Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer

There was a lot Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer did well last season, his first in head coach Bruce Arians’ offense.

But there was still plenty he could work on, according to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski.

Palmer
In the latest rendition of Jaworski’s quarterback big board Insider, Palmer dropped one spot to 20th because “he still made too many mistakes for a veteran quarterback.” Jaworski also wrote that “there were some games where I didn’t know where he was throwing the football.”

It seems to be a fair ranking for Palmer, who threw 22 interceptions compared to 24 touchdowns, when taking his entire body of work last season into consideration. Palmer was once considered an elite quarterback, but he’s not in that category anymore and that’s apparent in Jaws’ ranking. Palmer was rated behind quarterbacks such as Tony Romo, Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford -- all quarterbacks Palmer can pass, in my opinion, with a better 2014 showing.

Jaworski criticized Palmer’s decision-making, which was under siege throughout the season, especially through the first eight games.

He struggled -- along with his teammates -- during the first half adjusting to Arians’ scheme. Palmer improved in the second half, along with his decision-making, throwing just eight interceptions to 14 touchdowns, and became a top-6 quarterback during that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

One stat that Jaws noted was Palmer’s nine third-down interceptions, second most in the NFL and tops in the NFC. Palmer also struggled on first down, throwing eight interceptions, the second most in the NFC. Both need to improve for Palmer to move up the board and for Arizona to move into the playoffs.

But for all his criticism of Palmer, Jaws also talked about Palmer’s strengths, writing Palmer “remains a tremendous anticipation thrower and has a really good feel for the passing game. He will throw it into man coverage and give his guys a chance.” One observation by Jaws stood out. He said even though Palmer made too many mistakes last season, he knew where to go with the football. The mistakes were a product of the learning curve with Arians’ offense. The kinks should have been ironed out during the offseason and the progress building off of 2013 is expected to start immediately. Training camp will be a true indication if either happened.

Jaws believes Palmer will improve in his second year under Arians. It’s a fair and expected assessment.
The Arizona Cardinals' biggest key to success for the next three seasons can be summed up in one word: offense.

How the Cardinals can adapt and adjust on the offensive side of the ball will determine whether they continue to build on the foundation that coach Bruce Arians laid in 2013 or whether they regress back to the state of mediocrity.

The first step to being successful over the next three seasons is finding a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starter Carson Palmer is entering the final year of his contract because his third season voids if he remains on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. A young, steady, productive quarterback is needed to take over this team, and the question then becomes is Logan Thomas that guy? The Cardinals also need to solidify the right side of the offensive line, like they did the left side by signing tackle Jared Veldheer and drafting guard Jonathan Cooper.

Stability up front can make the offense run despite rough conditions behind it. In three years, the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd might not be wearing Cardinal red anymore. Fitzgerald is coming up on the end of his career in the next few years, and Floyd might be a free agent in the next two. The Cardinals will need to make Floyd their next No. 1 receiver and build around him to remain successful.

Running back and tight end are the two positions that are young and feature players poised to be around for the next few seasons, but, in order for the Cards to be successful through 2016, the rest of the offense needs to be stabilized and shored up.
Sometimes bigger is better. At least when it comes to tight ends.

One priority for the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason was to improve their tight end room. Coach Bruce Arians wanted tight ends that fit his mold -- guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and love to block. Midway through last season, Arizona began to transition its tight end unit by signing 6-foot-6, 275-pound Jake Ballard. John Carlson, who's 6-5, 248, was added during the early part of this year's free agency and Troy Niklas -- 6-6, 270 -- was drafted in May.

Housler
Housler
Arians wanted his tight ends to be bigger. He got what he wanted.

"That's always been my philosophy," Arians said. "I don't want a guy that's really a wide receiver and you're only hope to run the football is if they put a nickel in there and he can block him and in base defense, not going to block anybody. My experience (is) it's always been a detriment rather than guys who can do both."

Arians has one of those tight ends that's more of a wide receiver than a bruising blocker off the line.

Rob Housler, who's entering his fourth season with the Cards, has a basketball player's body. He can be quick in the open field and looks as comfortable as most wideouts running a route off the line. But that's not what Arians wants.

He wants to see his tight ends be a combination of the old school definition of the position combined with a sprinkle of new school. And that's why Ballard and Niklas have coaches giddy with excitement. They're both big men who enjoy contact at the line of scrimmage yet they're both athletic enough to run routes, catch tough passes and turn up field to make plays. Ballard showed what he's capable of in eight games last season, but Niklas was sidelined for most of the offseason while recovering from sports hernia surgery before suffering a broken hand.

Carlson
But it's Carlson who's impressed the most during organized team activities and minicamp.

"John has done a really, really good job," Arians said. "First off, he's extremely bright. He picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past ... he's not an overwhelming blocker but he's more than adequate."

Each new addition to the tight end room brought more competition. While some players wilt at the first sign of having to play for their job, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said that hasn't happened yet with the Cards.

"It's been phenomenal to have John here for a number of (reasons)," Palmer said. "Mainly, he's really pushed that tight end group. He's really brought the best out of Robby. Bringing competition to that spot has really helped Robby improve."

While Carlson, Ballard and Niklas look similar in stature, Palmer said each brings a different asset to the field.

"We have three different guys with three different strengths -- four guys really (including Housler)," Palmer said. "We all kinda feed off of each other. There's one guy that's fast. There's one guy that's big and powerful. There's one guy that kinda does it all. I think that's what Coach Arians kinda envisioned in that position -- not a bunch of the same guys but a bunch of different guys."
Ted GinnAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTed Ginn will have a chance to be a permanent part of a receiving corps for the first time in his career.
He's not quite as fast as a speeding bullet, but Ted Ginn comes close with a football in his hands.

And the faster he can go this season, the better for the Arizona Cardinals.

Speed has long been synonymous with Ginn, who has made a productive career out of being faster than the guy across from him, especially when it comes to returning punts and kicks. Anyone inside University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 8, 2007 during the first BCS National Championship Game remembers Ginn returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown -- then subsequently injuring himself during the post-touchdown celebration.

In all three of his NFL stops -- Miami, San Francisco and Carolina -- Ginn's primary responsibility was as a returner. The lone exceptions were 2008, his second year in the league, with the Dolphins, and 2013 with the Panthers. They were the only two seasons Ginn had more receptions than either punt or kick returns. In every other season, being a wide receiver was his secondary responsibility, at best. During Ginn's three seasons in San Francisco he caught 33 passes -- three less than he did last season in Carolina.

"He doesn't have that much experience as a wide out, surprisingly," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I have no idea why."

Well, that's about to change. With the Cardinals Ginn will be primarily used as their third receiver, filling the void left by Andre Roberts, who signed with Washington during free agency. Ginn will still be charged with returning kicks and some punts, but his main duties will be alongside Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

Aside from his 56 receptions in 2008, the most catches for Ginn in a year was 38 a year later. In Roberts' last three seasons as the Cards' third receiver, he caught at least 43. Since Ginn is faster than Roberts, he'll be running deeper routes that take the cover off the defense. Last season they were given to Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden.

The 29-year-old Ginn is ready for more responsiblity.

"It ain't like I haven't played the game," he said. "It's just that I haven't had that many minutes.

"As far as being a receiver, you can't be in this league and not be active or attentive to different things. I just go out and keep continuing to push."

Early in offseason practice, Ginn showed his teammates what he picked up from his former teammates.

Ginn came in running bench, semi and bang routes, Fitzgerald said.

"It's not like it's a foreign language to him," Fitzgerald said. "He knows and understands where he needs to be. He understands the splits.

"He's very sharp in terms of picking things up. He learns really fast."

Ginn has been learning a lot from Fitzgerald, who in 2007 and 2008 combined for almost as many receptions (196 for Fitzgerald versus 197 for Ginn) and for more yards than Ginn has in his entire career (2,840 for Fitz versus 2,604 for Ginn).

Ginn is relishing the opportunity to play with Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer, both of whom have played in the NFL for 10 seasons. Ginn played with five quarterbacks in Miami, including Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. In San Francisco, Ginn caught passes from Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Troy Smith -- his Ohio State teammate. And during his year in Carolina, Ginn paired with Cam Newton. He's played with a handful of quality quarterbacks but none who have the longevity and experience of Palmer.

And the most experienced receiver he shared a huddle with was Steve Smith with the Panthers -- talented but no Fitzgerald.

"Oh man, you can never not learn from a big-time guy like that," Ginn said of Fitzgerald. "I haven't been with a lot of vets, no matter if it was quarterbacks or wide receiver. You just go out and you just pay attention, and you just learn. A guy like that that has been in this league for so long and holding it down like he do, he knows something.

"You'll be a fool not to pay attention to what he do and what he say. I'm a learner. I've always been like that so I just go in and pay attention.

Palmer has taken notice.

It didn't take long for Ginn to correct any mistakes he made when he first started working with Palmer and Fitzgerald. Palmer said Ginn had the "exact right mindset" when he signed with the Cards and has been "a complete professional."

"I was surprised at how quickly he grasped a lot of those concepts," Palmer said. "You can tell he's been studying in his off time and put in some time cause the mistakes he made early, he's really cut out. You rarely see his name on the correction sheet. He's been a true professional.

"I think we've all been a little bit surprised at how explosive he is and we knew he's explosive, coming in. Excited about what he can do and bring to your offense."

What Ginn adds can be summed it one word: speed. And it can kill defenses.

"Anytime you can hit a home run in one play, it's easy," Arians said. "The threat of those guys being out there is that every play you can hit one. What they do to the defense to open up everybody else, you don't have to throw it long. You hit a fast guy going across the field, it's easier for him to turn it up and go to the distance."

Arians has been pleased with Ginn's route running and catching ability, which has led to more confidence for Ginn. He'll need it as he embarks on a season as primarily a receiver. He'll still have special teams' duties and Palmer hopes Ginn will be able to give the offense shorter fields to work with.

But the Cardinals are relying on Ginn to use his speed off the line of scrimmage.

"He's a receiver first to me," Palmer said. "I'm glad he's going to be doing some special teams. I hope it's not too many. I hope he returns a punt here and there, but I want him running with the ones. We need him on the field. He makes us very dynamic."
When the final practice of minicamp ended Thursday morning, earlier than expected, it gave the Arizona Cardinals a jump on summer vacation.

But instead of celebrating with back slaps and high fives on a minicamp well done, the Cardinals looked at their improvement, gave it a nod and moved on. They know there’s still work to be done, especially offensively.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinBoth coach Bruce Arians and QB Carson Palmer said they were pleased with the offensive improvements the Cardinals made in the offseason.
“I’m extremely happy with where we are,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We have a long way to go. I couldn’t be happier to see the growth from the film we watched this offseason of us playing in games, and to see where we are now and to see the future’s bright because you see mistakes made and you see the potential of the scheme, the potential of these plays.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians shared in the admiration of the progress the offense made, especially compared to last offseason, but it’s still not up to his standards.

“I'm pleased where we are. We’re not where we need to be to win what we want to win,” Arians said. “We’re still making too many mistakes and especially in the blitz game with all 11 guys.”

It would’ve been easy for the Cardinals to have gone stagnant during practice, Palmer said, especially this time of the year. The status quo could’ve been the status quo for Arizona. The offense found its rhythm in the second half of the season, topping 300 yards in each of the final nine games and 400 in three of those. Arizona’s lowest output during that stretch was 307 yards against Seattle in Week 16, a game the Cardinals still won. Its most was 482 a week later against San Francisco.

Even though they weren’t perfect, the Cards finished the season playing good football. It would’ve been understandable had Arizona remained content until training camp. But that wasn’t the case, Palmer said.

“We’ve gotten better every day,” he said. “You can see the improvement. You can see the individuals improve and you can hear the coaching in the classroom and on the field.”

One thing Palmer noticed since April 21, when the team descended on Tempe to start conditioning, was his teammates’ willingness to put in extra time. Slowly the mistakes began to decrease along with the names on the Cardinals’ accountability sheet, which tracks mental errors and mistakes. It’s been getting shorter every day this offseason.

Last year, that wasn't the case.

“It did not ever get better last year,” Palmer said.

One large reason for their improvement was their ability to watch film of themselves. Last offseason Arizona watched game film of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis – two teams that Arians coached with – running Arians’ scheme. It didn’t register for the Cards the same way, and Palmer said this group learned better watching themselves instead of studying “a diagram on a piece of paper.”

He watched the strides being made and the mistakes being lessened.

“You have the same play and the same defense comes up and all of a sudden you do it right and it’s a nine-yard gain on third-and-3,” Palmer said. “You see it on the field and you see it in the film room of the strides that we’ve been making.”

But Palmer also sees the strides the Cardinals can make in training camp.

“Just knowing we got a long way to go and we got a lot of training camp, we’re going to get a lot of reps,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot of plays. That’s kinda Coach Arians … that’s his motto. You’re not out there in practice to get quality reps. It’s just get rep after rep after rep, and then we’ll coach it up.

“That’s really good.”
First it was the recovery from hernia surgery.

Now it’s a broken hand.

Troy Niklas’ first offseason as a professional football player isn’t going so smooth. The Arizona Cardinals’ second-round pick in May’s draft has been on the field for just about a week of practice since reporting to the team in early May. While he’s been studying his playbook and watching film, learning from the sideline simply isn’t the same.

And it’s already causing the tight end to fall behind.

“I’d definitely be further along with the offense had I been out there practicing, and that’s what sucks,” Niklas said. “I’m just getting my head in my playbook trying to learn all the conceptual stuff.”

He's part of a tight end room that includes Jake Ballard, John Carlson and Rob Housler, all players with at least a few years of experience who'll be able to help guide Niklas once he's back on the field.

Niklas called his broken hand last week “one of those freak things.” He got it caught in another player’s jersey during the final week of organized team activities. After going his entire career without having surgery, Niklas has had two in the past six months.

The frustration of not being on the field for much-needed reps is starting to pile up. On Tuesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Niklas will be ready for training camp.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said it’ll be important for Niklas to increase his workload once the Cardinals begin camp in late July.

“Anytime you miss time and you’re a young guy, and you can’t get on the field, obviously it’s not ideal but that’s the game,” Palmer said. “That’s this league and that’s any professional league. Being a young guy, you need reps. You got to kinda put it in overdrive once training camp gets here to catch up.”

Niklas has just one more practice to watch from the sidelines before the Cardinals go on a summer break. Palmer said he’ll catch up to speed with Niklas once he’s healthy at camp.

But, regardless, it hasn’t been easy for the Notre Dame product to deal with “just another bump in the road.”

“It’s not fun,” he said. “Could you imagine just watching someone interview people all day and not be able to do your job?”
For players who've been in the league long enough, not much surprises them anymore.

That's how Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander felt about linebacker Daryl Washington being suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and program.

Alexander
Palmer
"I've seen a lot," Palmer said. "I've seen and played with a lot of suspensions and dealt with that and the injury thing."

When Palmer was the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback, he had to overcome and eight-game suspension for receiver Chris Henry in 2007.

In Alexander's first six seasons, all with Washington, he had six teammates suspended.

"I've been around the league for a long time and being in Washington, it's always a circus so I'm kinda used to certain mishaps in a football organization," Alexander said. "Nothing can surprise me, I guess, at this point in my career."

Palmer has seen the ugly side of suspensions, but he's also seen how they can help a team. It helps teams become closer and stronger, he said.

"They make young guys have to mature faster," Palmer said.

"You do everything you can to bring the young guys around. These young guys that now are probably sitting back (thinking) it's a nice year for me to learn, but now it's a chance for a young guy who has to play and that's always a good thing. That's a good thing for that group of linebackers."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Monday’s news conferences with Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer revolved around one topic: the year-long suspension of linebacker Daryl Washington. Arians made it clear Monday was the last time he’d be talking about the player and the questions took advantage of it.

Here are a few notes from practice and the pressers:

• Arians said Monday would be the last time he would address Washington.

• Arians said Larry Foote -- right now a leading contender to replace Washington -- can be a two-down linebacker but not likely a three-down backer.

• Foote filled Washington’s role at inside linebacker alongside Kevin Minter.

• Rookie tight end Troy Niklas was back on the field Monday going through drills.

• Monday was Bobby Massie's day to work with the first-team offense.

• Arizona had Ted Ginn, John Brown, Walt Powell and Jerraud Powers returning punts during practice.

• Safety Deone Bucannon, defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, running back Zach Bauman, wide receiver Teddy Williams, wide receiver Jaron Brown and offensive lineman Anthony Steen didn’t practice for either all or part of Monday’s session.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

May, 29, 2014
May 29
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By almost everyone’s estimation, the rough and rugged NFC West was the best division in the NFL in 2013. It had the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, two teams in the NFC Championship Game (Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers) and another 10-game winner in the Arizona Cardinals. The St. Louis Rams were 7-9 but likely would have had a winning season in any other division.

And now? Other than adding Godzilla and three superheroes to the four teams, they could not get much better. It looks like the big boys on the NFC block will remain out west.

Most experts believe the Rams had one of the best drafts in the NFL, adding Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, giving St. Louis four first-round picks on what is arguably the best defensive line in football.

The 49ers had 12 draft picks, including seven in the first four rounds, and made a trade during the draft for talented Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson.

The Cardinals signed gigantic left tackle Jared Veldheer and blazing kick returner Ted Ginn in free agency. They also added a vicious hitter, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, with their first draft pick.

As always happens with Super Bowl champs, the Seahawks lost a few key players to free agency, but they kept the man they really wanted to keep in defensive end Michael Bennett and locked up "Legion of Boom" stars Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long-term deals.

Believe it or not, the best division in the NFL just got better.

First Down

As usual, the Seahawks drafted some players other teams would have taken later, if at all. Should people question their choices, or have they earned the benefit of the doubt?



Terry Blount: Have we learned nothing from the past? Questioning Seattle's draft strategy, along with undrafted signees, now seems a little foolish. Shall I name a few who stand out that other teams passed up or the experts questioned? Sherman, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith, for starters. The Seahawks bring in players with specific traits -- unusual athleticism, driving competitiveness and obvious intelligence. Where those players rank on another team's draft board means nothing to them. And at first glance from rookie camp, they found some winners in receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, along with defensive end Cassius Marsh.

Nick Wagoner: At this point, it's hard to argue with the results the Seahawks are getting from the players they draft. It is interesting that it seems like the first-round picks (such as James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin) are the ones who seem to struggle most relative to draft position. But the thing Seattle does so well is find players who fit the confines of who they want to be on both sides of the ball. Then they develop them and have them ready to go. It is why they never seem to miss a beat when injuries hit or a player is suspended. The results speak for themselves.

Josh Weinfuss: A little leeway should be given to the Seahawks because, first, they are the reigning NFL champions, and second, their personnel department has been able to piece together a pretty good roster with players who were not highly rated. With that being said, good will should only go so far. Sometimes a general manager and coach think they have the secret recipe and get cocky about their ability to find talent. When that happens, bad decisions are made. Obviously, the Seahawks have a reputation for picking good players, but they won't be right every time. Every team has an off draft and picks who don't pan out. It is also too early for us to know if some of their "rogue" picks will do anything. Their picks should definitely be questioned until they have a chance to show us their stuff.

Bill Williamson: The glue to the Seahawks is general manager John Schneider. Yes, coach Pete Carroll is a tremendous fit for the franchise and is a big part of the team's success. But Schneider is the architect of this franchise. He built this roster. There is little doubting the way he has drafted. Look at the core of the team -- they were all great value choices by Schneider. The tie goes to Schneider. You can doubt him if you choose, but it would be a lousy idea. Expect these Seattle rookies to develop into players. Schneider always wins.


Second Down

Do the additions of Johnson and Carlos Hyde give the 49ers the most dangerous offense in the division?



Blount: Both players will help, but the real key for the 49ers is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Having enough weapons wasn't really the problem. Using them effectively on a consistent basis and cutting down on mistakes is the issue. Kaepernick's extraordinary talent is unquestioned. But can he be the same type of team leader that Wilson is and make the big play in the most difficult moments? He couldn't do it last year in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. If he shows he can do that consistently when the big game is on the line, watch out.

Wagoner: Well, the competition for that crown isn't exactly daunting in a division known mostly for grinding it out offensively and dominating defensively. But the 49ers probably do have the most dangerous offense in the division. I don't personally think Johnson or Hyde will be a major difference-maker right away, but they don't have to be. Putting Johnson with a healthy Michael Crabtree at receiver and tight end Vernon Davis should allow Johnson to operate free of the pressure of being a No. 1 wideout. Hyde can learn from Frank Gore before taking over the reins. In terms of top-to-bottom talent across the roster, yes, the 49ers look to have the most dangerous offense in the NFC West.

Weinfuss: It is certainly looking like the 49ers have one of the most dangerous offenses in the division, if not the most dangerous. San Francisco has the right pieces at every position, from quarterback to running back to wide receiver to tight end. But the first question that came to mind when going through San Francisco's offensive depth chart is this: Will one football be enough to go around? This might turn into a case of the 49ers being better on paper than they are on the field, which has happened many times throughout the NFL. The Cardinals bolstered their skill positions during the offseason, giving themselves a lot of talent at wide receiver and tight end to complement two young running backs and a veteran quarterback who finds ways to win. A team can have all the ammunition in the world, but if the coach doesn't know how to use it, it will be stockpiled for naught.

Williamson: I think so. There is nothing missing from this offense. We saw how dynamic it can be when Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. Put Crabtree, the clutch Anquan Boldin and Johnson together and that is a great veteran group of receivers. Someone is always going to be open. Rookie Bruce Ellington was added to give the 49ers the ability to take the top off of defenses, an aspect they didn't possess last season. We didn't even mention Davis at tight end. Really, how is this offense going to be stopped? Kaepernick looked like a completely different quarterback when Crabtree played last season. Kaepernick with all of these weapons? Oh, and we didn't even mention the bread and butter of the 49ers' offense -- the running game. Hyde, Gore and a healthy Marcus Lattimore? How do you defend this group?


Third Down

After a narrow miss last season, have the Cardinals made enough of the right moves to get into the playoffs?



Blount: I don't think they needed to make many moves to reach the playoffs. Record-wise, they were a playoff team last season, but a victim of circumstances in the playoff structure. So the real question is can the Cardinals catch Seattle and/or San Francisco? And my answer is yes, especially the 49ers. Quarterback Carson Palmer will be better after having a full season in the Arizona offense. Bruce Arians might be the most underrated coach in the NFL. The team clearly is on the rise, while San Francisco's offseason turmoil could come back to bite it.

Wagoner: I like what Arizona did this offseason. The offensive line should be much better with the addition of Veldheer and the return of Jonathan Cooper. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a nice pickup, and first-round safety Bucannon should be a good complement to the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. But it is still going to be difficult for them to make the playoffs. The Seahawks and 49ers remain at the top of the heap, and until we see otherwise, it's hard to see how they fall from that perch unless injuries strike. That would still leave one playoff spot for the Cardinals. Three teams from the same division can make the playoffs, and it just happened last season, but I expect Arizona to take a small step back and just miss the cut again.

Weinfuss: The Cardinals have made enough moves to make the playoffs this season. They missed the postseason a year ago by a game, which might have been different if Arizona had been stocked with a better kick returner, left tackle, second cornerback and safety. The Cards addressed those issues in the offseason, which should make them better in 2014. Adding left tackle Veldheer to anchor the offensive line should ease Arians' concerns about Palmer's blind side. One thing Ginn has shown throughout his career is that he can return kicks with the best. But the biggest difference for the Cards will be their improved secondary. Signing talented veteran Cromartie gives the Cardinals two lockdown cornerbacks (along with Patrick Peterson) and drafting Bucannon gave Arizona an instant upgrade against tight ends and big receivers -- which there are plenty of in NFC West.

Williamson: I really like how well the Cardinals are coached. I think Arians is on to something. His players seem to respond to him. So the program will continue to rise under Arians. Also, I love the defense; it is nasty, aggressive and ball-hawking. Add great defense and a well-respected coaching staff and a team is going to win a lot of games. I think the bottom line with the Cardinals is quarterback play. Palmer had his moments last season, but I'm not a big believer in him. I think he will cost the Cardinals at some point. Maybe this is a playoff team, but I think the Cardinals are a couple of steps behind the Seahawks and the 49ers. The deficit starts at quarterback.


Fourth Down

The Rams decided not to draft help at wide receiver and waited until the sixth round to add a young quarterback. Will their offense score enough to make up ground in the NFC West?



Blount: Sure, it would have helped to add a top receiver, but is there a bigger unknown in the entire division than Sam Bradford? What the Rams, and everyone else, have to find out is whether Bradford is an elite quarterback. Frankly, I have my doubts, but he did play well last season before his injury. Bradford's situation is much different than that of Kaepernick, who is as gifted a player physically as you will ever see. In Bradford's case, it's hard to know how good he really is or can be, because he hasn't had top talent around him. And it doesn't help that he has to play six games against three of the of the best defenses in the NFL. It's time for Bradford to step up, no matter whom he is throwing the ball to each week.

Wagoner: The Rams are clearly hoping they will be able to win games in classic heavyweight slugfests by playing good defense and running the ball. The Rams did put up points against playoff teams like New Orleans and Indianapolis without Bradford, and most of the same cast of characters returns this season. The question is if they can score enough to overcome teams following a similar blueprint within the division? Adding Robinson and running back Tre Mason and having a full season of Rodger Saffold at guard should certainly help the run game. But until one or more of the young receivers proves himself and Bradford can consistently take advantage of play-action opportunities down the field, I don't see the offense being able to do enough to win games without the help of a special-teams or defensive score from week to week. The Rams should be better against division foes than they were a year ago and might be able to push Arizona, but it still seems unlikely it will be enough to overtake Seattle or San Francisco.

Weinfuss: The depth of the NFC West makes this the toughest question of the four. The Rams' additions weren't significant improvements to their offense, but will help. Bradford will come back with a vengeance and try to light up the scoreboard. He will have a talented group of receivers, but can they score enough to close the gap from the bottom of the West? Not sure that can happen. Rookie Robinson will take his lumps and bruises and might not come into his own until the second half of the season, so the Rams have to be hoping it's not too late by then. Points will be at a premium in the West, especially considering how good the three other defenses are, so the Rams will have to be even better than expected to make up ground, and I'm not sure they are ready for that just yet.

Williamson: Points scored? Who needs points with that defense. Man, the Rams' defense is getting silly good. Adding Donald to that defensive front should have been banned. It's simply unfair. The Rams are not going to allow many points this season. So the offense won't have to be overly dynamic. With that said, I am not a big Bradford fan. I don't think he is the answer. Until the Rams upgrade at quarterback, I don't think they will reach their full potential or be able to hang in the division race. But they will dangerous every week because of the defense.

 
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What a difference a year makes.

During the Arizona Cardinals' first organized team activities of 2013, the offense was a bunch of lost souls. On Tuesday, not only did Carson Palmer know his way around head coach Bruce Arians' scheme, he was teaching it to others.

"Last year he was learning, now he's coaching," Arians said. "They're getting on the same page, talking. Every play, you see him come back and there's good dialogue on what they saw: 'Why'd you break out? Why'd you break in? So, yeah, that's by far the best part."

Having a year to learn, if not master, the offense put the Cardinals "light years" ahead of last year's first practice. To Arians, 2013 and 2014 are like night and day.

Instead of worrying about nearly every little part of the offense as he did last offseason, Palmer was focused Tuesday on three things: "my first progression, my second progression, my third progression." It was a vast difference from when the Cardinals offense was "just swimming. Inside your head, you're thinking about 80 different things," Palmer said.

"It was actually enjoyable," he added. "It wasn't frustrating and all the motions you go through when you're learning a new offense. I've had an entire offseason to study this offense and study our guys in this offense, and it was fun."

One of the major differences this offseason is the Cardinals' ability to watch themselves on film. Last season, when Arians was installing his complex two-tight-end, pass-happy scheme, he could teach it only using cut-ups of the plays from his time in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Arians said it makes a huge difference and made working on the offense this offseason easier.

To Palmer and the offense, however, watching themselves on film instead of Indianapolis' Andrew Luck or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has built confidence, a broader comfort level and a respect for each play.

"It's just a totally different comfort level right now," Palmer said.

"There’s not a shadow of a doubt on certain plays where there was in the past like there are in new systems and new offenses."

Even though there wasn't anything that happened Tuesday that concerned Palmer, Arians wasn't pleased with a few rusty mistakes. There were too many offsides penalties on hard counts and false starts, including one by right tackle Bradley Sowell on a 20-yard pass.

"That doesn't help," Arians quipped about Sowell. "You've got to be able to count to two."

Arians started the Cardinals from scratch this week, despite a veteran presence on the roster. He began by installing the huddle, then the snap count and going from there, or from "soup to nuts" as he put it Tuesday. Even though the majority of the offense returned, Arians couldn't move too fast. He didn't want to assume everyone knew everything.

But when it came down to installing the offense, Arians isn't adding another chapter. He wants his team to master what's already there.

"Just [get a] better understanding and knowing why we're doing it, and getting to know how to do it better," Arians said. "You can overcoach it. There are a few wrinkles that we saw last year [with] defenses that we can attack with. [Just] a play or two but not a philosophy."
TEMPE, Ariz. – With the first day of Cardinals' OTAs in the books, we were able to take a lot away from the 95-minute practice. Here are a five things we learned during OTAs:

1. Michael Floyd made a statement. He looked good enough to cause quarterback Carson Palmer to gush about him during his time with the media. Floyd was making hard and easy catches, and even blew by cornerback Patrick Peterson on a go-route. On one play, Floyd made an awkward catch while falling out of bounds and Palmer ran down field to tell Floyd he should step back toward the pass before making the catch.

2. Coach Bruce Arians doesn’t watch a lot of players individually during these practices. It was hard for him to talk about specific players at length because he usually evaluates them after watching the tape. It’s tough with 90 guys to hone in on a few players.

3. The majority of the snaps Tuesday were taken by Palmer and Drew Stanton on their respective fields. Both got three snaps to every one by Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas. Palmer was on the main field with the starters and veterans while Stanton worked on the rookie field.

4. Guard Jonathan Cooper saw his first significant practice action since breaking his left fibula in the Cardinals’ third preseason games last year. He’s not quite at 100 percent, Arians said, but he’s close. When asked about Cooper, Arians joked he didn’t want to jinx the left guard. Cooper played with the first team throughout practice, looking close to form.

5. Even though he was the Cardinals’ first-round pick, safety Deone Bucannon wasn’t running with the first team just yet. Tony Jefferson, entering his second season, was the strong safety with Rashad Johnson playing free safety. It’s not uncommon for a rookie to not be playing with the vets on the first day of OTAs. Last season it took Tyrann Mathieu a few practices to earn his way onto the main field.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It would've been easy for Ryan Lindley to not fully answer the questions. Or not answer them at all.

Logan Thomas would've understood. It's Lindley's job that Thomas is after.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Ed Wolfstein/USA TODAY SportsRookie Cardinals QB Logan Thomas appreciates that his competition for the spot is showing him the ropes.
During his first week of practice with the Arizona Cardinals, Thomas hasn't been shunned or slighted by his fellow quarterbacks. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Lindley have all helped the fourth-round pick.

"Those guys, they've kinda taken me under their wing and aren't afraid to coach me up and teach me up," said Thomas, who addressed the media Friday for the first time in person since being drafted. "Which I thank them tremendously for. I can be a lost guy out there."

Lindley has the most to lose by Arizona adding Thomas.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that Thomas wouldn't be competing for any other of the quarterback's jobs except Lindley's. Even knowing he's in a two-man battle to stay on the roster, Lindley has still helped the rookie.

"Ryan's been great actually," Thomas said. "[Thursday] especially. I was out there asking a bunch of questions. He wasn't hesitant to tell me and trying to help me along, showing me footwork, progression, whatever it may be.

"I really respect that aspect, not just of him but of the other two guys, as well. They don't have to do that. Right now we're all fighting for jobs. Those guys are willing to do so, which obviously means a lot -- shows their character."

Thomas said he's spending most of practice listening and learning, trying to absorb everything that's been thrown at him. The one quarterback who's been among the most helpful also happens to be the starter.

Thomas said Palmer is "just a real people person who's not afraid to teach."

The Cardinals haven't begun breaking down Thomas' game and rebuilding it to their liking. In the meantime, Thomas has just been watching and learning from the men he'll be competing with and against.

"I'm just learning," Thomas said. "I'm sitting back watching them, seeing the little things that they do, the intricacies of the game that I may not have picked up before.

"And when I have questions to ask, they don't have problems answering them right back."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- John Brown had the plan all hashed out.

He was going to spend a year at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas getting his associate degree, then move home to Miami and try to walk on at Florida International University in order to be closer to his brother, James Walker, who was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.

Besides their relation, football had been their bond. As a child, Brown, one of the Arizona Cardinals' third-round picks, would carry Walker's pads to practice. He watched his older brother on the field and wanted to be a part of the game.

Walker was shot three times in front of a Miami night club on July 4, 2010 -- once in the head and twice in the chest. About two months after the shooting Brown's plan started to unravel. In Kansas, community colleges can only have 12 out-of-state players. Brown didn't find out he was Coffeyville's 13th until the day before the first game. But instead of dropping out, he stayed in school and was allowed to practice.

The following April, nine months after the shooting, Walker died. Brown's motivation to move back home was gone, but football was still a priority.

“But when I thought about it, he passed so I was like, I just wanted to get far away," Brown said.

Armed with the memories of his brother, Brown set out to return to the field.

"It just made me a better man, just seeing the stuff I had to see with my brother put up a fight for nine months before he passed," Brown added. "It taught me a lesson that no matter how hard things get, you can't give up,” Brown said. “I thought about giving up but looking at what he did, there was no way I could give up and if I made it through that I believe I can make it through anything.”

Fortunately, a small Division II school 77 miles away from Coffeyville had its eyes on Brown.

Pitt State was recruiting Brown, all 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds of him, while he was practicing. But even that wasn't part of the plan.

Brown played his freshman season of college at Mars Hill University, a small Division II school in the middle of the North Carolina mountains. He was forced to sit out his sophomore season there after his ACT score was flagged, which is how he ended up at Coffeyville. The plan all along was for Brown to return to Mars Hill, but when Pitt State offered a full scholarship, it was an opportunity Brown wasn't about to pass up.

“I was out for two years,” Brown said. “I was just amped up to play and show the guys what I could do and do it for my brother. I told the guys when I first got in, like two months before the season, I was like, ‘The first time I touch the ball I'm going to score.'”

Brown wasn't kidding.

On his first play as a Gorilla in 2011, Brown returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.

That play kicked off a record-breaking career for Brown. In three years, he had 185 receptions for 3,387 yards and 34 touchdowns -- all Pitt State records. His touchdowns and receiving yards placed Brown fifth all-time in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association's record books. Brown also returned three punts and two kicks for touchdowns at Pitt State, while rushing for six more.

And the Gorillas won the 2011 Division II national championship on Brown's heels.

He parlayed his collegiate career into a spot at the East-West Shrine Game which landed him a spot at the NFL scouting combine. That's where he shined, running a 4.36-second 40-yard dash.

It was fast enough to draw the attention of Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who likes small, speed receivers.

“Fits the mold that B.A. was looking for that he has talked to me about since the day that he has got here: fast, explosive, T.Y. Hilton-type of player, guy who can take the top off the defense, has dual return ability in the punt- and kick-return game,” Arizona general manager Steve Keim said of Brown. “He has been phenomenal since the season was over. We went and worked him out privately and a great workout for us.”

After liking what they saw, Keim and Arians used the Cardinals' second third-round pick to draft Brown, who'll likely be a fourth receiver and back-up kick and punt returner.

Of all the adjustments he's making as a professional football player, speed isn't one of them.

“I'm just a person who plays fast,” Brown said. “When I got in the East-West Shrine Game, I showed them that I can play with speed. I think it will be faster here but I think I will adjust real quick.”

After just a few practices, Brown said his speed hasn't been tested but he gets the feeling the quarterbacks are aware of it.

“I think Carson Palmer kind of knows that I have speed,” Brown said.

It took six years and three schools for Brown to reach the NFL. But with his speed and his brother in mind, Brown will make up for how long it took.

“I most definitely appreciate it,” Brown said. “I learn from (wide receivers) Michael (Floyd) and (Larry) Fitzgerald every time they go up, just to learn and see if I can do what those guys do.

“It's actually crazy, but you can't be too excited. You just have to do what you can do and focus on helping the team.”
It didn't take long for the Arizona Cardinals to have a quarterback controversy this offseason.

But it doesn't involve the starter or even the back-up.

Fourth-round draft pick Logan Thomas began his quest to win the third-string job from Ryan Lindley on Monday, when rookies reported to the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe.

“It's competition,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Saturday after the final day of the NFL draft. “There is nothing being handed to this guy. He is not the quarterback of the future until he earns it. He has to be a pretty good guy to get that No. 3 spot. The No. 2 spot isn't changing. That's not a problem.

“It's just a matter of, can he beat out Ryan?”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLogan Thomas will compete with Ryan Lindley to be the Cardinals' third-string quarterback.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Arians said the Cardinals wouldn't take a quarterback if they didn't think he could beat out one of the two back-ups already on the roster. By simply drafting Thomas out of Virginia Tech, Arians showed his hand.

Then on Saturday, after general manager Steve Keim said a team should draft a quarterback later in the draft if it thinks he could eventually be a franchise player, Arians said Thomas fit that bill.

“He has the skill set to,” he said.

A decision won't be made on Lindley's future with the team until some point toward the end of training camp. Until then, it'll be a daily battle between Thomas and Lindley. Although he's likely to make the roster, Thomas' spot isn't guaranteed just yet. He was drafted as a developmental quarterback, Arians said, which means Thomas has to show progress for Arians and Keim to believe he can eventually be Palmer's successor.

Arians already knows what Thomas has physically. There are two intangibles, however, that Arians and Keim couldn't evaluate at the combine that will dictate what kind of quarterback Thomas turns into.

“The hardest things to judge are the heart and the brain because that's what they play with,” Arians said. “You have to have them in your huddle and in your (quarterbacks) room for a little while to really know what you've got. All the athletic stuff, he's got all that stuff.

“He's got the heart. If we can get him trained to play in this offense, his skill set fits what we love to do. He has a beautiful deep ball. He's got as pretty of a deep ball as (starter) Carson (Palmer), who I think has one of the best in the league. He can stand there and just drop it in the bucket.”

Arians said there's a drill that proves how well Thomas can throw a deep ball. The drill places a bucket 40 yards down field, four yards off the sideline. The goal is to throw the ball into said bucket.

“He'll put it in the bucket four out of 10,” Arians said, “which is unbelievable.”

Thomas only has from Monday until the end of the preseason to show the Cardinals how much he's improved. If he's not the starter, Thomas will be running the scout team, Arians said. And even then he'll only be getting half of the reps because back-up Drew Stanton will get the other half. Skill-wise, Arians thinks Thomas is ready to play now but how fast he progresses up the depth chart is all up to him.

What Thomas can offer the Cardinals that Palmer, Stanton or Lindley can't is the ability to make plays with his feet, Keim said. And that's exciting, but it may not be enough on its own to get Thomas snaps.

"Now, is he ready to play?" Arians asked. "No."

But Arians said Thomas will be playing quite a bit in the preseason because Palmer won't.

“The hardest part is you don't get enough practice,” Arians said.

“Once the season starts, the development is more learning the offense, learning why the ball comes out of your hand and it will show up the next offseason when he starts, again, attempting to move up the depth chart. But that first year it's all about coming in, beating out a guy that's already here who's pretty good, who's really improved in the year and (a) half that we've had him and that's Ryan.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If you read deeper into what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said last week about drafting a quarterback, Arizona will have its eyes on one when the second round starts Friday afternoon.

After that, a quarterback may not be worth it.

"If the guy that you believe in is there, then you make the move," Arians said. "But, when you start thinking about a quarterback in the third, fourth, fifth round, is he really going to beat your second and third guy? Why is he in the third, fourth or fifth round? Historically, it doesn't happen in this league."

Arians threw out the one name everybody talks about when they want to make a point about finding a gem late in the draft: Tom Brady. He was went in the sixth round of the 2000 draft to the New England Patriots and went on to win three Super Bowls and three NFL MVPs. But when Arians and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim reconvene in Arizona's war room Friday, they'll have to figure out if someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron, Tom Savage, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas or Zach Mettenberger could be the next Brady.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Bruce Arians
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriBruce Arians prefers and has won with quarterbacks that are 6-foot-3 and taller.
Or at least the Cardinals next starting quarterback.

Preparing for life after Carson Palmer has long been a topic when discussing the Cardinals' draft needs. They went with safety Deone Bucannon in the first round, squashing mock drafts that had Blake Bortles -- who went third -- falling to Arizona at 20th, and silencing rumors that Arizona wanted Derek Carr.

Picking a quarterback on Friday is a distinct possibility. The Cardinals have one pick in the second round (52nd) and two in the third (84th and 91st), heading into Day 2. But picking a quarterback Friday is a play for the future. The Cardinals showed last year when they picked linebacker Kevin Minter and played him just one down in 2013 that they're open to the idea of sitting a second-round pick.

And the Cardinals' brain trust doesn't see an immediate need to replace Palmer.

"We feel good about where Carson is," Keim said. "Just going through this season and now heading into a second season with us, Carson's understanding of our offense has really grown. I think his comfort level with our offense is going to show this year and pay huge dividends. Like any other time, I think you have to always look for quarterbacks of the future.

"There are a few quarterbacks that we like in this draft and we think they fit what we do. I've said this many times before, whether it's at 20, 52 or 84, if they're the best player on our board, we'll take them."

But how many quarterbacks fit the mold Arians prefers and has won with with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer? Only four left in this class. McCarron, Savage, Mettenberger and Thomas are the only quarterbacks among ESPN's Top 11 that are 6-foot-3 or taller. McCarron and Savage will likely go in the second round, leaving Mettenberger and Thomas to fall.

Arians worked out Thomas, the Virginia Tech quarterback, in April.

"Tremendous athlete," Arians said. "Probably one of the strongest arms in the last 10 years to go with good athleticism and good size. (He) was (with) a couple different offensive coordinators and philosophies of offense.

"I think (he's) a guy that when he was a sophomore, had really good players around him that deteriorated, speaking as an alumnus."

Arizona won't pick a quarterback just for the sake of it. With Palmer under contract for one more season, a new quarterback will have to be someone the Cardinals can entrust the offense in after Palmer's days in the desert are over. Anything less won't be worth it.

"Guys are on your roster for a reason," Arians said. "They're pretty damn good. So to think that you just draft one in the third round and he's going to beat out Ryan Lindley, that's tough to do."

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