NFL Nation: Arizona Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. – As the 2014 season showed, the Arizona Cardinals' backups are as important as their starters.

Sowell
On Thursday, the Cardinals committed to keeping one of those backups on their roster at one of their most important positions.

The Cardinals re-signed backup offensive tackle Bradley Sowell on Thursday to a one-year deal. Sowell, a swing tackle, didn’t play an offensive snap in 2014 a year after starting the final 12 games at left tackle. He played 60 special-teams snaps in all 16 games in 2014, however.

Sowell was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 2013 after playing in 10 games in 2012 with Indianapolis, when Bruce Arians was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach. He went undrafted in 2012 out of the University of Mississippi, signing with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent.

Sowell is the first of Arizona's 2014 restricted free agents to re-sign with the team. The Cardinals have until March 10 to make qualifying offers to quarterback Ryan Lindley and defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu.

The Cardinals also signed cornerback Damond Smith, who spent last preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was on the practice squad of the B.C. Lions of the CFL in 2013. He went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft out of South Alabama. Smith began his college career at Western Michigan, then transferred to South Alabama after two seasons.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- At first, it doesn't seem as if it could be right.

Sitting at No. 32 in the NFL in red zone rushing? The Arizona Cardinals. The same 11-win Cardinals who lost to the Carolina Panthers in an NFC wild-card game. The three teams above Arizona combined for eight wins total last season -- the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Why would a team that owned the best record in the NFL for more than half the season be ranked behind teams that have become bottom-feeders the past few years? It's a question with an easy answer. It's also a dilemma for a franchise with late-January aspirations that needs to be resolved in the next couple of months.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAny running back the Cardinals add this offseason will play a supporting role to Andre Ellington.
The answer: When Jonathan Dwyer was arrested after Week 2 and subsequently placed on the NFL's non-football injury list, the void his 5-foot-11, 229-pound frame left in the offense was deep. For the next 14 games, the Cardinals shuffled the backfield, searching for a big-bodied back who could get those tough yards on third- and fourth-and-short. They tried Jalen Parmele immediately, then signed Marion Grice less than a week later and then took a chance in November on veteran Michael Bush, who was inactive for one game before being released.

As hard as they tried, the Cardinals couldn't find the right fit. It began to cost them because Andre Ellington was playing through a split tendon in his left foot.

"It was just one of those freaky foot things," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "He was fairly fortunate. It's usually a Lisfranc injury [that] would've occurred for him, but instead of cracking the bone, he split the tendon and really gutted it up for us for about 10 weeks as long as he could."

The Cardinals finished the year as the worst running team inside the 20-yard line, totaling 57 yards on 39 carries in the red zone, an average of 1.46 yards per attempt. Only two teams had fewer than their six touchdowns in the red zone. Their longest run inside the 20 was 6 yards -- they were the only team whose longest run in that situation was shorter than 10 yards.

They ran for just nine first downs in the red zone, the second fewest in the NFL. Arizona's 8 rushing yards before contact were the fewest by 40 yards. The Cards had 49 yards after contact, among the bottom five in the league, and their average of .21 yards after contact per run was the lowest in the NFL.

Not having a healthy Ellington was a major factor, but not having Dwyer, or someone of his size who could get yards deep in a defense's territory, is another reason Arizona couldn't secure the top seed in the NFC.

And that's where the Cardinals need to get help, whether it's in free agency or through the draft.

"I know over the years we've talked about devaluing running backs and at the end of the day, a lot of teams are having to play with multiple numbers," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "You have to have a few guys that can carry the load. Very rarely do you have the one bell cow anymore.

"But this year, I think a couple of those running backs at the top have the chance to be special."

Whoever the Cardinals sign, whether it's in free agency next month or the draft in late April/early May, will come to Arizona in a supporting role to Ellington, not as the featured act.

"His role, hopefully, will expand," Arians said of Ellington. "We weren't able to do all the things we practiced because he couldn't practice on Wednesdays or Thursdays and he'd limp around on Friday.

"Other than that, we think he's a great player. He's still the focal point of our offense and we'll try to continue to build around him."

The free-agency crop at running back this offseason includes DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore, and it seemingly grows by the day -- the Lions' Reggie Bush, the New York Giants' Peyton Hillis and the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams were all released this week.

The top two draft options will be Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Both are 6-foot-1. Gurley weighs 222, and Gordon 215. Both are considered feature backs, and both could certainly go in the first round.

Either could fit Arizona's needs.

"If you have a guy, he's your horse, and there's some really good ones the last couple of years," Arians said. "You ride him. You got to be careful with the number of touches as you get into December and January, then you also have teams who have multiple players who can be successful in roles.

"So, it's finding their roles and putting them in the right slots."
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The reasons were evident but neither Bruce Arians nor Steve Keim expected their contracts, which they had just signed in 2013, to be torn up and rewritten.

The two south Pennsylvanians had teamed up two years ago and have since led the Arizona Cardinals to 21 wins, the most in franchise history in back-to-back seasons in almost 40 years. Together, they have rewritten the culture of an organization that was stuck in a quagmire of losses for decades.

Neither was seeking a new deal despite their recent success. When team president Michael Bidwill approached both Arians and Keim about new contracts just two years into their old deals, both were surprised, at the very least.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians and Steve Keim
AP Photo/Darryl WebbCardinals president Michael Bidwill, left, rewarded the teamwork of GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians with new contracts.
"You're not going to say no," Arians said with a laugh Tuesday during a news conference with Keim to discuss their new deals. "It was really, really surprising and very humbling to me."

Keim was impressed with Bidwill's aggressiveness to get the deals done.

"I don't know many owners and presidents that would approach someone this early in the contract," Keim said. "It, again, speaks volumes about him, his commitment to winning and the passion he has for this organization."

But it was Arians and Keim who expedited Bidwill's decision to rip up their old deals.

Together, they've won, but it's how Arians and Keim have worked together that built a concrete foundation from which the Cardinals can grow, building stability for a franchise that's been yearning for it. Keim has a staple phrase he likes to use when describing why his relationship with Arians works.

"I think it's having clearly defined roles," Keim said. "When I say, 'clearly defined roles,' we stay in our lane. He does his job. I do mine."

Those defined roles have been boiled down to the basic principles of their respective jobs:

Arians coaches. Keim manages.

Two men, two roles, two lanes.

"When you don't cross those lines, they don't get blurred," Keim said. "Around the league, when you see those lines get blurred, internal dysfunction follows."

But the Cardinals don't suffer from the silo effect. Like the men they coach and sign, Arians and Keim are teammates. For one to be effective, the other has to do his job. Arians, 62, has been in the NFL since 1989. He's seen how fruitful a working coach/general manager relationship can be.

He's also seen them clash.

"The teams that are successful, they're doing it as a team," Arians said. "Most of the ones that aren't, egos are involved. Somebody is trying to get credit. The only credit is everybody putting a ring on your finger. As long as you're all working to the same goal, that's what it's all about."

Said Keim: "I think once you see these teams when their coaches and their GMs can't get along, it implodes. Not only does it implode at the top, it becomes infectious in the locker room.

"He and I were talking about it the other day. It's such a simple deal, simplistic idea to stay in your lane and to have clearly defined roles. But so many organizations have issues with that. That's why, again, we take such a great deal of pride in the relationship that not only we have, but we have with Michael, as well."

Yet, just because Arians and Keim stick to their defined roles doesn't mean they don't disagree. Their disagreements just don't escalate. Conversations, especially in the war room in the weeks leading up to the draft, can get heated.

"You always have healthy conversations," Keim said. "But never to the point where it's been an issue."

Whenever Bidwill meets with Keim and Arians to talk football, he's listening and learning.

He said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM early Tuesday that when both speak, he's all ears. Bidwill will ask questions and give his input when it's warranted but he's mainly making sure he, Arians and Keim are all heading in the same direction.

"I think the three of us work together very, very well," Bidwill said.

It didn't take long for Arians and Keim to find the type of working relationship that fits both of them. From the onset of their tenure together, Jan. 17, 2013, they believed in the same philosophy ("check your ego at the door") and the same expectations for the Cardinals -- and 21 wins in two years with one playoff appearance hasn't quite satiated them.

But it was their relationship that allowed Arizona to set such a high baseline for those expectations, and neither Arians nor Keim knew how they'd work when they started together.

"I don't think you ever know until you get there," Arians said. "It's always easy when things are going good. When the hard times [come along], that's when you find out. It's been so easy working with Steve. They know what we don't have and what we do have, and they're always searching to help us get better.

"You'll never hear a coach say, 'We lost a game because we didn't have this player.' That's not how we do business. It's a very easy thing, like Steve said, when everybody does their job."
TEMPE, Ariz. – It was a matter of when, not if.

Monday’s announcement by the Arizona Cardinals that coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim were given new four-year contracts wasn’t a surprise. And not just because team president Michael Bidwill has said over the last two months he wanted to keep them in Arizona.

After two seasons together, Arians and Keim produced 21 wins and the team’s first playoff berth since 2009. They’ve turned around the culture of a franchise that had just three winning seasons in the 28 years before both assumed their current positions.

Arians
Arians
Arizona could’ve won more games and gone farther in the playoffs had injuries not curtailed any momentum last season. Arians and Keim had to navigate 21 players missing a combined 109 games. Yet, they were able to keep the Cardinals winning because both stayed true to their roles.

Keim has become a master at churning through the bottom of the roster, using the waiver wire as his own free-agent orchard. Over the last two seasons, Keim has made 410 roster moves. Of the 53 players on Arizona’s final roster of 2014, he was responsible for acquiring 40 of them, and among those 40, 13 were draft picks from the last two years.

Arians has been able to take those new faces -- sometimes they’re so new that he gets them on Tuesday and plays them on Sunday -- and win. And winning is the best elixir in football.

They deserved new deals because they’ve made the Cardinals a perennial contender by accomplishing a rare feat among GMs and head coaches: harmony.

“The reason why Bruce and I work so well together is clearly defined roles and stay in you lane,” Keim told SiriusXM NFL Radio last week at the NFL combine. “Coach coaches them up. I bring the players in. We have such a great deal of respect for each other.”

While Keim is responsible for finding the talent -- such as wide receiver John Brown -- and taking risks -- such as safety Tyrann Mathieu or quarterback Carson Palmer -- it’s Arians whose scheme is working. He was known as an offensive genius from his work in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, and when he got to Arizona the Cardinals took time picking up his offense.

But with the right players in 2014, Arians built off a 10-win season in 2013 and led the Cardinals to 11 wins and the playoffs.

Keeping Arians and Keim together was another right move by Bidwill, who showed the rest of the franchise his commitment to winning. This run Arizona is on isn’t just a short-term ride.

Bidwill showed he’s in it for the long haul. And the future includes Arians and Keim.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Daryl Washington’s reinstatement status received a lot of attention this week at the NFL combine.

But the message from the Arizona Cardinals was unwavering: It’s out of their hands.

Washington, the former Pro Bowl linebacker, is still serving a suspension for at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. According to the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Washington can apply for reinstatement “no sooner than 60 days before the one-year anniversary date of the letter banishing him,” which would be in early March.

Washington
Washington then will be examined by the league’s medical director and medical adviser within 45 days of the NFL receiving his application. Part of the procedure after Washington submits his application for reinstatement will include urine drug tests and a meeting with the NFL, which may include Goodell.

The goal will be for Washington to complete all the steps for reinstatement so Goodell can make a decision within 60 days after receiving Washington’s application.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told SiriusXM NFL Radio that the earliest he believes Washington could be reinstated will be June.

Until then, however, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians isn’t spending much time thinking about Washington.

“When we get reinstated then I’ll start counting on him,” Arians said. “I don’t even think about him. He’s not a member of our team until he gets reinstated.”

Washington’s agent, Jordan Woy, did not respond to e-mail requests for comment from ESPN.

An NFL spokesman declined comment on Washington’s reinstatement process.

Washington was suspended the first four games of 2013 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. His 2014 suspension was handed down on May 30. After his current suspension is resolved, Washington may face another punishment for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy resulting from an arrest in May 2013 on charges of assaulting an ex-girlfriend. Washington pleaded guilty in March 2014 and received a year of supervised probation a month later.

Under the NFL’s new personal conduct policy, Washington could face a minimum six-game suspension for his aggravated assault charges.

Keim stressed that Washington’s immediate future will be controlled by the NFL.

But Keim hinted that the Cardinals would welcome Washington back once his off-field issues have been resolved.

“It’s hard to replace a dynamic playmaker like that, as you guys know,” Keim said. “There’s not many guys who can run and cover like he can.

“But at the end of the day, the most important thing is he’s got to get his life straight, and I hope he has taken this time to reflect and maybe change some things.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With Larry Fitzgerald's new contract out of the way, the focus now shifts to what kind of 2015 he’ll have after coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year.

But how well Fitzgerald plays next season will in part depend on how well he can avoid injuries.

“The big thing for Larry is we've got to keep him healthy,” Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at the NFL combine Thursday.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was hampered by nagging injuries the past two seasons. In 2013, it was his hamstring. In 2014, it was his MCL, which was aggravated in the preseason against Cincinnati and again in Week 11 against Detroit.

Fitzgerald returned in Week 14 and collected 157 yards but no touchdowns over the final four regular-season games and the wild-card loss to Carolina.

“He’s a warrior so he’s going to continue playing through the injury,” Arians said. “If we can keep him healthy, he should have a big-time year.”

Fitzgerald reached the 1,000-yard mark since 2011, but had 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.

Last year’s injuries were a major blow, Arians said, because he was playing at a “very high level” before getting hurt.

“He was as healthy and as fast as I’ve seen him this year in training camp,” Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio from the combine Thursday. “We got to keep him healthy this year and he can put the numbers up that we all hope he can.”

Fitzgerald’s role has evolved since Arians was hired in 2013. He’s blocking more -- as well as former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, Arians said -- and isn’t used as a deep threat. During Fitzgerald’s exit interview, Arians and he discussed Fitzgerald’s 2014 and what they expect from him this year.

“He plays wide receiver and we’re going to throw him the damn ball,” Arians said.

A healthy Fitzgerald can be a productive Fitzgerald. He’s only missed five games in his career, two coming last season.

With a freshly agreed-upon contract worth a reported $11 million guaranteed per season for the next two years, the expectations will again be placed on Fitzgerald’s shoulders. Arians is quite happy he'll be able to do that this season.

He’ll be even happier if the face of the Cardinals could stay healthy in 2015.

“He’s more than the face of the franchise,” Arians said. “He’s really the heartbeat of the organization because he’s put so much into it. You never want to see him in another colored jersey.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- By agreeing to a new contract with the Arizona Cardinals, which was announced Wednesday, Larry Fitzgerald not only secured his future with the franchise for at least two more seasons, he helped free up some much needed salary cap space.

But Arizona could get more cap room if defensive tackle Darnell Dockett restructures, renegotiates or agrees to an entirely new deal -- if the Cardinals even decide to keep him for 2015.

[+] EnlargeDarnell Dockett
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona could get more cap room if defensive tackle Darnell Dockett either restructures, renegotiates or agrees to an entirely new deal.
Like Fitzgerald, the Cardinals' veteran defensive tackle has played all 11 seasons for one team, but he's carrying a cap hit of $9.8 million, a number too high for a 33-year-old who missed last season because of ACL surgery.

"We'd love to have Darnell back," general manager Steve Keim said at the NFL combine on Wednesday. "That's one of those things -- I'm not going to get into specific players because we could go down the list -- but Darnell is a guy that we really missed him this year because he was the heart and soul of our defense. He's obviously an energetic player.

"He's been a really good leader the past couple years, but we'll have some conversations with Darnell moving forward."

Releasing Dockett would save the Cardinals $6.8 million on their cap, money they are in need of.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona is currently $15.2 million over an estimated cap of $140 million. On Thursday, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the 2015 cap will be somewhere between $140 million and $143 million.

Reports surfaced Wednesday that Fitzgerald's new deal would open about $13 million in cap space for the Cardinals, meaning they will be about $2.2 million over a $140 million salary cap.

To free up more space and make them active players in free agency, which begins March 10, Arizona could get help from Dockett or potentially release wide receiver Ted Ginn ($4 million cap savings), center Lyle Sendlein ($4.275 million) or guard Ted Larsen ($2.435 million), all veterans with cap numbers that could be replaced with younger, cheaper options.

Fitzgerald's deal helps the Cardinals, but it isn't enough. Dockett either has to step up and rework his contract or somebody, possibly even him, may end up a free agent next month.

"There's some additional tough decisions that we are going to have to make," Keim said. "But it does give us the room, at least from our projections that we will be able to be pretty active in free agency and address some of those needs that we have talked about -- trying to get more athletic on defense, particularly at both inside and outside linebacker spots, trying to get a little more aggressive and more physical inside on the interior of our offensive line.

"Really, at the end of the day, I think (Cardinals) coach (Bruce) Arians said it best: When the season was over and we were able to take all the players off our IR board and put them back on our depth chart, we had a pretty good football team. We just finished the season with no bullets left in the gun."

Keim and the Cardinals are getting closer to reloading.
While his combine news conference was dominated by Larry Fitzgerald's new two-year contract, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said the man throwing to Fitzgerald may be back sooner than expected.

Keim said at the combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday that quarterback Carson Palmer could return from ACL surgery as soon as this spring.

“We anticipate that not only is Carson ahead of schedule, we think there’s a good chance he could potentially be ready for OTAs even,” Keim said.

Palmer expressed a similar sentiment to ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder on Tuesday, saying he’ll “definitely” be prepared for training camp. But that won’t keep Keim and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians from evaluating this year’s crop of 15 quarterbacks.

Outside of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who are widely projected to go first and second, in any order, in this year’s draft, the quarterback crop isn’t as deep as in past years.

“We’re always going to evaluate quarterbacks in the draft,” Keim said. “That is a position that we have talked over and over about -- supply and demand. When you get your starting quarterback injured, and then you go through your second quarterback … we have talked a lot about there’s not 32 good ones, let alone to go to 64 to play with your backup, to play with your third-string quarterback.

“So, it was a unique situation this year.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals have made a lot of good decisions in the past few years.

Arizona, led by team president Michael Bidwill, has been making the right calls since it fired coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves after the 2012 season. At that point, the locker room and many games were lost.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsIn 11 seasons, all with Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald has 909 receptions for 12,151 yards and 89 TDs.
Then came a series of decisions that have framed the Cardinals' present and that will alter their future: promoting Steve Keim to general manager, hiring coach Bruce Arians and trading for quarterback Carson Palmer.

The decision Wednesday to re-sign star receiver Larry Fitzgerald is yet another in the long line of wise moves. It will leave its imprint on the Cardinals for years to come. Fitzgerald had been due an $8 million roster bonus in mid-March, which would bring his 2015 compensation to $16.25 million. His cap hit would have been $23.6 million.

Instead, the Cardinals gave Fitzgerald a new deal, re-signing him for two years and likely letting him finish his career with the team. Fitzgerald will receive $22 million in guaranteed money over the course of the new contract, according to ESPN sources and multiple reports.

It's the right move for a long line of good reasons.

First, as has been well-documented, is Fitzgerald's ability on the field. One reason his numbers declined last season -- the eight-time Pro Bowler had 784 receiving yards and a career-low two touchdowns in 2014 -- was his role in Arians' offense. Fitzgerald blocked more and was the Cardinals' second-most targeted receiver on third downs in 2014, even though he caught more passes on third down than any of his teammates.

But he still has it.

Fitzgerald took a 4-yard pass over the middle 80 yards for a touchdown in Week 8 against the Eagles. He may not be as quick, but he is just as reliable. He had a drop percentage of 1 this past season.

Second: Sure, his 2014 numbers were his lowest since his 2004 rookie season, but Fitzgerald was one of the most valuable players on the field. Case in point: Michael Floyd, who was expected to replace Fitzgerald as the Cardinals' No. 1 receiver in 2014, had 37 receptions for 628 yards and six touchdowns when Fitzgerald was also on the field. But Floyd caught only six passes for 155 yards without a touchdown with Fitzgerald on the sideline.

Having Fitzgerald on the field instantly makes defenses wary. If they ease off Fitzgerald, he can make them pay. If they double or bracket him, another receiver is open. Even though he's a surefire Hall of Famer, he's still used as a decoy. And it works.

Third, losing Fitzgerald to free agency and another team would have been a major blow for the perception of the franchise. As a state, Arizona is already full of transient fan bases, so winning the battle to convert them into Cardinals fans hasn't been easy -- especially before Arizona's run to the Super Bowl in 2008. But a constant during the past decade has been Fitzgerald. Take him away, and the Cardinals would lose the face of their franchise, their heart, their soul.

And they'd lose some of their fan base. A franchise that still hasn't entrenched itself as an annual contender can't afford to let the one man people pay to see, whose jersey most fans wear, just walk away.

That's why keeping Fitzgerald is the right move for the Cardinals. It helps their product on and off the field. Like any aging star, the 31-year-old Fitzgerald isn't the 20-year-old version of himself. He changes, his game changes, the team changes.

But keeping him in Arizona was the latest good decision by Bidwill and the Cardinals.

Defensive depth a priority for Cardinals at combine

February, 18, 2015
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video ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss discusses how the team will be looking for defensive depth at the combine.
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A closer look at the areas the Arizona Cardinals could address in the draft. We'll continue Wednesday with a look at the pass-rushers, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Cardinals need a pass-rusher and they don't care where it comes from --inside or outside on the defensive line or from an outside linebacker. Losing Darnell Dockett during last training camp and then John Abraham after Week 1 all but eliminated Arizona's pass rush. The Cardinals finished with 35 sacks, their fewest since 2010. The Cardinals allowed quarterbacks 2.4 seconds per play in the pocket, their highest average since ESPN Stats & Information began keeping the stat in 2011.

Three players the Cardinals could target in the draft:

Randy Gregory (DE), Nebraska: Gregory may be the best fit for the Cardinals because of the combination of his size, speed and intangibles. He had 50 tackles and seven sacks last season at Nebraska as a defensive end, but could easily be moved to outside linebacker in a 3-4, which, how the Cardinals run it, is essentially a defensive end. He's shown the agility to drop into coverage and the quickness to get off the edge. The Cardinals would have to bulk him up, but he'd be a good fit.

Vic Beasley (DE), Clemson: If there's one thing Beasley knows how to do, it's get to the quarterback. He had 11 sacks as a senior at Clemson and finished with 29 sacks to become the Tigers' all-time career sack leader. He's another end that could easily convert to outside linebacker. He played OLB in 2010. His speed is impressive for his position -- Beasley runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.

Shane Ray (DE), Missouri: Ray has a lot of raw talent that needs to be cultivated and molded before he becomes a star on the NFL level. With the recent hiring of linebackers coach Bob Sanders and having Brentson Buckner on staff, Ray's development could come quickly. He had 14 sacks last season as a junior. He also has the ability to turn into a 3-4 outside linebacker.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Carson Palmer's recovery from ACL surgery appears to be going smoothly.

Palmer told ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder that he’s “feeling great” more than three months after suffering the injury in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams.

Palmer also told Werder that he expects to be cleared for on-field work and running in the next few weeks. The 35-year-old feels he’ll be ready to participate in minicamp and said he’ll “definitely” be prepared for training camp.

But that’s only if the Cardinals will allow Palmer to take the field for minicamp and OTAs.

Palmer missed 10 games last season – three for a nerve injury in his right throwing shoulder and seven games after his ACL injury. Palmer suffered the knee injury just two days after signing three-year extension worth $50 million extension.
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A closer look at the areas the Cardinals could address in the draft. We'll continue Tuesday with a look at the running backs, who are scheduled to work out Saturday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Running backs. In a season full of injuries and a suspension, the most critical loss came after Week 2, when Jonathan Dwyer was placed on the non-football injury list. Arizona lost a big-bodied back who was taking some of its rushing load away from Andre Ellington and was the ideal complement to him in the backfield. Arizona was among the worst rushing teams in the league, averaging a league-low 3.29 yards per carry and running for 1,308 yards total, the second fewest in the NFL.

Three players the Cardinals could target in the draft:

Melvin Gordon (RB), Wisconsin: Gordon may not be on the board when Arizona picks at No. 24 but his numbers speak for themselves -- 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s a mix of power and speed, and doesn’t like to shy away from contact. He improved as a receiver during his junior year and has quick feet and good vision. He tends to fall forward and needs to add bulk, which can be done with an offseason in an NFL training program. Major red flag will be his seven fumbles in 2014, six of which he lost.

Todd Gurley (RB), Georgia: Gurley is definitely a risk in the first round because he’s coming off ACL surgery in late November. He’s just more than three months removed from tearing his ACL on Nov. 15 but an eight-month recovery would have him healthy by the start of training camp without any work during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. He’s been compared to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch because of his strength and power. Gurley has good hands and would fit into Arizona’s passing scheme, and he also has impressive ball control.

T.J. Yeldon (RB), Alabama: Yeldon has the size to make up for Dwyer’s loss and with a little work in the weight room, he could be as productive as Dwyer was in short-yardage situations. He has a good feel for knowing when to make the right cuts and is considered light on his feet.
A closer look at the areas the Cardinals could address in the draft. We'll get started Monday with a look at inside linebacker, which is scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Inside linebacker. There has been a noticeable difference in how fast the Cardinals play at inside linebacker with and without Daryl Washington. With him, the Cardinals' defense is dangerous from sideline-to-sideline. Without him, they have a tendency to struggle against quick running backs, mobile quarterbacks and tight ends. Arizona showcased two inside backers last season -- Larry Foote and Kevin Minter -- who don't have the same type of athleticism as Washington, or even as Karlos Dansby.

Three players the Cardinals could target in the draft:

Denzel Perryman (ILB), Miami: He's the top-ranked player at inside linebacker by ESPN. He may be shorter than preferred at just about 5-foot-11, but his speed makes up for a lack of size. His scouting report identifies strong instincts and his top-level tackling, both of which the Cardinals would need should Larry Foote retire. However, he's been labeled as a “thumper” and the Cardinals already have their “thumper” in Minter.

Benardrick McKinney (ILB), Mississippi State: Perhaps the best inside linebacker in the draft, McKinney fits what the Cardinals are looking from a physical standpoint. He's 6-4 and runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.6 seconds. He's still a bit raw but working with new linebackers coach Bob Sanders should have him ready to go by Week 1. What's also enticing about McKinney besides his athleticism is his pass-rush skills, an area the Cardinals need help in.

Stephone Anthony (ILB), Clemson: His size -- just about 6-2 and 245 pounds -- fits what the Cardinals need, but he doesn't have the speed that the two inside linebackers ranked ahead of him have. His scouting report suggests there's a lot to work on but if he's not going to be a starter, then the Cardinals would have time to groom him, but that likely won't be the case.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If there was one person in the NFL who believed that age doesn't matter in coaching, it's Arizona's Bruce Arians.

He got his first head coaching job at 30, when he was hired to lead Temple University. And he was 60 when he was hired for his first NFL head coaching job with the Cardinals.

So hiring 36-year-old James Bettcher as the Cardinals' next defensive coordinator had less to do with age than it had to do with Bettcher's experience and Arians' trust and belief in the former outside linebackers coach.

"Age doesn't have s--- to do with it," Arians said. "If you ask that guy back there (Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander), ‘Can he coach?' I think he'll say, ‘Hell yeah.' The guys that he sat in rooms with --John Abraham, Robert Mathis -- they know he can coach. I know he can coach. There are guys that have jobs for 40 years that shouldn't have had them.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports"I don't think it would be long before he is a head coach," Bruce Arians said of his newly-promoted defensive coordinator, James Bettcher.
"So, age has nothing to do with it. It's the experience and, like I said, the command of the room is what has always sold me on him."

During Bettcher's introductory press conference Tuesday at the Cardinals practice facility in Tempe, Arians said Bettcher's command of the room impressed him going back to their days together in Indianapolis in 2012. Back then, Bettcher was the special assistant to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who had to miss 12 games while he battled Leukemia. Arians was named interim coach and Bettcher became his assistant.

Arians watched Bettcher during the next three seasons and saw how he interacted with players during team meetings, halftimes and practice.

"It's easy to recognize shooting stars," Arians said.

Then Arians told a story: When he accepted the Cardinals job in January 2013 and decided to take Bettcher with him, Arians received a text message from Colts Pro Bowl linebacker Robert Mathis. He was upset Bettcher was leaving because, under Bettcher's guidance, Mathis felt he improved for the first time in four years.

Bettcher's ability to connect to players -- rookies and Pro Bowlers alike -- and his penchant for making the right halftime adjustments led Arians to promote Bettcher.

But it was his capability to know when to listen that helped Bettcher ascend the coaching ranks in three years.

"If there's anything I've done right, it's shut up and listen from people and understand when you take notes and understand when you give input," Bettcher said. "And I think that's something that's important along the way."

One way Bettcher prepared himself for this job was by going through mental reps. Just as players would visualize plays, he spent the last three seasons watching every two-minute "situation" from every week in the NFL and then discussing them with either Pagano or Arians. That allowed Bettcher to be critical of the play calling in high-pressure scenarios and helped him figure out plays he'd call if he were in those situations.

Yet, what may be most vital to his success over the next few seasons is what he learned by watching and listening to former Cardinals' defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bettcher wasn't specific with changes on Tuesday, but he doesn't plan on rewriting the entire playbook. He'll build on Bowles' scheme from the last two years.

What is yet to be determined is whether Bettcher will blitz as much as Bowles. The Cardinals lead the NFL since 2013 in blitz percentage but Bettcher said the Cardinals' aggressiveness will depend on personnel.

"I'd be foolish if I said I sat in the room and didn't learn from Todd," Bettcher said.

When Bowles took over the Cards' defense in 2013, he told the coaches and players that a defensive standard had already been set in Arizona but during his tenure, the Cardinals weren't going to play up to the bar. They were going to surpass it. Bettcher played off that Tuesday.

"We're going to approach this the same way," he said. "We're going to find ways to raise the bar, to play better defense and to get the job done."

One area Bettcher will address quickly when the players reassemble in Tempe in April will be eliminating big plays. The Cardinals gave up 75 plays of 20 yards or more last season which included 14 touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

One of Arians' first remarks Tuesday was congratulating Bowles for becoming a head coach. His departure allowed Bettcher to join the ranks of assistants who made a quick ascent to defensive coordinator.

"It's fun to lose a son to something like being a head coach in the National Football League and Todd is that to me," Arians said. "I feel the same way about James."

At the rate Bettcher's career is taking off, in a few years Arians may be saying the same thing again.

"I don't think," Arians said, "it would be long before he is a head coach."

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