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Gollin's Preseason Blog - by Jeff Gollin

One Year Shoe Drops on DWash.
Fri. May 30 --Daryl Washington as been suspended for ("at least") the entire 2014 season. When the rumor surfaced earlier today, it had been assumed that the suspension was forearlier assault charges associated with a domestic dispute. Turns out it was for a substance abuse violation which followed an earlier drug viloation that cost Washington 4 games at the beginning of last season. Looks like we'll need to have 2 inside LB's to step up and replace Dansby and Washington. That's all the attention I'm wasting on this story - we've gotta season to play out.


"Bottom of Roster Churn"...
Wed. May 28
- BA cautioned that if there were a few signed players who weren't picking up the system fast enough and (b) there were other tryout players who were learning really quickly, he'd be inclined to "swap 'em out." Enter 4 new "tryout" players/exit 4 corresponding "signed" players:

RB Jalen Parmele replaces RB Tim Cornett.

WR Kevin Ozier (a local product - ASU) replaces WR Corey Washington.

OT Corey Brandon replaces OT Kadeem Williams.

CB Jimmy Legree replaces CB LeQuan Lewis.

The back stories of many of these fringe players can be gut-wrenching, but Darren Urban is quick to point out that churn at the bottom of the roster cold part of the business."


Rookie Tryouts Underway...
Sat. May 24, 2014 - I count 17 additional rookies (above and beyond our 7 draft picks and undrafted FA's we already signed ) auditioning for a shot at competing for a spot on the final 53-man roster and practice squad. For posterity, here are their names:

73R Corey Brandon OT 6-7 324 (1) Oklahoma
49R Jerome Cunningham TE 6-4 240 (R) So. Conn. St.
10 Jeremy Ebert WR 6-0 195 (2) Northwestern
49W Calvin Fance LB 6-1 245 (R) Angelo State
46W Keenan Graham LB 6-1 246 (R) UCLA

67 Aaron Hall C 6-2 331 (R) Southern
15 Eric Kordenbrook QB 6-4 220 (R) VMI
45W Simon Lawrence LB 6-1 221 (1) Minnesota
30 Jimmy Legree CB 6-0 187 (R) South Carolina
35W Julian Lewis S 6-2 2012 (R) New Mexico

72R Jerian Moreland OL 6-5 320 (R) So. Illinois
1R Kevin Ozier WR 6-2 200 (R) Arizona St.
46R Julian Parmale RB 5-11 223 (5) Toledo
39 Kamron Riley CB 6-1 194 (R) Mid-America Nazarene
45R Damien Thigpen RB 5-8 180 (R) UCLA
34W Kyle Tudor LB 6-3 242 (R) East Carolina
41 Paul Webster CB 5-11 175 (1) Minnesota-Crookston

Jesse Root from ROTB reported from practice. Highlights:

  • Niklas, J Brown, Steen* and Pope sat out the practice (though Steen did some snapping).

  • Logan Thomas makes (6-4) Kordenbrook "look small." (He throws a nice ball and, although he did throw one "duck" and overthrew his receiver at least a couple of times, didn't do anything really dumb).

  • Kareem Martin lined up at RDE and LOLB and looked quick.

  • Buckner looked best of all the receivers.

  • Powell had problems lining up and catching everything thrown his way.

  • Hardy and Fells made a good impression, though each dropped one or two catchable passes.

  • Legree was singled out for praise on one snap and then followed it up with a pick.

  • "Local Heroes": Buchner, Baumann and Ozier.

A ton of talent out there, but the odds of making the final roster are pretty daunting. Reading between the lines, you hear BA commenting on how quickly some of the 17 tryout guys pick things up and how slowly some of his draft picks and UDFA's are learning what needs to be learned. This suggests to me that Coach Arians is not bashful about using the tryout guys as a motivating lever for keeping his existing rookies focused. Do not be surprised, therefore, if 2 or 3 tryout guys (Legree being one) make the camp roster and a draft pick or two (you know who you are!) gets released early to serve as an example that "it doesn't matter how you come here/it's how you can help the team once you get here."

Remember those who served Memorial Day and every day.


After the Draft and UDFA Signings - Where are we?
Fri. May 16, 2014 - Trying to keep up with all the roster moves invloved in the 2014 Draft and subsequesigning of undrafted free agents was kind of like playing net vs. the Williams sisters. Bt finally, the dust has begun to settle, and we can all take a deep breath and figure out where the Cardinals are as a football team; position by positon. But before that, I'd be remiss if I didn't make note of major moves made in the scouting dept.
(I won't bore you with all the details except to say that they involved at least a half-dozen scouts and a bunch of good guys got recognized and promoted). Now for the players:

Quarterback:
We entered the draft with veteran starter, Carson Palmer, seasoned backup Drew Stanton ("who knows Arians' offensive system" but who has had few snaps and, therefore, not much of a body of work to show fans what he can or cannot do) and Ryan Lindley (a late-round draft choice a year ago who came here with the reputation of good athletic skills but not necessarily a brilliant student of the game. Like Stanton, we haven't seen him in action very much as a Cardinal. Palmer seems at his best when given time to go through his progressions to locate the open receiver. Cardinal pass blocking (or lack thereof) placed considerable pressure (pardon the pun) on Palmer, and he struggled early, but (partly due to better pass pro) he improved as the season wore on. Expected improvements to the OL and at WR figure to make Carson's job a bit easier this season, but we still really don't know what he have in Stanton and Lindley in case Palmer were to go down. Cards used their 4th round draft pick to add high-risk/high-reward QB Logan Thomas to the mix. He is said to have elite athletic skills (size, arm, foot-speed
) but poor mechanics have translated to inconsistent accuracy and he has yet to master the mental "intangibles" needed for him to succeed as an NFL quarterbaqck. Conventional wisdom has Thomas (successfully) competing with Lindley for the #3 QB spot. I'm not so sure - I think BA and Tom Moore (& probably Logan) would be satisfied carrying him on our practice squad as our #4 QB for at least a year if they felt it was what the doctor ordered.

Running Back:
Rashard Mendenhall retired, and Ryan Williams was let go. (So much for last years' feature backs). Arians has said he plans to build more of his offense around last year's rookie surprise, Andre Ellington. But Ellington (whose forte is speed, explosiveness and "good hands") is not a big back, and there are concerns about whether he can shoulder a full-load as a featured ball-carrier. To share the burden, the Cards brought in 229 lb Jonathan Dwyer (whom I haven't seen much of), 235 lb FA Robert Hughes and expect improvement from last year's rookie between-the-tackles plow-horse, Stepfan Taylor (who was pretty good last year.. We also signed a couple of UDFA backs in Tim Cornett from UNLV and local product, NAU's Zach Ba
uman.

Wide Receiver:
The Cardinals continued to rely in some good part on "the Larry Fitzgerald security blanket" and former high draft pick, 6-3 225 lb Michael Floyd showed flashes of becoming a dominating #2 to Fitz. But - especially without a fear-inducing TE to draw some of the attention from Fitz and Floyd - the responsibility fell on the shoulders of #3 receiver Andre Roberts and a bevy of speedy "other guys." Roberts made his share of big plays, but could hardly be described as "money', in terms of consistently coming down with the key grab every time. Roberts is gone, to be replaced by Ted Ginn (known for his blazing speed, shiftiness and home-run capability; but not ne
cessarily reliable hands). He should, along with Fitzgerald and Floyd represent a net improvement at WR, but BA wants more. The Cards are carrying 11 receivers on their roster. The two that immediately catch my eye are Jaron Brown (a 6-2 205 "good hands" UDFA from Clemson a year ago) and 3rd round draft pick John Brown (out of Pittsburgh State - a smurf (already wowing observers in early workouts with his blazing speed, good hands and sharp routes) &, who, coming out of the slot, could give Ginn a pretty good run for his money. We had a pretty good receiving corps last season, but in terms of depth, talent and overall speed, this group figures to be even better.

Tight End
It could be argued that TE really consists of two positions - (1) a pass-catching seam-buster with limited blocking skills and (2) blocking speciaists with suspect hands. In some rare cases, an all-around TE will appear on the scene who can both block and catch passes (When you get one of those guys, you can save a roster spot). It could be argued that the position was the weakest of the Cardinal roster. (3rd-year catching-specialist, Rob Houser still hadn't seized the opportunity and the rest of the roster was plagued by nagging injuries and, perhaps, a lack of talent). The Cards signed FA John Carlson (who had flashed Pro Bowl potential but was held back by injury). They signed 6-7 281 pound FA Darren Fells and kept another big guy - 270 lb Jake Ballard (pretty good blocker/good-enough catcher). In the second round of the Draft (#52) , they drafted a big somewhat inexperienced catch/block combo guy out of Notre Dame with a huge upside in Troy Niklas. Coach Arians likes to make multiple tight ends an integral part of his offense. He didn't have the horses to successfully implement that strategy (and Carson Palmer lacked the additional big go-to target he could depend on in pressure situations). We won't know until we're well into preseason how much (if at all) Carlson, Fells and Niklas will improve the TE position - as blockers and as catchers, but (on paper) it's something to keep our eyes on and hopefully get excited about.

Offensive Line
Last season, Coach Arians and the Cardinal coaching staff somehow got a patchwork blend of inexperienced youngsters and journeyman vets with less than elite talent to somehow play well enough to keep Carson Palmer upright and calm and provide enough offensive firepower to provide just enough help for our damn-the-torpedos defense to beat Seattle at home and propel us to a near-playoff spot at 10 & 6. Major changes will be made. Over on the left side, we signed veteran FA left tackle, Jared Veldheer from Oakland. Last year's top draft pick, Jonathan Cooper (who was ready to start last year but wound up on the MASH squad) returns to start at LG. Together with center, Lyle Sendlein, this gives us a solid wall of marauders on the left side. The right side of the OL is much more fluid - last year's starting LT Bradley Sowell will be in the mix to start at RT. He'll be competing with Bobby Massie (who has all the physical chops but needs to clean up a lot of mental stuff) and Nate Potter (nimble of foot but lacking desired strength). Last year's starting RG Paul Fanaica will have to withstand strong competition from last year's mid-round road-grader Earl Watford (who still has to make the transition from James Madison to the pros). At least three centers or center/guards will compete to be Sendlein's backup (with 5-year vet Ted Larsen thought to have the inside edge). Bottom Line - The left-side ought to be outstanding. The right-side has the horses but, for the time being, they remain untested.

Defensive Line
The defense under Todd Bowles often makes position-distinctions kind of blurry, with each defender responsible for more than one position depending on scheme. A DE might step back and play OLB. An OLB might move inside every once in a while. That said - our starting front three (of Campbell, D Williams/Ta'amu and Dockett) return intact. Each have their unique role to play but, as a unit, they gained respect last season as one of the best 3-man fronts in the NFL. Campbell is a tall (6-8) guy to anchors the strong side edge and can disrupt passing lanes. Williams and Ta'amu are powerful wide-body run-stoppers who, in rotation anchor the middle. Dockett is sort of a combo guy who anchors the weakside but will also frequently line up inside as an Under Tackle. Logical backups to Calais Campbell figure to be 6- 5 Ed Shaughnessy and 6-6 Kareem Martin, but both will start out at OLB (although Shaughnessy is listed as an OLB and Martin a DE on the current depth chart). 5th round draft pick Ed Stinson figures to be Dockett's backup on the other side. Frostee Rucker provides veteran depth and leadership. A bunch of young guys (including Niner waiver pickup Christian Toupou) will compete to back up Dumpster Dan and Ta'amu (who is still rehabbing from a severe injury). If everyone stays relatively healthy, our DL should be every bit as good as it was last season. Depthwise, Martin could wind up a net-plus fairly quickly. Ta'amu's rehab situation still remains a tad iffy, and it's hard to know whether Stinson (mainly known for his run-stopping) will work out backing up D-Dock or how some of our young FA linemen turn out.

Linebacker
Our strongest unit a year ago; but our most questionmark-filled coming into this year. The loss to free agency of Karlos Dansby was the team's biggest hit during the off-season, but the Cardinal coaches are looking forward to seeing what last year's second round draft pick, Kevin Minter will bring to the table as inside backer next to Daryl Washington who (because of off-the-field "issues" which might cause him to be suspended again for an undetermined number of games) represents and additional question-mark. 13-year eteran backup ILB Larry Foote finally made it over to the Cardinals as a FA signee and provides much need depth inside. Over on the weak outside, our one genuine pass-rushing threat, John Abraham, showed no signs of slowing down last season, but you have to wonder how much juice he has left going into his 15th year. Over on the strong side, Shaughnessy stepped over from backup DE (when starting SAM backers Sam Acho and Alex Okafor were placed on IR last season) and played standout FB. There's no reason he won't do so again this coming season, but he can't play 2 positions at once. If Shaughnessy is our starting OLB, it's unclear who'd replace Campbell at DE if Calais were to be injured. It could be Shaughnessy or Martin (with Acho or Okafor stepping up as SAM). Plus - the Cards want to take a close look at Martin as a pass-rushing backup to Abraham. And then there are returning vets Alexander and Benard to add to the mix along with a number of young unknowns any one of who could step up and grab a roster spot. With the loss of Dansby, this unit could be in need of some repair, but there are pieces in place that have a better-than-even chance of working out. But the versatility of Shaughnessy, Martin and other players along with the mix & match nature of Bowles' defense suggests that we may have a more difficult time sorting things out than would otherwise be the case.

Defensive Back
Wow! The addition of top (#27) draft pick Bucannon to line up next to Rashad Johnson at safety gives us a starting lineup of Peterson and Cromartie at corners backed up by Bucannon and Johnson at safety with Powers lining up at CB and The Honey Badger (if and when healthy) providing additional punch at slot-corner and nickel or dime safety. That's 6 guys who, it would appear, have nailed down roster spots. Add to this the continued conversion of special teams standout Justin Bethel from S to CB and conversion of former WR Teddy Williams to CB and it would give us 5 corners over 6-feet in size (to match up with the trend toward bigger receivers). And, over at safety, Tony Jefferson (who refused to accept the CW that UDFA's have no business starting at safety) returns older and wiser. I like this unit. I think it's significantly better than last year. Big "if" remains Mathieu's rehab status.

Special Teams
Feely's lack of consistency had to have annoyed Cardinal coaches just a little last season. Still, it remains to be seen whether the threesome (of Feely, Zastudil and Leake) will give way to competition from kicking outsiders, Hrapmann and Catanzaro. We still have Bethel, Campbell and (hopefully) the Badger available to block kicks. I don't know the specifics, but the buzz around Cardinal Hq is that a lot of the guys we brought in as UDFA's are good special teams players. The presence of Ginn and John Brown in the return game should make it possible for Peterson (and Mathieu!!!) to focus on pass defense and remain relatively less prone to injury. Conclusion - A slight upgrade.

Conclusion
Anytime you play in a division with the current Niners and Seahawks along with a much improved Ram team, you can't take anything for granted. Last season, we scratched and clawed ourselves to 10 & 6 and still didn't make the playoffs. Competing in a tough neighborhood, here are no guarantees we'll be able to repeat this performance (although, if we did, changes in the NFL playoff rules would probably net us a playoff spot). All I can really say is that, on paper/this early, the Cards look like an improved football team led by a scouting dept. that knows how to evaluate players and a coaching staff known for making existing players better. Unfortunately, the same could pretty much be said about our three division competitors. But you never know how the ball will bounce, the injury gods will smile or the refs will act. All of which promises next season to be 17 weeks of highly entertaining mayhem. Enjoy!

 
 

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