Arizona Cardinals: Rashad Johnson
Some of Bowles' now-former players shared their feelings toward their former coach and wished him luck in 140 characters or less:
Big Dawg. Congrats to coach Bowles. Great coach, innovator & teacher.— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 14, 2015
Excited for Coach Bowles making the HC jump! Those guys in @nyjets got a heck of coach, one of the smartest I've ever played for!— Rashad Johnson (@49foyamind49) January 14, 2015
Congratulations to Coach Bowles on getting the @nyjets head coaching Job. Well deserved. Proud of you coach.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Coach Bowles is a very smart coach. 1 of the smartest coaches I've been around. Has a very similar scheme 2 Rex so the defense won't change— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
For the guys on defense in NY. A great Hire.— ANTONIO CROMARTIE (@CRO31) January 14, 2015
Congrats to Coach Bowles becoming a HC. I've learned so much over the past 2 years. I expect nothing but great things!— Lorenzo Alexander (@onemangang97) January 14, 2015
Great two years with one of the best in the game. Congrats Coach Bowles jets are lucky to have him represent them.— Tony Jefferson (@tonyjefferson1) January 14, 2015
Rashad Johnson was eighth among free safeties, garnering 62,182 votes.
The Cardinals’ two starting cornerbacks received more than 150,000 votes each. Patrick Peterson was No. 7 with 223,199 votes and Antonio Cromartie was ninth with 156,389.
Last season, Arizona sent four to the Pro Bowl: linebacker John Abraham, defensive back Justin Bethel for special teams, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
This year’s Pro Bowlers will be announced on Dec. 23. The game will be Jan. 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. – For the last two years when the Detroit Lions have come to Arizona, it’s been the Patrick and Calvin Show.
Despite a 4-inch height difference, the two put their natural athleticism and ability on display in 2012 and 2013 when Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson matched up against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Even though Johnson bested Peterson both times, Arizona won both games.
This year, however, the two might be a sideshow.
And that means Arizona’s defense can’t just devise a game plan around Johnson anymore. It has to play honest Sunday, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.
“You can lean toward Calvin, but then that puts one-on-one matchups to Tate vs. someone else, and he’s playing extremely well,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “I think it helped Calvin to miss the games that he missed to allow Golden and Matthew to get on the schedule and the way that they are right now.”
Tate has gained more than 100 yards in five of his last six games, leading him to the top of the receiver stats. His 66 receptions are second in the NFL, his 454 yards after catch are tied for second, his 909 receiving yards are fourth and his 91 targets are fifth.
Last Sunday, he finished with 109 yards and Johnson had 113. It was the first time since 1999 that the Lions had two receivers catch at least seven passes with at least 100 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But if there’s a game for Tate’s run to end, it’s Sunday. In six career games against Arizona -- all with Seattle -- he has 15 catches for 178 yards and no touchdowns.
Tate’s blossoming will make it tough for the Cardinals to double-team Johnson as much Sunday, but Arizona is better equipped to handle both receivers with Antonio Cromartie defending the side of the field opposite Peterson. He has 21 tackles and three interceptions this year, on pace for his best season since 2008. Last week against St. Louis, Cromartie and Peterson were targeted a combined seven times and allowed just six receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
“We’re very equipped,” Peterson said. “Both of us are definitely capable of getting the job done, but we have a very, very special game plan. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.”
If Arizona gives Johnson single coverage, they have a 6-foot-5 receiver on a 6-1 cornerback. If they double Johnson over the top, Tate is single-covered and can explode for another 100-yard game.
Bowles has proven this season he has the personnel to adjust the game plan to stop specific threats -- see what they did against the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray. Sunday won’t be any different, except the Lions have more options in their passing game this season.
“They’ll be matchups in different situations,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We never want them to know if we’re playing man or zone all the time. You never want to give a quarterback that opportunity. There'll be people in and out. There’ll certain matchups that we like, and we’ll have those on certain downs and distances.”
“He’s like, ‘Man, look, I don’t want to go to nothing new if I can’t get it to everybody so we gonna play what we played the last snap.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, I feel you. You the man. We following you.’”
In reality, Johnson’s story wasn’t salacious at all. It was Foote, however, being savvy.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Foote does “absolutely not” have the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage. But Foote wasn’t necessarily changing the play as much as making sure his teammates were on the same page.
“There might be two plays,” Bowles said. “Or he’s taught if we don’t get the play in in time and they’re breaking the huddle and coming to the line, you can play this or this. But there is no freedom in changing plays.”
With the Eagles running 92 plays Sunday -- that’s one snap every 20 seconds of possession time -- the Cardinals’ defense didn’t have much time to set up. Johnson said Foote took the liberties in this game because of Philadelphia’s tempo, but he typically follow’s Bowles’ direction.
Foote was making the decision to just play the last snap’s scheme about twice a quarter, Johnson said.
“Sometimes they were getting to the line so fast and coach would give us a new call, and he just felt like, ‘I can’t get it to everybody so I’d rather play the defense we were just in, and if everybody is on the same page, then we’re [alright] at the end of the day,’” Johnson said. “Which is the philosophy we take.”
Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.
Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.
Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).
Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.
That puts a larger emphasis on Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions should should his strained right MCL feel well enough for Campbell to engage in a full practice.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said about Campbell practicing later this week. “But he’s making good progress.
“There’s a big difference between jogging and running around a hoop, and taking on guys 300 pounds and pushing on him.”
Tight end Troy Niklas was out for a seventh-straight practice with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 5 in Denver.
Rookie wide receiver John Brown was limited with an ankle injury.
“It got twisted in a pile,” Arians said.
Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited again. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (calf) practiced in full.
Safety Rashad Johnson was limited with a knee injury. The MRI on Johnson’s patellar tendon from Monday came back negative, Arians said.
“Everything’s just tendinitis like we hoped,” he said.
But Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arian wasn't a fan of Dockett's antics.
"It won't happen again," Arians said Monday afternoon.
Dockett told ESPN.com he hasn't been fined by the team for the whiteboard message.
Here's a photo of the sign taken by a Cardinals fan in Oakland:
Recapping the rest of Arians' Monday news conference:
- Arians said there's no structural damage to Andre Ellington's ribs. The running back is "just sore."
- There's a possibility defensive end Calais Campbell could return to practice this week. He's been out with a strained MCL since suffering the injury against Denver in Week 5.
- Arians said safety Rashad Johnson is being evaluated for a patellar tendon but it could be severe tendinitis.
- Rookie tight end Troy Niklas is doubtful for the Eagles game, Arians said.
- Second-year running back Stepfan Taylor lost weight to get quicker but lost some power at the same time, Arians said.
- Arians explained how the Cardinals could be 31st about the pass but No. 1 against the run: "They can't run. They're going to throw." When he was asked if Arizona could win with the second-worst pass defense, Arians said "We have so far."
- Arians said he won't push Ellington to practice on Wednesdays even though it's hindering the timing in Arizona's pass game: "He can't if he can't hardly walk."
- Arians on the fake punts the St. Louis Rams pulled off against Seattle: "That was some big cojones as Good (offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin) would say."
“I was concerned until I saw him today,” Arians said. “And then now he feels great, so we should just get better and better and just get stronger.”
Arians said his 34-year-old starting quarterback will hopefully be doing everything in practice this week. Also from the coach:
- There’s a chance defensive end Calais Campbell can return from his MCL injury but Arians said it’s “very slim.”
- Right tackle Bobby Massie played “by far his best game.”
- Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker left the game after re-injuring his left calf. On Monday, Arians compared the injury to Andre Ellington’s foot. “It’s going to be there all year and [he’ll have to] play through it and gut it out,” Arians said. “It was a great performance by him coming back out and giving his presence because he’s a great leader.”
- Arians said Palmer’s 44 pass attempts was the “norm.” “When we have it that many times and they stack the box like that to stop the run, then we’re going to throw the football. When he says he’s OK, we’re going to go with it.”
- Arians said he feels the reason defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson have been playing at such a high level is because of their brains: “Two very, very smart players,” Arians said.
- The Cardinals had 40 mental errors -- 20 offensively and 20 defensively.
- Lingering injury: Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker had an ice pack on his left calf after re-injuring it in the first half Sunday. He left the game but eventually returned.
- Change of heart: While safety Rashad Johnson was returning the second of two interceptions, which he scored on, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was on the sideline yelling for Johnson to get down. Then he changed his tune. “I’m hollering, 'Get down ... nah ... go ahead and score,'" Arians said.
After Mathieu picked up a fumble by Washington’s Andre Roberts in the fourth quarter, he headed for the end zone. But after making two Redskins miss, he had a flashback to the play that ended his 2013 season.
“I seen 71 (Washington tackle Trent Williams) running," Mathieu said. "He’s fast. I knew he was coming back. I just got down. Very reminiscent of last year. Very.”
Mathieu made his first start of 2014 on Sunday and appeared to play more snaps than he has in any game this year. It translated into four tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass deflection. On at least two occasions, he got to Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins untouched on a blitz a split-second after Cousins released his pass.
Mathieu found a rhythm Sunday, something he’s been searching for all season.
“When I did play, I just really couldn’t get in a groove, couldn’t find that comfort zone,” Mathieu said. “But I think this week I knew I was going to play more. I got more reps in practice, so I was way more comfortable going into the game.”
Reaching a point where he’s comfortable post-injury has been a process that started when he first put on his knee brace last summer. It continued into the season, as he’s been learning how to adjust to it.
“I’m not really comfortable with it,” Mathieu said. “But I have to be comfortable with it, just play these mind games with myself, tell myself I’m comfortable with it.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians made clear that there’s “nothing wrong with [Mathieu].”
“He’s getting more used to the brace,” Arians said.
“He’s just getting [used] to [learning] how to play with a brace on. When you play the position that he plays, any lack of mobility frustrates you, especially him, because he is cat quick. He doesn’t like being immobilized at times, and that’s what the brace does.”
It limited Mathieu on Sunday during DeSean Jackson’s 64-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Jackson got behind cornerback Patrick Peterson and headed toward Mathieu, who was at free safety. Mathieu said he took a bad angle to defend Jackson but he added he thought he “was a little bit restricted," aside from taking a bad angle.
While one play might have exposed Mathieu’s restrictions with the brace, it didn’t define his game. The fumble recovery did, and his teammates are looking for more of that out of him.
“Tyrann is a ball guy,” said safety Rashad Johnson, who had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. “The play that the ball came out, it seems like it just pops in his hands. He’s a guy that’s always around the ball.
“We are looking forward to him coming back and getting more snaps as the season goes on and making big plays for us as well. He is a big emphasis on defense and you’re going to see him do a lot more things for us.”
Those areas have been getting the most headlines since the 2013 season ended. Arizona lost both starting inside linebackers from a year ago when Karlos Dansby bolted to Cleveland in free agency and Daryl Washington was suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy yet again. Later in the summer, cornerback Patrick Peterson became part of a national debate about who's the best cornerback in the league – him or Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
The defensive line, which anchored Arizona’s No. 1 run defense last season, returns in full plus a few additions. Defensive end Calais Campbell, nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will again be the starting front. Alameda Ta’amu, who split time with Williams last season, is expected to fully return from an ACL injury suffered in Week 17 last season. Arizona began stockpiling the future of the defensive line by drafting Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, and while it'll be tough for them to crack the rotation early, Martin and Stinson will be learning from the some of best in the league. In 2013, the Cardinals allowed a league-best 84.4 rushing yards per game, and the 3.65 yards per run allowed were second lowest in the league.
Under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals reacted to a change in scheme with open arms. He altered the gap system and allowed the Cardinals to play based on their skill instead of having their attacks plotted out. The result was 47 sacks, the sixth most in the league last season and the third most in franchise history. Campbell had a career-high nine sacks and linebacker John Abraham had a resurgence, tallying 11.5 sacks, which moved him into the top 10 on the all-time sack list.
Abraham was signed last July as a third-down rusher and spot linebacker. That all changed in Week 3 when the Cardinals lost Lorenzo Alexander, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor to season-ending injuries. But what role Abraham will have this season will be one of camp’s most intriguing questions because all three linebackers lost last year are returning healthy. Abraham, who was also selected for the Pro Bowl, has earned the start at outside linebacker but will be part of a competition that’ll include Alexander, Acho, Okafor and Matt Shaughnessy, who re-signed with Arizona during the offseason.
While there’s an abundance of options at outside linebacker, the opposite is the case at inside.
The Cardinals were left to start from scratch without Dansby or Washington. This much we know: second-year linebacker Kevin Minter will replace Dansby. Who’ll start next to him is anybody’s guess. Arizona’s options are limited. The Cards signed veteran Larry Foote and Ernie Sims to compete for the spot while another second-year linebacker, Kenny Demens, impressed during the offseason, giving him a leg up for the role.
Without set starters, rookies like Glenn Carson and Jonathan Brown, and fourth-year backer Keenan Clayton have an opportunity to earn playing time with impressive camps.
But without the core of the defense intact, added pressure will be put on the secondary. And this year’s defensive backfield may be as prepared as ever to handle it.
The addition of veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie solidified Arizona’s corners as one of the best tandems in the NFL. Arizona replaced Yeremiah Bell by drafting Deone Bucannon at strong safety while Rashad Johnson will hold down free safety until Tyrann Mathieu returns from ACL and LCL surgery.
When all told – and when all healthy – the Cardinals may have one of the best overall secondaries in the league. During camp, Tony Jefferson will give Bucannon a run for the strong safety job while Johnson will try to prove that Arizona doesn’t need to wait for Mathieu to return.
Jerraud Powers, one of last year’s starters at cornerback, has been relegated to nickel back, and Bryan McCann, who’ll also compete for a gunner job, will be battling to be the next corner called upon.
"We have a number of guys that’ll fight," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Rashad (Johnson)'s played it. Tony (Jefferson)'s played it. Curtis (Taylor) is a big, young guy who played well, and we’ll just see how it plays out."
Safety has been the chic pick for the Cardinals at No. 20 in mock drafts, especially because of their inability to defend tight ends in 2013.
Of Arizona’s 29 passing touchdowns allowed, 17 went to tight ends. And of those 17, eight were to tight ends from the NFC West. Arizona’s new strong safety will also have to be strong against the run since Arizona will be without linebacker Karlos Dansby and his 104 tackles from last season.
Bell started all 16 games at strong safety in 2013 while Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu split time at free safety. Jefferson played 194 snaps in 16 games. Taylor was active for the Seattle game in Week 16.
They’ll see two new faces in the weight room this year in Morris, who has a long history with Bruce Arians from their days together in Cleveland and sharing a facility in Pittsburgh, and Roger Kingdom, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, who was hired as the Cards’ speed coach.
But for 17 players, the start of conditioning doesn’t just mark the first organized activity for the Cardinals since they lost to San Francisco, 23-20, on Dec. 29. It means they can start earning their offseason workout bonuses. While 100 percent participation usually isn’t required, teams typically mandate that players participate in 80-90 percent of the team’s offseason workouts.
The largest workout bonus that can be earned this offseason is $250,000 each by quarterback Drew Stanton, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.
The list of potential workout bonuses:
- Drew Stanton: $250,000
- Larry Fitzgerald: $250,000
- Calais Campbell: $250,000
- Darnell Dockett: $250,000
- Lyle Sendlein: $150,000
- Rashad Johnson: $150,000
- Matt Shaughnessy: $125,000
- Daryl Washington: $100,000
- Ryan Williams: $50,000
- Dan Williams: $50,000
- Tyrann Mathieu: $50,000
- Rob Housler: $25,000
- Ted Larsen: $25,000
- Dave Zastudil: $25,000
- Mike Leach: $25,000
- Marcus Benard: $10,000
- Total: $1,885,000
Without a true strong safety on the team, the Cardinals will be looking to fill the position in May's NFL draft. If Arizona is forced to, though, it can turn to the two free safeties currently on the team -- Rashad Johnson or Tony Jefferson -- to move to strong safety. That's not an ideal situation, said ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson.
Arizona's safety corps is in flux until Tyrann Mathieu returns from his ACL and LCL injuries and until a strong safety is signed. Last season with Bell, currently a free agent, on the field, Mathieu became the starter in Week 4 after Johnson lost the tip of his left middle finger. Mathieu played well enough to supplant Johnson until Mathieu got hurt in Week 13.
But when Arizona' safeties are restocked, Johnson and Jefferson would give the Cardinals “great” depth, Williamson added.
Until then, however, Johnson would be the presumed starter at free safety while Jefferson would fill in at strong safety. Both are 5-11, not the ideal size for a tandem of safeties. Last season, it was often Bell's responsibility to defend opponents' tight ends. That didn't work in the Cardinals' favor because of a combination of Bell's declining speed at 35 and lack of size. Of the 29 touchdowns thrown by opposing quarterbacks, 17 went to tight ends.
Ideally, the Cardinals would like a safety taller than 6-foot who can run with tight ends such as St. Louis' Jared Cook and San Francisco's Vernon Davis, but it's not necessary, Williamson said.
“I don't think they need that guy,” he said. “He would be great to have, but they also don't grow on trees.”
They do, however, grow in the draft.
Two prospects who Williamson identified as good fits in Arizona are Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Washington State's Deone Bucannon. They're the second- and third-ranked safeties, respectively, in this year's draft class according to ESPN.com. Pryor is listed at 5-11 1/8 while Bucannon is 6-1.
Williamson doesn't think Pryor gets past the first round, in which Arizona picks 20th, and he doesn't think Bucannon falls out of the second.
The Cardinals' needs are minimal, Williamson added, but safety is one position that can be upgraded. However, to Williamson, filling the void left by Bell may not be vital to Arizona's success in 2014.
“I think the rest of the defense is strong enough and will get stronger through the draft that if they open the season with Jefferson and/or Johnson in that role, this team is still a strong contender and should have a top-10 defense either way,” Williamson said.