Arizona Cardinals: Jaron Brown

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With about two-and-a-half weeks until the NFL draft commences in New York City, ESPN NFL draft Insider Mel Kiper broke down the needs Insider for each team in the league.

Overall, his findings for the Cardinals won’t shock anyone, but Kiper placed the need for a quarterback among Arizona’s top priorities. He called the Cardinals’ two back-ups, Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley, “pretty uninspiring.”

“It'd be good to have a developmental option with at least the ceiling of a quality starter behind Palmer, and I don't think there's one on the current roster,” Kiper wrote.

Kiper also cited outside linebacker, safety and wide receiver as three other needs for the Cardinals to address.

While John Abraham is still able-bodied at 36, he won’t be able to play forever. With Arizona facing two mobile quarterbacks -- Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick -- twice each this season, Kiper sees the need to draft a quick, athletic edge rusher early.

Safety has been a major concern for the Cardinals from Day 1 of the offseason, but Kiper doesn’t think Tyrann Mathieu is the right piece to complete the secondary’s puzzle, which I agree with. Mathieu needs to be able to roam and by having his nose in as many plays as possible, the odds of the ball landing in the Cardinals' favor go up. Because of Mathieu’s versatility, he’s not a true safety which Arizona can land in the draft.

When Kiper wrote about Arizona needing another wide receiver option, he tempered the importance of adding to the position with the possibility of drafting a tight end, which may be a smarter option in Arians’ two-tight end sets. The Cardinals have a bevy of fast No. 4 options, such as Jaron Brown, Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden, who are reliable and cheap.

The position Kiper didn’t address that -- in my opinion -- is also a priority is a right tackle. The Cardinals haven’t re-signed last year’s starter Eric Winston which means they will let Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter compete for the job until either one or none of them earn the starting nod.
Starter: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd

Backup: Andre Roberts, Jaron Brown

Under contract in 2014: Fitzgerald, Floyd, Brown

Cash committed in ‘13: $17.8 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $14.4 million

Recap: When the Cardinals traded for Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald became a new wide receiver. Having meddled among mediocre quarterbacks since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, Fitzgerald was rejuvenated with Palmer, catching 82 passes for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. While Fitzgerald began a resurgence at 30, it was one of his protégés who really found his footing. Floyd showed the NFL what a first-round receiver should be capable of, breaking the 1,000-yard mark in his second year. Despite a lackluster couple of seasons, Fitzgerald still garnered the attention of a Pro Bowler, which allowed Floyd to roam free as double teams ascended on Fitz. Floyd's size and strength -- which he improved during the offseason -- made him a mismatch for almost every corner to cover him, as was evident in Seattle in Week 16. As good as 2013 treated Fitzgerald and Floyd, it wasn't very nice to Roberts, who was the third receiver in a two-receiver set. He was dropped to the third option in favor of Floyd and his numbers sunk with it, making it unlikely he'll return to Arizona in 2014. Brown, however, was a suitable fourth option for the Cardinals, catching 11 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown.
If the Arizona Cardinals try to lure a free-agent wide receiver to the desert this offseason, showing them a tape of their 2013 offense may not be the way to get them there.

Under coach Bruce Arians, the roles of the receivers are clearly defined: The first two are set for at least 2014 with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The third, whoever it may be, doesn't play a significant role in the offense. That's a large reason why receiver Andre Roberts isn't expected to be re-signed by Arizona by time free agency starts. He earned more than a third receiver should have, especially one who played one-third fewer snaps than Fitzgerald and 40 percent fewer than Floyd did in 2013.

So trying to replace Roberts with a free agent may be easier said than done.

The Cardinals have a few options already on their roster with Jaron Brown, Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden. All are fast and cheap compared to who'll hit the market March 11 in what's widely considered one of the deepest free agency classes of receivers in recent memory.

But the Cardinals have strict criteria for that third receiver and the top priority is speed. Arians wants a receiver who can take the top off the defense and stretch the field, but he'll have to come for the right price. Last season, Roberts made $1.3 million in 2013, a price tag that's too high for someone who played just 576 snaps.

Of those on the roster, Brown is the most likely successor, having earned $414,000 in 2013 while playing 149 snaps. He caught 11 passes for 140 yards.

The Cardinals won't want to spend more than necessary on a third receiver, eliminating most options in free agency. Among the best receivers who could fit into the Cardinals offense for the right price are Carolina's Ted Ginn, Tampa Bay's Tiquan Underwood, Philadelphia's Riley Cooper and New Orleans' Robert Meachem. Only Ginn made more than $1 million last year and he would give the Cardinals a dynamic return option on kickoffs and a suitable backup on punt returns while Tyrann Mathieu continues his recovery.

One drawing point for a potential receiver, however, is that they could soon be the Cards' No. 2 receiver if Fitzgerald doesn't return in 2015 because of his contract.

Two other names that Arizona could get for the right price, who have solid speed are Detroit's Kevin Ogletree and Denver's Andre Caldwell.

Bethel questionable despite symptoms

November, 22, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even though he’s cleared to play, Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, coach Bruce Arians said.

“He’s much, much better,” Arians said. “He’ll be a game-time decision.”

Bethel missed Thursday’s practice because of “a little headache” but was back on the field Friday. He’s still experiencing symptoms from the concussion he suffered against Jacksonville.

If Bethel can’t play Sunday, a committee of about four players will fill his roles on special teams. Based on who has played gunner earlier this season, among the committee will be Jaron Brown and Antoine Cason. Brittan Golden could also be used if he’s active Sunday. He’s back at 100 percent from a hamstring injury that’s hampered him for more than a month.

Golden, who practiced at gunner on Friday, is also questionable.

Recently re-acquired Bryan McCann, who the Cardinals signed this week to replace Teddy Williams, will be one gunner, Arians said.

“Looks great, like he never missed a beat,” he said. “He was probably our second-best gunner and special teams player in training camp.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s not just how teams finish in the NFL.

To Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, it’s also how they start. Arians was “extremely pleased” with how Arizona began the game and the second half, two areas of emphasis this season. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game and then a field goal to start the third quarter.

Other news from Arians’ Monday news conference:

" Justin Bethel is going through concussion protocol and his return date is unknown.

" Teddy Williams will be placed on injured reserved after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.

" Arizona saw more screen passes against Jacksonville than it has all season, Arians said.

" Arians said the ref couldn’t find his whistle when Arians called a timeout with 4:46 left in the third quarter that negated a Carson Palmer interception. That’s why the play was allowed to begin.

" The Cards struggle to run the game against 4-3 defenses that use big defensive tackles at defensive end, Arians said.

" Arians said the coaching staff has discussed using Tyrann Mathieu to return punts the last two weeks and will address it again this week, but Arians called it a “Catch 22” because Mathieu also logs a lot of snaps on defense, like current returner Patrick Peterson.

" Arians said Antoine Cason and Jaron Brown filled in well after Arizona lost both starting gunners.
Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top storyline from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. – If Michael Floyd can’t play Sunday in Jacksonville, the Cardinals will be “a little bit slim” at wide receiver, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Floyd sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder in the first quarter of the Cardinals’ 27-24 win over the Houston Texans. On Monday, Arians said Floyd is day-to-day.

If Floyd can’t play, rookie Jaron Brown would take his place in the lineup, meaning the Cardinals would be sending out Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Brown and most likely Teddy Williams. Brittan Golden is still recovering from a hamstring injury.

Arians said Brown played “extremely well.” Roberts also stepped up with 72 yards, and Arians said the Cardinals “never really miss a beat when Andre’s in there.” But with Williams, who played cornerback last season in Indianapolis, the Cardinals have a project that’s not finished. They’re still teaching him how to play receiver, Arians added.

The Cardinals lost receiver Kerry Taylor last week when he was signed off the practice squad by Jacksonville.

A few other notes from Arians’ radio spot:
  • Arians is still surprised that recently signed tight end Jake Ballard played 22 snaps, but once the Cardinals started running the ball, they began using plays that were very similar, which helped Ballard adjust. “We believe if a guy can help us, we’ll find a role for him and don’t overload him,” Arians said. “Let him go out and let him play with his instincts while we’re teaching him on our techniques.”
  • Arians feels it helps the Cardinals’ preparations knowing that the Jaguars have won a game. When his team watches tape, Arians said they see a team that has a stout defense and a solid run game, and a squad that’s clearly capable of winning games. “I don’t think we’re full of ourselves to the point where we’re going to think we’re better than anybody unless we show up on Sunday,” Arians said with a chuckle. “Of course, I got to hammer them while [I] keep hitting them in the head about it.”

Tuesdays are always slow around Cardinals headquarters, but here are the top headlines:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It took just two plays Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals to find themselves facing a third down.

They lined up five wide at their own 27, hoping their first opportunity against the 49ers would jump-start their 30-percent third-down completion rate. Running back Andre Ellington was jammed for a second at the snap, then he broke into the left flat where quarterback Carson Palmer hit the rookie but Niners safety Donte Whitner wrapped up Ellington a yard short of the first down.

Arizona’s troubles on third down continued in San Francisco, where the Cardinals were 5-for-13. Their overall percentage barely improved from 30 to 31.5 but the Cards are still ranked 30th in third-down percentage. Part of the problem lies in the yard just in front of the first-down marker.

When Cardinals coach Bruce Arians dials up a third-down play for a rookie, that’s where they usually end up.

“When you’re the underneath guy running a flat route and it’s third-and-5, you expect to get five yards,” Arians said. “It’s not route depth. It’s not going out there and breaking out, then you would be concerned.

“When you’re the flare control to a deeper route, and you’re the option, we still anticipate you getting the first down.”

Ellington missed on the first down twice Sunday, the second time coming when, at first glance, he apparently go the first down. The play was challenged by San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and was overturned.

Ellington was credited for a 3-yard catch, one short of the first down. The Cardinals had to punt, down 15-14 and on the next drive the Niners extended their lead to eight. Ellington has nine receptions in 12 targets this season on third down, but he’s only converted three of them.

“It’s a little tough because in college you don’t practice that situation unless you’re the quarterback, really,” Ellington said. “Just being in the NFL, everything is so detailed and structured, you got to be on top of your game.”

And if they’re not, the rookies will hear it from Arians. Coming up just short on third down has been an issue for the Cardinals all season and making sure the receivers get past the sticks has become a point of emphasis in practice, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

He was saddled with a third-down situation in the third quarter. Fitzgerald ran his route a yard past the marker and came back to make the catch right at the 10-yard-line.

“Obviously, you got to get past the sticks,” Fitzgerald said. “You got to account for catching the ball and the defender tackling you. It’s something that we’ve definitely talked about. It’s been addressed in the meetings countless times so hopefully it doesn’t show up anymore.”

Arians turned to rookie receiver Jaron Brown late in the second quarter on third down. He ran his route from the outside slot two yards short of the first-down line. When he went to dive for the marker, he was already out-of-bounds.

Looking back on it, Brown said it was simply a lack of awareness for him.

“That’s a play that shouldn’t happen and one that we got to know where the sticks is,” Brown said.

The routes will remain the same for the rookies. Arians won’t adjust their depth or their timing. It’s up to the players -- rookies or not -- to make sure they get the first down any which way they can.

“We know we got to get to the sticks,” said rookie running back Stepfan Taylor, who converted an important third down late in the third quarter. “On third down you got to get the first down. Coach has the play designed perfect for us to execute, we just have to go out and make the play.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesAfter a rocky start, Carson Palmer found a nice rhythm Sunday.
There is an offense: All it took for the Cardinals offense to come to life were two interceptions by quarterback Carson Palmer in the game’s first six minutes. Then it was like a switch was flipped and Palmer was making passes we haven’t seen since the first couple weeks of the season. He was threading needles and lofting fades perfectly over defenders -- both types of passes that were picked off at various times this season. And Arizona coach Bruce Arians went to the run game early in the second half, which provided a much-needed balance and slowed the pass rush, giving Palmer more time in the pocket to make better passes. It’s all a domino effect.

Stick figures: Arians has shown a penchant for going to rookies on third down. He has done it with running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, and wide receiver Jaron Brown. But that might need to change. Arians -- like every other coach -- teaches his players to run third-down routes to the sticks, meaning the first-down marker. Each time Palmer went to one of the rookies Sunday on third down, they came up a yard short. Granted, the Niners were sitting back on defense, keeping their secondary on the first-down line, but the rookies couldn’t get the first down and drives faltered. They need to be taught to run their routes a yard or two past the sticks.

Long day on D: Try running into someone at full speed at the same level for three straight hours. Oh, you can’t? Neither can a defense. The Cardinals began to wear down in the third and fourth quarters because they were on the field so much. After a while they couldn’t do the simplest of tasks, such as run the assigned scheme. Even Arians said the defense was on the field for too long, a sign the offense couldn’t hold on to the ball enough. But don’t ask Arians if his defense ran out of gas. “You can’t run out of gas. There is no such thing as run out of gas. Just kick somebody’s ass and you’ll be all right and you’ll get off the field.”

Two points now or later? Arians has always been a creative mind, but he might have outsmarted himself Sunday. He went for two midway through the third quarter and used cornerback Patrick Peterson as the quarterback in a gadget play, the same one Peterson ran against Detroit. But Peterson held on to the ball a moment too long and missed an open Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone. But Arians went for two a little early. Had he taken the extra point, the Cardinals would’ve been within one, then within eight. All manageable down the stretch.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians isn’t big on excuses, but he did offer a possible explanation for part of the Cardinals’ recent offensive woes.

Larry Fitzgerald
Leading into the games against the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saint, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald barely practiced, if at all. To fill his void, the Cardinals rearranged their receivers, lining up Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Jaron Brown and then Kerry Taylor at positions they might not normally have played had Fitzgerald been healthy.

And on practice went, with Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer working with that foursome, learning their tendencies and movements from various routes -- only to have Fitzgerald play both Sundays. It wasn’t a conducive situation to a relatively new offense learning how to flow.

But this week could be different. Fitzgerald’s hamstring has apparently healed, and he practiced all week.

“We lost him on Wednesday (Sept. 11),” Arians said on national radio this week. “And then he played in the game. Well, in the meantime we shuffled guys around in case he wasn’t going to play. Carson saw those guys in those positions, and then Larry comes back and plays and everybody’s in a different spot. The same thing happened last week.

“He wasn’t able to practice until Friday (before New Orleans). You never know [if he is going] to make it. And then he was healthy Friday. We got everybody back in the other spots where they belonged and he got one day of practice. I think that’s an excuse, but it does have some validity. When you look at the tape, a little hesitation is all it takes for a quarterback.”

Fitzgerald had 33 yards in the Cardinals’ win against the Lions, a game that saw Taylor emerge as an unexpected contributor. He was promoted from the practice squad a day before the game, and finished with 40 yards on three catches.

Despite not practicing until Friday before the Saints game, Fitzgerald had 64 yards on five receptions in a 31-7 loss.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said it shouldn’t matter who is lined up, but it does.

“It’s tough when you’re not sure if you’re No. 1 guy is going to be able to play,” Palmer said. “And you don’t practice and you’re thinking you might play and you’re not sure, and you get to Sunday and everything’s great and you get to play and you lose out on those reps.

“It gets a little muddied I guess, when you lose your guy and all of a sudden he’s there on Sunday.”

Palmer won’t have to worry this week. Despite being listed as probable, Fitzgerald practiced all week.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions:

Third down is no-man’s land: One really is the loneliest number. For the second straight week, the Cardinals were hampered by third-down situations, converting just 1-of-11 against the Lions. And the one they get was on a fluke play in the fourth quarter. Rookie running back Andre Ellington fumbled after getting the first down and the Cardinals kept the ball only after challenging the ruling on the field. They failed on their first nine attempts, all of which were passes save a Carson Palmer sack.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington took advantage of his opportunities on Sunday against Detroit.
Why go for two? It’s a question that’s still being asked Monday. And the only rational explanation is, if converted, the two points would’ve given the Cardinals a 27-21 lead, meaning the Lions would’ve had to score a touchdown AND kick the extra point. Whereas since the Cards missed the conversion, a touchdown sans extra point would’ve won the game for Detroit. And with the way David Akers was kicking and the Cards’ special teams were playing, it was the right decision.

Young guns for hire: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t just talk a big game. He’s showing he backs it up. Last year, as the interim coach in Indianapolis, Arians proved he wasn’t against playing young players, but he had to then because of necessity. He doesn’t need to -- instead he wants to -- in Arizona. Arians gave significant minutes to rookies Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jaron Brown, and relied on Kerry Taylor, who’s spent most of his three seasons on practice squads, to replace the injured Larry Fitzgerald. It worked. Ellington scored a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route and Taylor had 40 yards receiving on three catches.

Fitzgerald’s health a question mark: Fitzgerald didn't want to abandon his teammates in a big game, and it was admirable of him to recognize his inability to play at a high level and remove himself from the game. Fitzgerald’s health heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans could be an issue. Fitzgerald played 46 of 71 snaps against the Lions. He finished with 33 yards on two catches, despite being targeted five times by Palmer. But a hamstring is a tricky injury, as Fitzgerald had reaffirmed during pregame warm-ups. The adrenaline kicked in and Fitzgerald looked and felt fine, but he realized late in the third quarter he wasn’t. Hamstring injuries can linger and usually heal with rest and treatment. The former may be difficult to come by since the Cardinals start practicing Wednesday, but Fitzgerald will have Monday and Tuesday to recoup. Hopefully it’s long enough.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The last game Larry Fitzgerald missed was Dec. 2, 2007 against the Cleveland Browns.

Larry Fitzgerald
He’s close to missing a game for the first time since then. Fitzgerald was officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions.

“He’s OK,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s doing fine.

“We’ll see more [Saturday].”

Fitzgerald tweaked his hamstring during Wednesday’s practice and was limited the rest of the week.

He only participated in a handful of reps during the open part of Friday’s practice. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd ran routes with the first-team offense while Fitzgerald watched.

If Fitzgerald's snaps are limited or if he doesn't play, look for Roberts to assume a larger role and take most of the throws that were intended for Fitzgerald. Roberts is more capable of running short, precise routes than Floyd, although Floyd will likely be out wide and used to stretch the field. Rookie Jaron Brown will also be more involved than the two passes thrown his way last week.

Tight end Rob Housler was ruled out Sunday as he continues to rehab his right ankle.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (biceps) was also listed as questionable.

Linebacker John Abraham (shoulder), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder), Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) and Roberts (quad) were listed as probable.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' final exhibition game of the 2013 preseason, a 32-24 road victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night:

1. Williams' performance. The stats for running back Ryan Williams -- nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown -- will not make a compelling case for him earning a spot on the initial 53-man roster. The third-year running back looked good, though. His per-carry average took several hits, including on a 1-yard scoring run. Williams showed quickness in outrunning defenders around the corner for an 8-yard gain. He spun away from trouble and accelerated on another run. The blocking generally wasn't there for him, notably when he lost 6 yards on a carry. There are no guarantees Williams has done enough to stick around. Future injury risk could lead the Cardinals in another direction. Rashard Mendenhall is clearly established as the starter. Rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor figure into the team's plans as well.

2. Speed at wide receiver. Jaron Brown, a rookie free agent with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, got deep to catch a 55-yard scoring pass from Ryan Lindley. Mike Thomas, signed recently after Detroit released him, is another receiver with the speed coach Bruce Arians is seeking to stretch defenses. Thomas had a 13-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter. A couple completed passes in the fourth preseason game aren't going to provide definitive answers, but these were positive signs.

3. Third QB. Lindley had only one scoring pass to show for 280 career pass attempts in preseason and regular-season games over his two NFL seasons. He fared better in this one. Lindley completed 17 of 29 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Lindley also completed a two-point conversion throw to take a 25-24 lead with 5:28 remaining. He took one sack, threw no interceptions and finished the game with a 104.7 passer rating. Will the Cardinals keep him around as the third quarterback?