NFC West: Jonathan Cooper

TEMPE, Ariz. – Wednesday was important for the interior of Arizona’s offensive line.

It gave coach Bruce Arians a better look at how left Jonathan Cooper was playing with a cast on his left wrist and how right guard Paul Fanaika played while still recovering from a sprained ankle.

Both players were limited in practice Wednesday, according to Arizona’s injury report.

Quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) and wide receiver Jaron Brown (toe) did not practice.

Joining Cooper and Fanaika as limited were linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee), defensive end Calais Campbell (hip), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), linebacker Larry Foote (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and running back Kerwynn Williams (knee).

Left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) practiced in full.

Three of Seattle's starting offensive linemen did not practice Wednesday: tackle Russell Okung (tackle), guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle) and center Max Unger (ankle/knee).
TEMPE, Ariz. -- During his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim dismissed reports Monday morning that quarterback Drew Stanton could be out up to four weeks with a knee injury, saying there’s no timeline on his recovery.

"I think it’s one of those things with that type of knee injury, everybody heals different," Keim said. "And I know that ESPN and some other outlets have put a timeline on it. It’s extremely difficult to do.

"You can say it’s going to be four weeks -- I’ve heard people say 1.5 weeks. Everybody heals differently. Drew will be here around the clock rehabbing, and I know he’ll be ready to go as soon as possible."

Stanton left Thursday night’s 12-6 win against the Rams in the third quarter with a right knee injury that has been reported to be a Grade 2 ACL and MCL sprain, which means they’re both partially torn.

On Sunday, ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that Stanton would be out up to four weeks.

In a season of tough breaks and irreplaceable losses, the Cardinals did get good news Friday morning when the team’s medical staff determined that Stanton’s injury wouldn’t require surgery.

Initially, Keim thought Stanton would "potentially be done for the season."

"After all the bad news we received this year regarding injuries," Keim said, "it was nice to get a little bit of good news for once."
  • When pressed about the possibility of re-signing former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Keim said it’s hard to get caught up in "what could’ve been, what should’ve been." Keim said: "It’s hard to even think about a guy that hasn’t thrown a football in over five years,” and added: "I try to deal in reality on a day-to-day basis."
  • On the chance to play one game for the NFC West title, Keim said "It’s enormous. It’s exactly the reason you’re in this business."
  • Keim said looking at the big picture of Arizona’s 11-3 record put a lot of things in perspective because of who is leading the teams with the three best records in the NFL, all at 11-3: New England’s Tom Brady, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Arizona’s Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas.
  • Keim was pleased with how the offensive and defensive lines played in St. Louis, calling Thursday night the offensive line’s best game of the season.
  • Left tackle Jared Veldheer continued to play at a Pro Bowl level, Keim said.
  • Keim was impressed with the improved physicality up front, but said there are "technical issues" that need to be improved.
  • Keim called defensive tackle Frostee Rucker an "unsung hero" and said he told Rucker on Thursday night that he found the Fountain of Youth.
  • After watching Jonathan Cooper's second-straight start, Keim said Cooper is still looking like a rookie. "You see him do some things you like, that excite you, and you see that there’s a bright future ahead but at the same time there’s a lot of areas he needs to improve and most of it’s (technique). It’s the footwork and it’s the time off he needs to knock the rust off."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Jonathan Cooper has been waiting a long time for Sunday.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft will start his first NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs. With right guard Paul Fanaika ruled out with a low left ankle sprain, Ted Larsen will move to right guard and Cooper takes over at left guard.

“He’s had a real good week,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Last week helped him, having three quarters of a game.

“So, he’s more than ready.”

Cooper played 40 snaps in Sunday’s 29-18 loss to Atlanta after the offensive line was shuffled in the wake of Fanaika’s injury. Arians said Cooper, who missed his rookie season with a broken leg suffered last preseason, has practiced with the first team all year, so cohesion, the importance of which the coaches have stressed all season, will still be intact.

“It’s not like we’re starting three different guys,” Arians said.

Cooper believed he had a lot of work to do after evaluating his play last Sunday. “It was very apparent,” he said. He didn’t grade out as well as he would’ve liked, but Arians said Cooper went “cave man” at times in Atlanta, meaning he’d forget his technique.

Adrenaline overtook Cooper on Sunday, but that will be tempered the more he plays.

“Looked a little rusty last week as far as playing inside because everything speeds up a little faster for him,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s going to be OK. We all know he has talent. Talent’s not the issue. The biggest things for him to get comfortable being back inside and he’ll be all right.”

Cooper said he’s more comfortable with his change of direction than he’s been at any time during his comeback, but he's not yet the player he was coming out of college at North Carolina.

Sunday is the latest step to fine-tuning the new Cooper.

“A lot of the stuff that just comes with getting in-game reps,” Cooper said. “That kind of natural, getting a feel for where you don’t have to think so much [that] it happens second nature.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- They’ve been waiting their turns, but guard Jonathan Cooper and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander haven’t seen much, if any, of the field this season for the Arizona Cardinals.

That might change Sunday.

Cooper is on deck if right guard Paul Fanaika can’t play against Washington because of ankle and calf injuries. Should Fanaika not play, Cooper will be inserted at right guard and Ted Larsen will remain at left guard, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

“I’m confident in him,” Goodwin said. “If that happens, that happens. If not, Paul is up and here we go.”

Cooper has played just three snaps this season while Alexander has yet to see the field on defense.

“It’s up to the coaches,” said Alexander, one of two special teams captains. “As far as how they want to work me in, right now my role is to play on special teams and I’ll just continue to do that.”

Because of a knee injury to Matt Shaughnessy that’s sidelined him until December, Alexander might finally get his call this week as a backup to Sam Acho and Alex Okafor.

“Lorenzo (will) get some reps,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “[Linebacker Marcus] Benard is back as well as [linebacker Thomas] Keiser.

“Depending on what we see and package wise, we’ll try to get [Alexander] in when we could.”

GM Keim reaffirms Ellington as GTD

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington was limited again Sunday, leaving a decision on whether the second-year back will play to be made before Monday night’s game against San Diego, general manager Steve Keim said.

“We’ll talk with our medical staff and training staff and test it out tonight and see if he can go,” Keim said Monday morning on his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “But aside from that, without having a medical background, it’s hard to say at this point.”

If Ellington does not play, Keim assumes the playbook will change, at least slightly, with more of an emphasis for explosive plans put on wide receivers John Brown and Ted Ginn.
  • Left guard Jonathan Cooper got a few reps with the first team during practice last week, Keim said. After the first 20 minutes, which is spent primarily on special teams, practice is closed to the media. Keim said it’s Cooper could play a few snaps or even a series Monday night but that’ll be decided by coach Bruce Arians. “It’s been nice to see because he continues to just get better,” Keim added. “I think it’s just a time situation … it’s only going to get better with time. He’s going to continue to feel more comfortable and again be back to the player we thought we drafted.”
  • A "numbers decision" led to linebacker Desmond Bishop being released Saturday, Keim said. With Bishop’s position still vacant, Arizona has some flexibility with the final roster spot. “He had a nice preseason,” Keim said, “but quite frankly, Glenn Carson did, as well. And Glenn is our fourth inside linebacker at this point and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
  • Keim said one of Arizona’s top goals against San Diego’s offense is to provide pressure both on the quarterback and one-on-one.
  • Keim is also looking forward to seeing how the additions of rookie safety Deone Bucannon and cornerback Antonio Cromartie face off against tight ends.
TEMPE, Ariz. – A day after getting an MRI on his left foot, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington did not practice Friday, according to the team’s official injury report.

He was limited Thursday.

Also missing practice, for the second straight day, was linebacker Alex Okafor (thigh).

Guard Jonathan Cooper (toe), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), linebacker Kevin Minter (chest) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (back) were all listed as fully practicing.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Second-year running back Andre Ellington highlighted the Arizona Cardinals' first injury report of the season.

He was listed as limited because of his foot in Thursday's report.

Linebacker Alex Okafor did not practice because of a thigh injury. He was on the stationary bike Thursday during the open portion of practice. He missed the final 13 weeks of last season because of a torn biceps.

Also on the injury report were G Jonathan Cooper (toe), WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), S Tyrann Mathieu (knee), LB Kevin Minter (chest) and DT Frostee Rucker (back). All were listed as full practice participants.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The biggest news from the Arizona Cardinals' practice Wednesday wasn’t news to anyone who’s paid attention to their offensive line during the last few weeks.

Ted Larsen will start at left guard Monday night against the San Diego Chargers, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians confirmed. The decision left Jonathan Cooper on the sideline.

“He’s had his opportunities,” Arians said of Cooper, who was recently suffering from turf toe. “You can’t get there in a day’s practice. Not after a month. Like I said before, I don’t care about draft status. I want to see results on the field and Ted Larsen has way outplayed him.”

Larsen, the veteran and versatile offensive lineman, moved to starting guard following the second preseason game after he spent three weeks filling in as Arizona’s starting center while Lyle Sendlein was injured. He hasn’t left.

The Cardinals’ line isn’t deep in numbers but it’s versatile. Arizona kept eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, making position flexibility essential to keeping a job. Of the three backups -- Bradley Sowell, Earl Watford and Cooper -- Cooper is the only one who hasn’t played multiple positions. Larsen is a swing guard/center. Arizona signed guard/center Anthony Steen and tackle Kelvin Palmer to the practice squad.

The plan is to stick with eight offensive linemen on the roster for as long as possible, Arians said.

“Until we find a better one that’s better than somebody on our roster than we’re not changing it,” he said. “They’re hard to find.”

Which is why the Cardinals began working Watford at right tackle this week.

He was drafted as a right guard and had an opportunity to win the left guard job during training camp but inconsistent play in games left the door open for Larsen. Wednesday was Watford’s second day taking reps at tackle, a position he’s never played before.

“It’s different,” he said. “I’m able to use some of my stuff I use at guard at tackle. That has helped me to get a little bit more comfortable with it. Sets are a little bit different. The type of payers you’re going up against are different. That’s probably the biggest thing.

“From a knowledge standpoint, you got to know some different things. I think I’m learning it pretty well.”

Learning right tackle quickly could be the difference between Watford dressing for all 16 games and watching from the sideline in sweats. There aren’t many opportunities for a lineman to steal a job away from a starter during the season, as Cooper is learning, because Arizona practices in pads just once a week.

“It’s hard, unless somebody gets hurt,” Arians said. “Now, [Cooper] better be ready if someone goes down. That’s probably going to be his best opportunity.”

Starting right guard Paul Fanaika has been impressed with how the Cards’ backup linemen have been trusted to learn the techniques and assignments at multiple positions.

Imagine spending the last five years, at least, at the same job and then, in a moment's notice, your boss changes what you’re doing? That’s Watford. Instead of blocking hefty defensive lineman up the middle of the line, he’ll be responsible for stopping the speed rushers off the edge. It hasn't taken Watford long to figure out getting beat inside isn't ideal and he’d rather force them outside and into a loop around him.

The more Watford knows, the better off he’ll be.

“It’s huge, it’s huge,” he said. “You never know what can happen to anyone. A lot of people can go down … might need to get in there, so you have to be ready no matter what.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Four Arizona Cardinals are not expected to play Sunday night against Cincinnati, among them safety Tyrann Mathieu.

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

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

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

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

One name not on the list was outside linebacker John Abraham, who reported to training camp on Aug. 14.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper doesn’t think his turf toe will be fully healthy this season.

Speaking after the Cardinals’ last training camp practice, the 2013 first-round pick said his toe needs “a little time” to finish healing but that may not happen until the season is over.

“I think it’s going to linger regardless,” Cooper said. “It’s just going to be one of those things where there’s going to be some aspect of it that I’m going to feel. Just have to play through it.”

At times, the toe is painful, Cooper said, especially when he executes certain movements. He wouldn’t elaborate on which movements spark the pain, however.

“You kinda hit it just right, and it doesn’t feel very good,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”

After hurting his toe in the first preseason game, Cooper has missed practice since Aug. 11. He returned this camp from a broken leg he suffered last preseason that caused him to miss all of 2013, but Cooper has struggled to overcome some of the mental and physical hurdles that accompany coming back from an injury.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Friday that Cooper will need to play in either Sunday night’s all-important third preseason game or Thursday’s preseason finale in order to be considered for playing time in Week 1 on “Monday Night Football.”

The seventh-overall pick in 2013 understands how essential it is to get game reps before the regular season.

“It’s very important to me, just the moral boost and just to get things rolling into the season, just to kinda build up the confidence, get the reps and get against some live competition again,” he said. “I had to sit out the last game so I would love to get the reps and build that confidence rolling into the season."

To get to that point, Cooper said he’ll have to manage the main so he can be a “functional” player on the field.

“You’re not going to be able to please everybody and continue to work and improve,” Cooper said. “I’ll get healthy at some point and be the player I know I can be.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he does every day during training camp, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addresses the media after the morning walk-through. Here is a recap of what Arians discussed:
  • Arians was more than impressed with how defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga showed up, took a physical, signed a contract, got dressed and then practiced with the first team -- and then showed the starters how to do certain things. “It was a real good start for him. He brings a lot of energy and a professionalism. He was calling out who was going in motion. We haven’t had any of that. It was obviously contagious because other guys started doing it.”
  • Last season, the Cardinals struggled in Wednesday practices after having Tuesdays off. Arians saw that Wednesday and wasn't pleased with the tempo at which practice started. He’s trying to end that trend this year.
  • T Max Starks (ankle), G Jonathan Cooper (toe) and LB Kevin Minter (pec) will not practice Thursday.
  • Arians said the starters will still not play more than a half against the Bengals on Sunday and could play less depending on how their first few drives go.
  • While talking about Carson Palmer playing his old team on Sunday, Arians said it was "different" to play Pittsburgh in the 2012 preseason, less than a year after being forced out, while he was coaching the Colts.
  • Linebacker John Abraham looked good in practice Wednesday, Arians thought, and said the Cardinals will continue to increase his workload.
  • Rookie tight end Troy Niklas is playing without a soft cast on his right hand.
  • The Cardinals have two roster spots open after the team released defensive lineman Amp McCloud Thursday morning. Arians said those spots will likely stay open as first cuts approach in five days.
  • Arians said rookie WR Walt Powell will most likely have to make the final roster on special teams. “He’s starting to learn how to play gunner and vice and some of those things,” Arians said. “We’ll try to shoot him out there as a return man and see what he’s got. He’s got an uphill battle with all those guys ahead of him.”
  • Despite not a whole lot of production out of the running game through two preseason games, Arians isn’t concerned. “When you go for fourth down four times and you make it, that’s a pretty good running game.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coaches have different ways of getting their points across, but one way is pretty uniform across any sport on any level.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians fired a warning shot in left guard Jonathan Cooper's direction on Saturday afternoon when he said he was “disappointed” in Cooper’s progress since he returned from a broken leg suffered last August. Arians then said second-string guard Earl Watford was making a push for Cooper’s job.

But Arians showed he wasn’t playing around during practice by alternating Cooper and Watford at first-team guard on consecutive plays and later giving them each an entire session to work with the starters.

Cooper got the message.

“He called me out and now I have to just work that much harder to kinda get over that hump and be the player I can be,” Cooper said.

Expectations were already high when the Cardinals picked Cooper with the seventh overall pick in 2013. Those just kept increasing every week as the offensive line struggled to start last season. It didn’t help when Arizona signed left tackle Jared Veldheer in free agency to combine with Cooper's potential to form a formidable left side of the line. Anticipation of having Veldheer and Cooper protecting Carson Palmer's blind side was growing.

But the chances of Cooper returning at a level far below the one he was drafted at were high. That’s what a year away from football will do without even considering the effect Cooper’s injury had on his game. He’s still readjusting to planting and pushing against defensive linemen, and Arizona has its first preseason game in less than a week.

Without any doing of his own, the expectations on Cooper were too high. His return has been compared to Arizona having a second first-round pick this year. While he quickly dismissed the idea last offseason of this being a second rookie year, it’s technically true because of Cooper’s inexperience. Except now the hurdles that come with a rookie season will be compounded with the issues that’ll arise from return from a season-ending injury.

“I have my ups and my downs,” Cooper said. “I just have to make sure I’m more consistent. There are some times when I’m showing flashes and I’ll feel and look like the old player I was prior to being injured, but then there’s some times where you can look and see that’s not the guy we picked up.

“I definitely have a lot of work to do, whether it’s physical [or mental]. I feel like the mental’s fine as long as I can make sure emotionally I stay sound and no matter what’s said, no matter what happens, just keep pushing forward I’ll be OK.”

This was the first sign that Cooper might not be returning to the level many thought he was at. Arians, who believed Cooper had overcome some of the mental hurdles after Arizona put on pads last Monday, gave him a week to prove himself in camp. But if Cooper’s not playing at the level of a top draft pick, Arians has to keep the best interest of the team in mind.

Through his short time in Arizona, Arians has proven that he believes in a unified starting lineup. He hasn’t shied away from establishing them early in the offseason and staying with them until they warrant a replacement. But Arians’ actions on Saturday shows that Cooper’s job isn’t guaranteed.

“I have those moments when I am feeling pretty good and I’m like 'All right I’m over the hump, I’m good to go' but then there’s those reps where it’s like old Cooper would’ve done this or done that, and been able to make this move or that move,” Cooper said.

Arians has said throughout camp that Watford was competing for a starting job, but Cooper and right guard Paul Fanaika didn't give him an opportunity to win one. That’s changed, for now at least, and it might not be a bad thing. Cooper might benefit from some time away from the first team so he can regain his confidence while not trying to block Calais Campbell on every play.

A warning shot was a fair way to show Cooper that he needs to start improving fast, but giving Cooper time to do so might be better for the Cardinals’ future.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • The battle of the day was at left guard between Jonathan Cooper, the expected starter, and Earl Watford, who has been the backup at right guard. Before Saturday’s practice, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was “disappointed” with where Cooper’s progress is a week into training camp. Cooper and Watford began alternating snaps, but toward the end of practice they alternated series.
  • Saturday was the Cardinals’ Fan Fest, which meant live hitting, and the Cardinals ran a goal-line drill at the end of practice. Jonathan Dwyer looked good throughout practice, running in a couple touchdowns, including on a pretty sweep to the right.
  • Tight end John Carlson appears to be atop the depth chart and he has earned it. Carlson has been making catches all camp and that continued Saturday with a series of grabs off the hand of Carson Palmer.
  • With John Brown’s hamstring holding him out of practice Saturday, Brittan Golden became the Cardinals’ fourth wide receiver and Andre Ellington lined up as the fifth receiver.
  • Cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned to practice.
  • Quarterback keepers were emphasized throughout practice. Logan Thomas ran for a touchdown after rolling out to the right and keeping it uncontested. Later in practice, back-up quarterback Drew Stanton outran the defense on a keeper down the left sideline.
  • Saturday was rookie Chandler Catanzaro's day to kick and he went 7-for-8, missing a 49-yard field goal that was part of a drive.
  • Reggie Dunn returned punts Saturday, ahead of Ted Ginn.
  • Golden also lined up at gunner across from Justin Bethel.
  • A few leftovers from Arians' Saturday news conference: Thomas hasn’t yet won the third-string job over Ryan Lindley, Arians said, citing the fact that he has seen Lindley throw for a year-and-a-half and Thomas since May. ... The Cardinals won’t watch tape of the Houston Texans in preparation for their preseason game next Saturday because Houston plays a similar defense.
  • The Cardinals are off Sunday and their next public practice will be 2 p.m. PT Tuesday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With another summer in the books, it’s that time of the year again. Football is back. The Arizona Cardinals report to training camp Friday and will have their conditioning test in the early afternoon. Camp starts in earnest Saturday with the first of five straight practices.

And with the beginning of camp comes a plethora of questions. Here are my top 10, and No. 1 should be no surprise:

When will defensive back Tyrann Mathieu return?

It is looking less likely that Mathieu will return during any part of training camp. He was put on the preseason physically unable to perform list, which means he can do everything with the team except practice. And as soon as he is able to practice during training camp or preseason, he is allowed to come off the PUP list. If that occurs, it likely won’t be until the final weeks of August. Arizona doesn’t want to rush Mathieu back. Any setback with his LCL could lead to long-term issues. The Cardinals are not in a rush, even though I have heard his rehab is ahead of schedule.

Will the offense be able to pick up where it left off?

Like any new season, there will be an adjustment period so new and old players can get used to each other, but that shouldn’t last very long. The Cardinals can make major strides during camp if the offense doesn’t digress much from where it left off in the final nine games of the season. They seem to have added the missing pieces, so all signs point to them building quickly on the foundation set in 2013.

Who will win position battles at right tackle and right guard?

Each battle has essentially come down to a two-man race. At right tackle Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie will continue to duke it out. Will the time away have helped either? Only the next month can answer that. Next to them, second-year guard Earl Watford will be pushing starter Paul Fanaika. The coaching staff knows what Fanaika is capable of, so Watford needs to impress during camp to win the job. Then there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Who will replace linebacker Daryl Washington?

At this point there is really one legitimate option -- a linebacker by committee, leading with Larry Foote -- unless head coach Bruce Arians has changed his opinion that Foote is not a three-down linebacker. During camp, Foote, Ernie Sims and Lorenzo Alexander will be given an opportunity to earn the job, but rookies Glenn Carson and Jonathan Brown would have to really impress to find the field. As with right guard, there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Can place-kicker Jay Feely keep his job?

Yes and No. Feely knows Arians isn’t afraid to try someone else out for the job. Arians loves competition, which is why he brought in two other kickers to push Feely. Danny Hrapmann is a journeyman, but rookie Chandler Catanzaro might have what it takes to outkick Feely. I wouldn’t be surprise if Catanzaro wins the job.

Can running back Andre Ellington carry a full load?

Ask anyone who knows Ellington and the answer is yes. But in order for Ellington to succeed in that role as Arizona’s feature back, he needs to stay healthy. Arians said during the offseason that he wants Ellington to get 25-30 touches per game. A little ambitious, but we’ll see how he is used during camp.

How healthy are the injured players?

The list is long, but the first few days of camp will be telling. A lot of eyes will be on left guard Jonathan Cooper (leg) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (tricep). Cooper missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg, and Veldheer returned from a tricep injury for the final five games. Three linebackers -- Sam Acho (leg), Alexander (foot) and Alex Okafor (biceps) -- will also be returning to practice, and each of them has something to prove after John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy filled in for them and flourished last season.

Are cornerback Antonio Cromartie's hip issues a thing of the past?

A hip flexor hampered Cromartie for the majority of 2012, but he claims he’s fine. In order for the Cardinals’ secondary to be as good as advertised, he needs to be as healthy as he says he is. A lot of attention will be paid to him in the first week of camp.

Can Carson Palmer cut down his interceptions?

Palmer tied for second-most interceptions in the NFL last season. Of his 22, 14 were in the first eight games when the Cardinals were figuring out Arians’ scheme. Logic would say the interceptions will go down, but Palmer has a penchant for underthrowing deep balls. With an improved knowledge of the offense and the lessons learned from last season, his interceptions should be reduced.

Will the defense regress without Karlos Dansby and Washington?

Arians came out this week and said it would not, but it will be tough for the defense not to regress at least a little. Not only is the veteran quarterback of the defense gone (Dansby), but so is its most athletic player (Washington). What they were able to do by covering sideline-to-sideline, helping plug the run and lining up in coverage might not be replaced by Kevin Minter and Foote, or whoever takes over for Washington. In place of the veteran Dansby setting up the defense, the inexperienced Minter will be charged with that role, at least for the time being.
Jonathan Cooper's stats may say he's a rookie. His experience may show he's a rookie. But don't call Jonathan Cooper a rookie.

Cooper, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg suffered in the Arizona Cardinals' third preseason game, doesn't want the label.

"I don't care what anybody says, I don't feel like a rookie," Cooper said. "I know I missed the season or whatever. They say everybody's a rookie until three games into the season, so from that standpoint I feel like I'm a rookie but beyond that, no sir."

Jonathan Cooper
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Cooper missed his entire rookie season with a leg injury suffered during the preseason.
Cooper has been marching toward his non-rookie rookie season with a veteran's fury since he went down against the San Diego Chargers last August during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. He's not back to being the same Cooper the Cardinals drafted, but he's as close as he's been.

The seventh overall pick a year ago couldn't quantitatively say how close he is to being 100 percent, but Cooper believes he'll be at full strength come July 26 when Arizona holds its first training camp practice.

"I think I have progressed quite a bit but not quite game ready," Cooper said. "I've come out here and I've done everything they've asked me to do rehab wise and lifting wise and on the field to the best of my ability.

"But my performance isn't quite where it needs to be for Game 1."

There's still room for improvement physically, Cooper said. There's still a lot of rust to knock off his 6-foot-2, 312-pound frame. But the majority of his rehab has come above the shoulders. He's had to grow comfortable again leaning on defensive linemen and has tried to keep the notion that he won't re-injure the leg at the forefront of his thoughts.

"I remember when I wasn't able to walk," Cooper said. "Just being able to run around and I remember being nervous about leaning on these defensive linemen. I've been able to do it, day-by-day proving to myself that I'll be fine."

Cooper's progress has been noticed by the Cardinals, but they are still aware of the road ahead of him.

"Coop's still got a ways to go," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "His recovery is not total yet and it's obvious. He's not the athlete that he was last year at this time. I wouldn't expect him to be. He still has plenty of time to get there. When you really look back, he had 15 practices and two games as a Cardinal. He is a first-round draft choice but he's far from a finished product."

For the next five weeks, Cooper will try to become that finished product. He'll balance resting his body for the long haul of the season with rehabbing his leg back to 100 percent.

Off the field and in the classroom, Cooper's not a rookie. On the field, however, he's a year behind but he's working as hard as any first-year player in the league to get back to where he was and where he should be.

"Rehabbing -- that's pretty much what I got on my agenda," Cooper said. "(I'll) be studying all that but just give my body a little bit of a break, otherwise just lifting and rehabbing."