Arizona Cardinals: Alameda Ta'amu

The Arizona Cardinals' toughest stretch of the schedule comes at the end of the season. Arizona visits St. Louis on Thursday night in Week 15, hosts Seattle in Week 16 and travels to San Francisco for the finale. This stretch will dictate Arizona's New Year's plans, either propelling the Cardinals into the postseason or sending them packing to ring in 2015 on a tropical beach somewhere. Arizona's resolve will be tested.

Complete Cardinals season preview.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Four Arizona Cardinals are not expected to play Sunday night against Cincinnati, among them safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Mathieu returned to practice Wednesday after spending about 8.5 months recovering from ACL and LCL surgery. On Friday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he would evaluate Mathieu's chances of playing on Saturday.

The other Cardinals not expected to play were inside linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral), guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu.

Ta'amu, who tore his ACL in Week 17 last year, also returned to practice Wednesday.

Minter was on the field about two hours before kickoff going through a series of running drills with Arizona strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris. Linebacker Kenny Demens will fill in for Minter. Cooper will miss his second straight preseason game and is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Ted Larsen.

One name not on the list was outside linebacker John Abraham, who reported to training camp on Aug. 14.
It's hard to imagine Alameda Ta'amu getting lost in a crowd, but the Arizona Cardinals' back-up nose tackle has been flying under the radar since training camp began.

All thanks to a man almost half his size.

[+] EnlargeAlameda Ta'amu
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAlameda Ta'amu hasn't practiced with the Cardinals since tearing his ACL last season in Week 17.
Any time safety Tyrann Mathieu talked, he drew a gaggle of reporters. Any time he took a step closer to returning from an ACL and LCL injury, it was worthy of a story. They went on the Cards' preseason physically unable to perform list together on July 23 and were taken off simultaneously Tuesday. Through it all, Ta'amu just eased into the background while Mathieu was thrust into the spotlight. And with defensive tackle Darnell Dockett out for the season with a torn ACL, Ta'amu's return may end up being more important to the Cardinals' defense than Mathieu's.

Ta'amu, who tore his ACL in Week 17 last season, usually sits quietly on a stool at his corner locker in the Cards' locker room deep inside University of Phoenix Stadium playing his eclectic arrangement of music. The attention passes him by but he's on the verge of his own comeback.

Ta'amu has his mind set on playing in Arizona's season opener on Sept. 8, a goal that came closer to reality with the news that he can return to practice Wednesday. On Monday morning, Ta'amu said he was supposed to go through a teset with with trainers to help determine if he'd return week or next. The resuls obviously went well.

"The first game of the season is something that I'd really like to play in," Ta'amu said. "'Monday Night Football,' knee's feeling good. Trainer's saying I can do it and I trust him."

Ta'amu feels like his knee is strong enough to do everything. He can tell he's close to a return. Last week, Ta'amu hit tackling dummies for the first time since December. He could tell it's been eight months since he last played. The rust had built up.

"The more I kept hitting it I guess I was getting back into football mode with my body," he said.

But Ta'amu needs to feel comfortable enough with his knee to be sure he can lean -- and be leaned on -- by 700 pounds of offensive linemen when he gets double teamed.

Ta'amu said he's improved leaps and bounds from where he was four months ago, but he's more concerned about the physical side of his return more than the mental hurdles that can accompany a comeback. How his ability to penetrate will be affected has weighed on him. Last season, he finished with 13 tackles in 14 games. It'll be on his mind until he can take the field.

"The biggest issue is just trusting mindset, what I feel like I can do and can't do," he said.

"There's a lot to work on coming back."
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Seven months after he tore his ACL in Week 17, Cardinals nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu has his eyes set on a return.

Ta’amu said Saturday he’s between 65-70 percent healthy and is optimistic about returning for the Cardinals’ season opener against San Diego on “Monday Night Football.”

“It feels really good,” he said.

Ta’amu hasn’t tested his knee in a game-like situation, meaning he hasn’t practiced leaning on an offensive lineman. Conact drills may not begin until the second preseason game at the earliest.

But is six weeks enough time for Ta’amu to make up the remaining 35 percent?

He ran during the Cards’ conditioning test Friday, although he wasn’t competing against his teammates instead running under the watchful eye of a trainer.

“I just got to strengthen my knee up, make sure it’s strong enough so I can go out and perform,” Ta’amu said.
Predicting when a player will return from an injury is an inexact science.

That is likely why Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians gave two different dates this week when asked when he expects safety Tyrann Mathieu (ACL and LCL) and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu (ACL) to return from season-ending injuries.

Ta'amu
Ta'amu
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Arians told Kent Somers of AZCentral.com that he expects the two to miss about “a week or so” of training camp. Then Arians told the Cardinals’ team site that he doesn’t expect Mathieu or Ta’amu back before Oct. 1.

“That’s strictly up to the doctors, trainers and them,” Arians told the team site. “I’m not going to hurry them. We have plenty of time. If they aren’t ready for the first day of training camp -- which I doubt anyway, because I’ve never thought that. I had Oct. 1, or after the (bye week) as the target date for me personally. If they do something better than that, God bless 'em."

Mathieu has said repeatedly that he wants to be on the field for the "Monday Night Football" season opener in Week 1. In May, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said "there’s a chance" Mathieu will be back for the first game.

But when it comes down to it, it’s not easy to predict. Initial estimations when Mathieu was injured in December were for a nine-month recovery. That would have placed his return around August or September, so Oct. 1 isn’t a bad guess -- it actually might be the best prediction at this point. Especially with Mathieu’s two-ligament injury, doctors and experts have said it’s important that he not rush his return in the slightest, mainly because of the LCL. These days, ACL surgeries are so common that athletes are typically back in six months.

I think there is a better chance Ta’amu returns before Mathieu because he is only rehabilitating one ligament. Mathieu is too young and worth too much in the long run for the Cardinals to rush him back, regardless of how much outside pressure is put on the team. He is the future of the Cardinals’ secondary and is on a path to be a star in the NFL because of his play on the field and his attitude off it.

Arians’ vastly different predictions -- two months difference -- show just how difficult it is to predict return dates.
After the season, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said he wanted the entire defense back, even though he admitted the likelihood of that happening wasn't very high.

The Cardinals began that process Thursday when they re-signed exclusive rights free agent nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu to a one-year deal. Bringing back Ta'amu, who started three games in place of Dan Williams while he dealt with the death of his father, shows how much the Cardinals valued Ta'amu. Even though he was a reserve, he was critical piece to Arizona’s defensive success, especially against the run. By having two agile nose tackles, Arians was able to conserve their energy by using Ta'amu and Williams in a rotation. Ta'amu played 224 snaps in 2013 compared to Williams' 269.

Normally, backup nose tackles aren't a priority but Ta'amu played a level worth more than the $480,000 he made in 2013. He was signed off waivers on Sept. 1 and was inactive for the first two games of the season. Arizona activated Ta'amu for the Saints game in Week 3 because Williams left the team.

Arizona must also be pleased with the progress of Ta'amu's rehab from an ACL injury he suffered in Week 17 against San Francisco.

In 14 games, Ta'amu had 13 tackles.

But his quickness off the snap made him tough for offensive linemen to handle. He would push centers and guards far enough back to alter opponents’ run schemes, which helped Arizona finish with the best run defense in the NFL.
Starters: Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett

Backup: Ronald Talley, Alameda Ta’amu, Frostee Rucker

Under contract in 2014: Campbell, Williams, Dockett, Ta’amu.

Cash committed in ‘13: $20.85 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $20.21 million

Recap: Coming into 2013, the Cardinals’ front three were trying to avoid another embarrassment of a season. They were ranked 28th in the league against the run and wanted things to change. Well, they sure did. With the same three starters as in 2012, Arizona changed its gap scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, giving the front three more freedom to attack. The result was the top-ranked defense against the run. Dockett came back last season focused and rejuvenated after an emotionally and mentally exhausting final couple of seasons under Ken Whisenhunt. Campbell’s re-dedication to getting in shape during the past offseason paid dividends. He had nine sacks and two fumble recoveries, and was being considered a star around the league. The defense also was bolstered by the early-season addition of Ta’amu, who was signed on Sept. 1 and started seeing significant action in Week 3 when Williams left the team to attend to the death of his father. For the rest of the season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians used Williams and Ta’amu as a tandem at defensive tackle, saving their legs throughout the season which made them both more effective.

GM Steve Keim: Cardinals are close

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s one thing for the Arizona Cardinals to want to get to the top. It’s another for them to be on their way.

In the eyes of Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, his team spent 2013 closing the gap between themselves and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. A 10-6 season that finished with a 7-2 run and a bull rush toward the postseason still left Arizona sitting third in the division, but the Cardinals are as close as they have been since the recent resurgence of the Niners and the Seahawks.

Just how close are the Cardinals?

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsCarson Palmer and the Arizona offense found their groove in the second half of the season.
They have to consider the fact that their division is home to the now-defending world champion Seahawks, and both NFC Championship Game finalists.

“Moving forward, I felt like, on each side of the ball, we were at least two to three players away from being an upper-echelon team,” Keim said during his NFL combine news conference Thursday in Indianapolis.

“I think it's a great litmus test to play those teams (Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis) in those divisions, because it helps expose where your limitations are, where you feel like you need to improve,” he added.

More often than not against the West, the Cards were exposed. Through the first two days of the combine, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have talked about their needs for next season. Keim said two or three players on each side of the ball. On offense that could mean a left tackle and a tight end. On defense, that is a safety geared to stopping tight ends, another cornerback, and a back up defensive tackle.

It took Arians just one season to make the offseasons in the West a chess match. Whatever one team does, the others will counter -- even St. Louis.

Based on how 2013 went, however, Arizona knows it needs to stock up in a few areas to compete for a division crown, namely on the offensive line. Keeping quarterback Carson Palmer protected, especially against the defenses the Cardinals face six times a year, can be the difference between 10 wins and 12, or even 13.

“You have to be on your A-game at all times,” Keim said. “All three teams that we're facing are very, very good defensively. You have to keep pace. It leaves very little room for error, not only in the draft but in free agency as well. You have to be physical on the offensive and defensive lines.

“You've got to have really good depth.”

After facing each team once last year, Arians began to adjust. He kept nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu around for depth behind Dan Williams, which kept the defensive line fresh down the stretch. And Arians began to trim the playbook, which helped the offense finally click.

If Keim needed a measuring stick last season to see how far the Cardinals had come -- or how far they have to go -- it came in Seattle in Week 16.

The Seahawks hadn’t lost at CenturyLink Field all season until Arizona’s defense stonewalled running back Marshawn Lynch and cramped quarterback Russell Wilson to his breaking point on Dec. 22 in a 17-10 win. It was the last time Seattle lost last season.

“Obviously, going to Seattle and beating them up there showed signs that we were headed in the right direction,” Keim said.

Said Arians: “The division we’re in is a great division. You’re battle-tested when you come out of it. The second half of the season, we competed very well in the division.

“If we were in the playoffs, we would have done some damage. We just didn't win enough games.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 37-34 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Javier Arenas must want the Cardinals to play in cold-weather cities more often. For the second time this season he had at least three kick returns.

On Sunday, he returned those kicks for 72 yards, his second-highest total of the season. At the rate he's been going, Arenas didn't expect to return more than one, maybe two kicks -- if he even had the opportunity to return any.

Arenas
“It was the wind conditions,” Arenas said. “It's cold outside so he had a couple bad kicks. It shocked me as well.

“It felt pretty good. Great opportunity to get a lot of kicks and get a feel for it as opposed to once every two or three weeks.”

Leading the way: Followers of the Cardinals are used to Bobby Massie substituting in on offense as an eligible receiver. But when No. 66 was announced twice Sunday, a few eyebrows were raised.

Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu entered the game as a fullback to lead the way for Rashard Mendenhall, and on both plays Mendenhall scored. It was the first time Ta'amu had lined up at fullback since high school, and it didn't take long to remember what to do: put your head down and go.

He hopes to get another opportunity to block for Mendenhall, but he hopes Mendenhall will actually use him. On both runs, Mendenhall didn't follow Ta'amu's lead.

Was the big man mad?

“I mean ...” Ta'amu hesitated, then laughed, “yeah.”

Game-winning machine: Sunday marked the 11th game-winning field goal of Jay Feely's career and his second this season. He hit from 41 yards with 10:22 left in overtime to clinch the win. Feely's last game winner was in Week 3 at Tampa Bay.

It was the fifth game winner of longer than 40 yards.

Road warriors: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians didn't care about stats or “anything else.” He just wanted to get a win on the road.

“It's hard to get a win on the road in the NFL, but we did,” Arians said.

Only three of the Cardinals' nine wins have come on the road, but if you asked Darnell Dockett where he'd go to play a game, he doesn't discriminate.

“I don't care if you go to the Middle East, South America, as long as you get a win, it doesn't matter,” he said.

Mathieu, Dockett among Cards fined

October, 18, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Three Arizona Cardinals were fined for actions during Sunday’s game in San Francisco.

The heftiest fine went to nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who was docked $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone in the face. Boone was fined for $7,875 for retaliating.

Darnell Dockett was fined $7,875 for a late hit on San Francisco running back Frank Gore in the second quarter that also resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty.

And rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu was fined $7,875 for body slamming Niners running back Kendall Hunter after he scored in the fourth quarter.

No word if any of the three Cardinals will appeal.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Passing by: When the Cardinals did find opportunities to throw the ball Thursday, their options included two familiar faces. Tight end Rob Housler caught all seven of his targets for 53 yards. And after starting the game with three quick catches, Andre Roberts wasn’t targeted again until the second half, but he finished with five catches for 33 yards. In all, quarterback Carson Palmer completed passes to nine receivers including cornerback Patrick Peterson. Michael Floyd had a team-high 71 yards on six receptions.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham and Russell Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsVeteran LB John Abraham's playing time and productivity have recently picked up for the Cardinals.
Sack sighting: As if the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t good enough already, another dimension came to life Thursday night. Linebacker John Abraham got his first two sacks of the season. He came into this season as the NFL’s active sack leader with 122. With Abraham finding a groove from the outside, the Cardinals now have another way to get to the quarterback. And with the middle being plugged by Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu, having Abraham off the edge could continue to create problems for offenses. Abraham was pleased with his performance, especially since his two sacks caused fumbles (one recovered by the Cardinals), but losing put a damper on his two-sack day.

Not a sack party: In one game, the Cardinals increased their sacks-allowed by more than 50 percent. They entered Thursday allowing 13, but four in the last three games, a steady improvement from the nine allowed in the first three. But against Seattle, Arizona gave up seven, giving them 20 for the season. After seven games last season, the Cardinals had given up 28 sacks. Eight Seahawks accounted for the sacks. Seattle had 16 heading into Thursday night.

Wake-up call: The Cardinals’ defense didn’t seem to wake up until early in the second quarter when it forced the Seahawks into a turnover on downs after stopping them at the Arizona 43-yard line on fourth-and-1. Then it was like the Cardinals’ alarm clock went off. On Seattle’s next possession, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Russell Wilson and Cards defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. Arizona continued to rub the sleep out of its eyes with another strip-sack of Wilson but the Seahawks recovered the fumble. The pressure the Cards’ defense applied kept the offense in the game. Twice the defense set the Cardinals’ offense up in prime position to score: once at the Seattle 3-yard line after Shaughnessy's strip-sack and the other at the Seattle 15 after Abraham’s strip-sack.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For all the concern and preparation that went into playing three mobile quarterbacks in as many weeks, it turns out they haven’t been as much of an issue as expected.

And the Cardinals hope the same goes for Seattle’s Russell Wilson on Thursday night.

Arizona slowed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton two weeks ago, limiting him to 25 yards on the ground, seven below his average. And on Sunday, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for just 18 yards, about 13 under his weekly average.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerThe Cardinals' challenge on Sunday: Keep dangerous QB Russell Wilson in the pocket.
The Cardinals’ defense has a lot to do with limiting both signal-callers from taking off on foot. Arizona is allowing just 3.46 yards per rush, the fourth best mark in the league. Wilson is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and is second on the Seahawks with 294 rushing yards.

Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu said the Cardinals’ defensive philosophy against running quarterbacks is to funnel them outside.

“Everyone knows their assignments and what we need to do to stop them,” Ta’amu said. “A lot of the ways they like to escape was through the middle and me and [nose tackle] Dan [Williams] made it a point where that’s where they’re not going to try to escape.

“We’re going to hold it down in the middle and hopefully push them out toward [defensive end] Calais [Campbell] and [defensive tackle Darnell] Dockett to let them do what they do best.”

This week, Arizona defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said he hopes Wilson wants to stay in the pocket. But with his reputation of liking to scramble, that’s not likely. But as long as the Cardinals can contain Wilson out of the pocket and force him to throw, they might be in better shape than they expect.

Wilson’s completion percentage this season outside the pocket is 52.8, down almost nine points from last season. He’s thrown just one touchdown compared to two interceptions while on the move.

“It’s like he’s playing street football out there,” Ta’amu said. “He doesn’t give up on a play. He’s trying to make something of every play.

“You just can’t give up on him. He looks like he’s going down but he’s not. He likes to extend plays and make plays.”
Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top story line from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The defensive line went to Arizona coach Bruce Arians last week in Florida to ask if it could attend the funeral for Dan Williams' father Saturday in Memphis, Tenn.

It was a request Arians couldn’t deny.

“I said, ‘Hey, we’ll do whatever it takes to move this schedule so you guys can get there,'” Arians said.

Led by defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a group that included Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Ronald Talley, Frostee Rucker and Alameda Ta'amu, were picked up in Sarasota, Fla., by Cardinals president and licensed pilot Michael Bidwill. He flew them to the funeral of Thomas Williams, who was killed Sept. 20 in a car accident while driving to New Orleans to see the Cardinals play. They flew back to Tampa later that night.

Dan Williams missed the Saints game and was away from the team all of last week including the Bucs contest. The players wanted to show him their support.

“It was tough,” Talley said. “But Dan looked so strong it was admirable at the same time. Seeing him with his family, seeing him with his daughter, and just seeing his entire family mourn but at the same time celebrate, and to see Big Dan smile ... He smiled so many times.

“It meant a lot. That’s all we wanted to do is say, ‘Hey, that’s our brother.’ We want to lend whatever hand of support we can.”

Williams, who was expected to rejoin the team Tuesday night, sent out text messages during the weekend thanking his teammates for making the trip.

“It’s one of those things you just definitely put your arm around him and tell him, 'We got your back,'” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Simple as that.”

With the players off Tuesday, there wasn’t much news coming out of Cardinals’ camp. Here are a few of my stories and one about Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale.

Linebacker Daryl Washington is ready to return to the practice field.

Risk of infection, amputation benched safety Rashad Johnson against Bucs.

Rookie guard Jonathan Cooper began rehab this week on his broken left leg.

Bruce Arians wasn’t pleased with Tampa Bay’s rush on the Cardinals’ two kneel downs.

Arizona moved up three spots in this week’s ESPN.com Power Rankings.

Nate Potter saw his first game action at guard in Tampa Bay.

Paul Giblin of AZCentral.com writes about issues surrounding events leading up to Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- With the possibility of the Arizona Cardinals being down as many as four starters for Sunday’s game, I took it upon myself to lend a helping hand sorting through the injury-riddled mess. Here’s my breakdown of the projected depth chart Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Friday that he couldn’t name starters at outside linebacker because they’ll be determined by the defensive packages.

The key: Bold -- My projected starters. Crossed out -- Players that will not be playing Sunday. Italicized crossed out -- Players who may play but won't start.

Here’s my best shot:

DE: 93 Calais Campbell, 96 Ronald Talley

NT: 92 Dan Williams, 66 Alameda Ta’amu

DT: 90 Darnell Dockett, 98 Frostee Rucker

SAM: 57 Alex Okafor, 50 Dontay Moch, 59 Vic So’oto

ILB: 52 Jasper Brinkley, 51 Kevin Minter

ILB: 56 Karlos Dansby, 51 Kevin Minter

WILL: 91 Matt Shaughnessy, 55 John Abraham

LCB: 21 Patrick Peterson, 35 Javier Arenas

RCB: 25 Jerraud Powers, 20 Antoine Cason, 31 Justin Bethel

SS: 37 Yeremiah Bell, 22 Tony Jefferson

FS: 26 Rashad Johnson, 32 Tyrann Mathieu
The NFL awarded two players to the Arizona Cardinals off waivers from the pool of players released on the mandatory NFL reduction from 75 to 53 players Saturday.

Arizona was one of 11 teams to not have any of its own released players awarded to another team off waivers immediately following the reduction to 53-man limits. That could reflect the perceived strength of the Cardinals' depth as the team builds under a first-year coach and first-year general manager. Perhaps the players Arizona let go weren't very appealing. But as noted last month, the number of released players claimed off waivers can be a misleading way to measure roster strength.

Sometimes, the connections a player has around the league can make him appealing.

The Cardinals received Indianapolis Colts tackle Bradley Sowell and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu off waivers. Sowell was with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin in Indianapolis last season. Goodwin was the Colts' offensive line coach, so he would know Sowell well.

The Green Bay Packers had a league-high five released players awarded to other teams off waivers following the reduction to 53 players. The Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles were next with four apiece, followed by the San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns with three apiece.

Six teams had two of their players awarded elsewhere: Tennessee, Atlanta, Baltimore, Minnesota, Chicago and Miami. Eight teams had one: Washington, Dallas, Cincinnati, Oakland, New Orleans, Detroit, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh.

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