley to quarterback the team to 10 wins in an extremely competitive division. While we have to hope that Palmer will continue to improve (i.e. fewer turnovers/better knowledge of offensive scheme and personnel), you could argue that we'd be OK next year if the status remained quo and Carson only played to last year's level. Problem is - we never seen Stanton or Lindley in live action (Palmer played all 64-regular season quarters last year) and we don't know how they'd perform if Palmer were to get injured. Logically, there figures to a few other QB's Steve and Bruce would like to take a look at in free agency or the draft; but if they can't land the right guy, I think they'd be content to stick with the three guys we've already got.

Running Back
The Cardinals have a couple of low-pad level, between-the tackle-guys in Mendenhall and Taylor. They also have a couple of home-run hitters in rookie sensation Ellington and Ryan Williams (if they keep him) . What we don't have is a "bell cow" - an all-purpose type 230+ lb/4.50 OJ Anderson-type - someone like Ohio State's Carlos Hyde. Or they could stand pat.

Wide Receiver
Fitz carries an $18-million price-tag into 2014, but it's probably to his advantage tax-wise and the Cardinals cap-wise to spread that number over a few more years. I believe the Cardinal brass when they say that Larry Fitzgerald will remain a Cardinal. The emergence of Michael Floyd as a legitimate dominating threat in a #2 role helps stabilize the position. Andre Roberts had been an adequate #3 slot guy but didn't make more big plays than he didn't make (Plus he's rumored to be interested in testing the FA market). Last season, Coach Arians brought in a series of speedsters like Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden, but none of them saw more than spot duty. Look for Keim to troll the Draft and FA waters for a speedy waterbug with terrific hands who can run routes. Then again, Coach Arians might feel he has enough of those guys right now who are moving along nicely on the development curve. Cards also have a couple of big physical wideouts stacked behind Floyd in "Ja-Ron & La-Ron" (Brown and Byrd).

Tight Ends
(Note - BA doesn't believe in carrying a FB - feeling that employing a second TE makes his offense less predictable). Imagine how much more potent our offense would be if Carson Palmer had a go-to TE he could rely on. Or for that matter, imagine how much better our run-game might be if more of our TE's were lights-out run blockers. This past year, Coach Arians had been limited to using the TE's on his roster according to their specialized skills - Housler was the receiving-threat. King (when healthy), Ballard and Sperry were the blocking-specialists. Dray is a (less than dominating) all-purpose TE. Enormous Nose Tackle, Alameda Ta'amu, was a devestating lead-blocking presence on short yardage downs. Problem is - offensive play-calling can be tipped off by the type of TE's we send out on the field). King's return is iffy and we could use a couple of talented all-purpose TE's. (Note - one thing that could impede a major overhaul of the position is the lack of TE depth and talent in the draft).

Offensive Line
Whew! Somehow, this past season, we got away with a less-than-rock-solid group of offensive linemen and still won ten games. We improved our running yardage and kept Carson Palmer upright for all 16 regular-season games. Yet, according to a couple of Sabr-metric services, Levi Brown's replacement, Bradley Sowell, was still considered the "worst LT in the league. Fellow bookend, Eric Winston, was abused by more physically gifted pass rushers, Paul Fanaika had more than his share of missed assignments and top draft pick, Jonathan Cooper, was on IR all year and Daryn Colledge is going to be 32 years old. Promising backup tackles, Massey and Potter evidently weren't good enough to win starting jobs from Sowell or Winston. 4th round pick OG Watford apparently wasn't ready to make a move to be a starter. There's depth behind Sendlein, but it's not all that proven.

Scuttlebutt out of Cardinal HQ is that SK and BA plan to make improving the OL a top off-season priority - we quite possibly could draft a starting LT with our 1st round picj, if the right guy was available). One advantage we'll have over a year ago is that the linemen we've already got already know one another, know the system and can benefit from their first off-season training and conditioning program. Expect the Cards to add more than a couple O-linemen, but not at the expense of passing up a better player at another position or taking an unjustifiied flyer on the wrong guy.

Defensive Line
Perhaps the most underrated position in the NFL, considering our #1 ranking vs. the run. When healthy, Ta'amu paired with Dan Williams gives the Cards tremendous stoutness and rotational depth at NT. His rehab figures to be monitored closely. Campbell and Dockett are big, agile and hostile bookends, with Calais using his 6-8 length to bat down passes. If there's one thing that' would be nice, it would be depth at DE; but the need is not crucial - Shaughnessy could be moved back from OLB to back up Campbell and we should be able to get at least one more productive year out of "grand pa" Rucker. Keep an eye on practice squadder NT Anthony McCloud. Preferred strategy - keep the guys we've got and add more depth with players who fit specific profiles.

Our starting four-man unit (Shaughnessy, D Washington, Dansby and Abraham) was, in my opinion, on an even par with the more widely heralded 49'er linebacking corps that included Willis, Bowman and Smith. Funny thing is that the Cardinal linebacking crew was actually a patchwork operation borne out of injuries, forcing us to start a former-DE (Shaughnessy) at SAM backer and an aging pass-rushing specialist (Abraham) pressed into full-time duty on the weakside. Inside, #2 draft pick Kevin Minter couldn't displace Dansby, Washington or Jasper Brinkley.

A major Cardinal off-season priority has to be to re-sign Dansby and Shaughnessy who were signed to one-year contracts as FA's, and I'd also argue that we should be able to squeeze at least one more productive year out of our only genuine edge-rusher (Abraham). The return of the injured Okafor and Sam Acho should help depthwise on the outside, but there have been reports that the Cards would love to land a dynamic elite pass-rusher (but only if the right guy is available).

Defensive Back
Patrick Peterson (by now means perfect but deserves some slack, given the receivers he's forced to cover week in and week out) is considered a Top 5 corner (if not higher). Powers showed improvement late in the season and will evidently be back next year. Depth in the form of Cason, Arenas and McCann is iffy (they were all signed to one-year deals a year ago), so look for the Cards to be on the opportunistic prowl in both free agency and the draft. I think SK and BA can afford the luxury of tailoring the backup DB's they're looking for to specific matchup needs they have within the division.

Both starting safety positions were a bit shaky last year. Replacing A-Dub and Rhodes were Yeremiah Bell (who was more of a run-stopping/8th in the box defender) and Rashad Johnson (who lost a bit of playing time along with part of a finger). This left the Cardinals somewhat vulnerable in deep patrol vs. deep throws.

Tyrann Mathieu turned out to be a 3rd round "steal" - a versatile difference-maker in his rookie year, but suffered an ACL/LCL injury late in the season. Because he could blitz, cover and tackle, it's said that it took 3 players to replace him. His rehab will, no doubt, be monitored closely. Without Mathieu, the Cards were forced to move Powers to slot corner and Arenas to starting corner opposite Peterson. The supply of big, fast physical safeties with elite ball skills is thin this year, but figures to be a Cardinal prioirity should the right guy be available. Expect the Cards to be active at DB.

Special Teams
The Cards have a hidden gem in punter David Zastudil (who repeatedly drops punts inside the enemy 15-yard line to give us the kind of field position that doesn't show up on the stat sheets). Jay Feely was generally solidas a kicker but ran into a couple of "bad-hair days."- the second of which he missed two FG's and cost us the final Niner game. The Cardinal return game wasn't anything special last year - Peterson scored no TD's returning punts. Arenas had the annoying habit of fielding kickoffs inside the end-zone and returning them no further than his own 15. Justin Bethel anchored excellent Cardinal coverage squads and was named to the Pro Bowl. Some feel that just the presence of Bethel, Mathieu and Campbell intimidated opposing FG kickers enough for them them to miss makeable attempts. The Cards could be on the lookout for a more heavy-footed (& reliable) kicker to replace Feely. Other than that, the Cards have done an excellent job of finding good position players who double as very good special-teamers. Look for that trend to continue.

To Sum Up
I expect the Cardinals to be on the lookout for certain types of players (in no particular order) - most notably (1) a rookie QB with franchise potential, (2) a 230 lb bell-cow RB, (3) a nimble #3 WR with sub 4.4 speed, (4) at least one all-purpose starting TE, (5) a starting LT, (6) depth at other OL positions, (6) an elite edge pass rusher, (7) a tall backup DE, (8) a 220 lb safety (who can hit and cover), (9) DB depth and (10) a reliable kicker with a heavier foot than Feely. The Cards probably won't fill every one of the above needs, but will target certain types of players to - on a BPA basis - fill as many position-holes as possible.


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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 08/31/2013