Arizona Cardinals: Vic So'oto

TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has joked all week that Daryl Washington’s return was like trading for a Pro Bowler.

Washington
Well, it took a trade to get Washington on the roster.

The Cardinals made their trade of tackle Levi Brown trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers official Wednesday afternoon. Brown’s vacated roster spot went to Washington, who returns from a four-game suspension.

Arizona also placed linebacker Vic So’oto (chest) on injured reserved and signed linebacker Marcus Benard. Benard played in 25 games from 2009 to 2011 with Cleveland, and spent the 2013 preseason with New England.

At practice Wednesday, linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin), guard Daryn Colledge (shin) and safety Rashad Johnson (finger) did not participate.

“We’re going to still be iffy with [Johnson] today,” Arians said. “We’re going to take our time with that finger and make sure there’s no infection that could possibly happen.”

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (groin), linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) and defensive end Ronald Talley (wrist) were all limited.

“They’ll be fine,” Arians said.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 4

September, 30, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 13-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Offense needs work: Arizona''s offense struggled to move the ball last season, and it seems to be carrying over into the Bruce Arians era. The offense seems to get stuck in the mud and spin its tires for most of the game until it gets a light nudge from the defense or one of its receivers. And, as much as the Cardinals have talked about fixing the problems, the same things keep happening. Arizona didn’t convert a third down in the first half and was 1-for-10 overall. Six of their 10 third downs, including the one conversion, were for 10 yards or less. The Cardinals managed just 87 yards of total offense in the first half, and they were lucky to win. Since 2001, the Cards are 20-47 when totaling less than 100 yards in either half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There could be a simple fix, but it’s a matter of finding out exactly what’s wrong.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Larry Fitzgerald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLarry Fitzgerald wasn't targeted in the first half but got going after the break.
Run D showed up: No wonder the defensive line wanted to know how many rushing yards it allowed right after the game. The Cardinals held Bucs running back Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries, his lowest total of the season and the lowest of his career when he has 27 or more carries. Martin is averaging 137 yards per game in the four contests in which he has 27 carries or more. According Mark Dalton, Arizona’s vice president of media relations, with information from the Elias Sports Bureau, Martin is the eighth player to have 45 or fewer yards on 25 or more carries since 1935.

Fitz needs to be fed: As Carson Palmer attempted each pass during the first half, none of which were intended for Larry Fitzgerald, the shock spread. Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted once in the first two quarters for the first time since Week 16 of 2010 against the Dallas Cowboys, when the Cardinals also squeezed out a win, 27-26, according to ESPN Stats & Information. As soon as Fitzgerald was worked into the game plan Sunday, Arizona moved the ball with ease because it put the Bucs on alert.

Injuries hurt defense: If the Cardinals weren’t decimated on defense already after New Orleans on Sept. 22, they might not want to go into the training room Monday. Arizona lost three more players to injuries, all at key positions. Linebacker Vic So'oto left the game with a possible concussion. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett left with a groin injury, as did linebacker Jasper Brinkley. This is on top of the rash of injuries suffered two weekends ago and the loss of Dan Williams for the game. So’oto’s injury could be more serious than the others, but Dockett and Brinkley have until Wednesday to rest, otherwise it’s another run through the waiver wire.

Cardinals adjusting on D, not changing

September, 27, 2013
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SARASOTA, Fla. – The past week has been unchartered waters for the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff. And it’s not because their hotel in Sarasota is on a waterway.

After losing two starting outside linebackers and one backup Sunday in New Orleans, Arizona has spent the week restocking its roster, reshuffling its defensive game plan and simplifying its playbook. But an overhaul wasn’t needed.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceJohn Abraham is expected to see more time on the edge Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said the Cardinals will stay in a 3-4 as their primary defense, despite the lack of experienced linebackers to properly execute his scheme. But throughout the game, the Cardinals will continue to go to a 4-3, Bowles added.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people outside doing the right things at the right time,” Bowles said. “Some of the guys are inside guys. They can’t play outside. It’s a good mix.”

This week, Bowles will mix up the defenses more often than in the first three games, while Arizona coach Bruce Arians just hopes his playbook can accommodate the new styles at outside linebacker.

But for this week at least, Arizona won’t try to move their inside linebackers – Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley – outside. The Cards added Vic So’oto and promoted Dontay Moch and Kenny Demens from the practice squad to fill in at outside linebacker.

John Abraham entered the league as a 3-4 linebacker with the New York Jets, Bowles said, so he’s expected to see more time on the edge this game. Matt Shaughnessy has been an outside rusher before, most recently with the Oakland Raiders, so he’ll also provide some relief for Arizona.

Next week, however, may be a different story when Daryl Washington returns from a four-game suspension. He gives the Cardinals another option, with the possibility of Brinkley or Dansby moving outside.

It’s a challenge Dansby welcomes.

“The future’s bright,” Dansby joked. “I know I’m up for the challenge. I had done it before, so if that’s my role that’s what I’ll have to play. I’m able to do it. It ain’t like it’s new to me, so I’d be cool.”

But Dansby, who was wondering who’ll move over, hasn’t been asked yet.

“It’s such a different transition to play outside backer versus inside backer,” Arians said. “I like the four guys we have right now. It’s not the end of the world.”

Arians would know. Last year, as the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Arians watched two running backs go down on the same play. Not just in the same game, but on the same play. So three linebackers in one game? No problem for Arians.

But he didn’t try to rally the troops with the story of last season. No one wants to hear that, he said.

“You’ve got to be able to adjust in this league,” Arians said. “It’s going to throw you curveballs all the time. You got to be able to hit the curveball.”
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Amos Jones has been around for a long time and he's seen his fair share of oddities in football.

And that includes Arizona coach Bruce Arians with hair.

But Jones, the Arizona Cardinals'special teams coordinator, had never seen 11 substitutions on special teams in one game, the number Arizona totaled last weekend against New Orleans because of injuries. Jones' previous high was nine.

Already down one special teams starter, rookie linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring injury), Jones lost one of his special teams captains, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who ruptured his Lisfranc ligament, and another stalwart, linebacker Sam Acho, who broke his fibula. If that wasn't enough, backup rookie linebacker Alex Okafor tore his left biceps and is out for the season. He played the second-most snaps on special teams against the Saints.

“I compared it to coaching in the Canadian League or coaching in high school ball where somebody gets hurt, you gotta go,” Jones said. “Same thing in the NFL when you only have 53 men. You just got to be prepared for those scenarios. Luckily our guys have accepted that from Day 1.”

It didn't take long for their losses to impact the Cardinals.

Without Alexander and Acho, Arizona's punt-return defense suffered. It came into Sunday's game allowing 0.8 yards, in large part because of second-year gunner Justin Bethel. But without Alexander, who would command a double team, thus opening lanes for his teammates to streak down field, the Saints could focus more on Bethel and slow the downfield stampede. After their 31-7 loss to the Saints, the Cardinals are allowing eight yards per punt return, still impressive, but 10 times what they were previously giving up.

Assuming the roles vacated by Alexander, Acho and Okafor will be the Cardinals' three most recent additions: Dontay Moch, Vic So'oto and Kenny Demens.

Their first challenge will be a top-10 punt return unit and the third-best kickoff return team. Tampa Bay averages 7.8 yards per punt return and 31.3 per kickoff return. The Bucs have had three players return kicks this season and all averaging at least 25 yards per return.

Arizona, meanwhile, has allowed 17.3 per kick return.

“We [are] ready with the backups,” Jones said. “Some of those backups will be starting this week. We went out and acquired three guys that have unique skill sets so we'll utilize them the best we can.

“So, it'll be a bunch of unselfish guys who'll step up and fill in. Some guys will get a little bit more playing time at other positions, and some of these guys we just acquired will come in and put a hand in the pile.”

Alexander was the NFC's Pro Bowl special teams representative last year with the Washington Redskins and Acho was starting to hit a stride on special teams, but it's not their physical skills Amos will miss most.

It was their leadership, their dependability, their experience. Amos could look at Alexander and bounce ideas off him.

“Those guys had great presence in the room,” Jones said. “We have other guys. We're not just about one or two guys, that's not how we're built, but it was always a pleasure.”

Recapping the Cards' LB blitz

September, 26, 2013
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With the addition of Zack "Sack" Nash to the practice squad, the Cardinals capped a whirlwind week of additions and subtractions to and from their 53-man roster.

It started Monday, when Arizona placed OLBs Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) and Sam Acho (fibula) on injured reserve, and promoted OLB Dontay Moch from the practice squad.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals signed LB Vic So'oto to the 53-man and added LB Bruce Taylor to the practice squad.

Then came Wednesday, when the Cardinals relegated LB Alex Okafor (biceps) to injured reserve and promoted LB Kenny Demens from the practice squad.

The flurry of signings came to a close Thursday morning, when Nash was re-signed to the Cardinals' practice squad. That gave Arizona eight practice squad players and 53 active-roster men.

Chances are the Cardinals aren't done wheeling and dealing just yet. This was all mostly a stopgap until Daryl Washington returns Monday, and Arizona's braintrust will determine what spots need to be filled and by whom. If Moch can hold his own against the Bucs, he could stay up. But don't expect this bunch to be the linebackers for the next 13 games.

Breaking down the linebackers:

53-man roster

ILB Jasper Brinkley

ILB Karlos Dansby

ILB Kenny Demens

LB Vic So'oto

OLB John Abraham

OLB Dontay Moch

OLB Matt Shaughnessy

Practice squad

ILB Bruce Taylor

OLB Zack Nash

OLB Kenny Rowe

Injured reserve

OLB Sam Acho

OLB Lorenzo Alexander

OLB Alex Okafor

Injured

ILB Kevin Minter
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Handling a loss is part of the game. And waiting on a star to return from an injury also comes with the territory.

Having to rebuild an entire position because of injuries, well, that might have been coach Bruce Arians’ "Welcome to the NFL" moment. And how he responds could spell out the rest of the season for the Arizona Cardinals.

A depth chart is built with this type of situation in mind. Both of Arizona’s starting outside linebackers, Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) and Sam Acho (fibula), left Sunday's 31-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints with season-ending injuries. It was a blow to the defense, but it’s not the end of the world. Enter the backups. Rookie Alex Okafor filled in for Acho, but saw only five plays. Which, Arians said on national radio Tuesday night, was all he needed to tear a biceps tendon.

Okafor is out for the season, too.

Enter … well, nobody.

Teams aren’t built to back up the backup. Anyone who posits otherwise simply doesn’t understand the dynamics of football. With a 53-man roster, 22 spots are slotted for starters. Give each one a backup and that’s 44 players, with nine openings left for special teams and specialists.

[+] EnlargeSam Acho, Drew Brees
AP Photo/Bill HaberSam Acho recorded a sack of Saints QB Drew Brees before leaving with a broken fibula.
The only two outside linebackers to survive Sunday were John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy, both of whom tend to play as outside rushers off the line, or, in Shaughnessy’s case, sometimes in the middle of the line.

Losing three of a unit’s five players, no matter what team it is, can bring panic. But the Cardinals have reacted swiftly, trying to piece together a competitive outside-linebacking unit.

They filled out the roster with a couple of internal promotions, Dontay Moch and rookie Kenny Demens, from the practice squad (the latter move according to Arians) and signed Vic So'oto to the active roster. It’s a solid start to a process that may last the rest of the season. The outside linebackers could be liability until at least two of the injured players return next year.

Arians likes Moch’s speed, which can help this defense improve its pass rush. Arizona has recorded just one sack off the edge this season, by Acho, against the Saints.

The Cardinals have three primary options at this point: Stay with the new outside linebackers, revamp the entire unit -- inside and out -- when Daryl Washington returns Monday or change the defense, putting more men at the line of scrimmage and keeping the inside guys at their natural position.

If Arizona stays in a 3-4 with its current players, there’s a good chance the outside backers will be rotated throughout the season because of general manager Steve Keim's penchant to comb the waiver wire. If Moch produces, he can earn himself a consistent starting job because of how Arians operates. Arians works with who’s in front of him, and if Moch can prove he’s worthy of staying on the field, Arians will leave him there.

But if the Cardinals decide to revamp the entire unit, the new faces on the roster may be relegated to the sideline. There’d be a learning curve, however. With Washington returning, Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could play him, Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley together. Herein lies the problem. All three are inside backers -- and so is rookie Kevin Minter, who’s out with a hamstring injury and isn’t expected back for a few weeks. If one is willing to convert to outside and the Cardinals want to keep their 3-4 scheme, they could move Moch or another addition to the outside until Minter returns.

If Arizona decides to change schemes, it could keep Washington, Dansby and Brinkley as the linebackers, although two would have to learn outside-LB tendencies. Then the Cardinals could bring Abraham off the edge more often, especially against pass-happy offenses -- of which the NFC West is full. According to Pro Football Focus, Abraham led Arizona with five quarterback hurries on 29 pass rushes.

There’s a lot to be decided in the next couple weeks, although most of the major decisions that would affect the rest of the season won’t likely happen until Washington returns.

This is the equivalent of a vacation gone wrong but you can’t leave. The weather is bad. Nothing seems to go right. But the Cardinals are just trying to get through this week, miles away from home, and salvage their trip by getting back to .500.

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