NFL Nation: Carson Palmer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have made no secret they want to be more physical on defense in the coming season.

They want to do a better job slowing down opposing receivers, they want to disrupt the timing of opposing offenses and they want to get opposing pass-catchers out of their routes.

And yet they’ll have to do all that with the NFL’s officials looking, under the “points of emphasis’’ edict from the league, to tighten things up even more on defenses when it comes to illegal contact on receivers and defensive holding.

[+] EnlargeTony Carter
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsPenalties were a problem for Tony Carter and Denver's defensive backs last season.
“It’s hard on defense these days, man,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “They want scoring, they want touchdowns, you just have to see how they’re going to call things and go from there.’’

It is certainly a potential issue for the Broncos because when you combine defensive holding and illegal contact penalties the Broncos were tied for the league lead last season – with the Kansas City Chiefs – for those two fouls combined. Harris, who plays both on the outside and in the slot in the Broncos defense had four of the team’s 13 defensive holding penalties while Duke Ihenacho had three and Tony Carter had two.

In all it does mean a Broncos defense that is looking to be more rugged will have to find the line about how far it can go.

“My biggest thing is to really understand how they’re trying to emphasize and call it and make sure we’re teaching our guys, so we can play within the rules,’’ Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “I don’t waste a whole lot of energy worrying about whether I like it or don’t like it. To me, it’s about helping our guys understand what they have to do to play well and spending your energy on that and teach and instruct. Hopefully, they get an understanding of how we can play within the rules and make sure we’re prepared to do that.’’

As part of the effort to show players and coaches what the officials will be looking at on that front, officials will visit each team in the preseason. Several of the league’s officials will be at the Broncos complex next week to break it all down during video sessions as well as on-field during several practices.

But the Broncos didn’t sign the likes of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in the secondary because they’re interested in playing back on their heels. Denver is looking to make life far more difficult for opposing receivers, who were too often allowed to get free releases off the line of scrimmage and run free beyond the coverage.

Some of the issues were traced directly to injuries – five defensive starters were on injured reserve by season's end, including Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore in the secondary alone. But many personnel executives around the league simply believed the injuries showed the Broncos didn’t have championship level depth and lacked team speed at the defensive skill positions once the second- and third-teamers were forced into the lineup.

Overall the team was 27th in pass defense in the regular season, surrendered an alarming 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards – an enormous jump from 38 such plays surrendered in the 2012 season – and data from ESPN’s Stats & Information group shows the Broncos allowed 58 completions on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air before being caught, tied for fourth most in the league.

The Broncos believe a healthy Von Miller to go with free-agent signee DeMarcus Ware in the pass rush will help significantly, given the best pass defense is often played by those defenses that are the most proficient at preventing the quarterback from throwing the ball.

Del Rio, however, said he believes the Broncos' defensive coaches have a good idea on what the boundaries are going to look like in pass coverage in the coming season. Asked Saturday if he felt like he had a good understanding of what would constitute illegal contact or defensive holding, Del Rio said, “I do, based on what I heard when they came through [earlier in the offseason]. [The officials will] be in next week, and we’ll get a better feel for it as they work with us in practice. It’s always beneficial for us.’’

Del Rio added: “You know there are things that are going to be emphasized. Depending on how that goes—if the emphasis results in a five hour game, then they probably would de-emphasize it. Again, I don’t think I need to worry about that kind of thing. It typically takes care of itself. We just make sure, as coaches, that we instruct the best we can so guys are well-prepared.’’

But it’s an issue that’s going to come up, and come up quickly, with quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady all on the Broncos’ schedule in the season’s first eight games.
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?

Mathieu
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?

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?

Ellington
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?

Cromartie
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.
The Arizona Cardinals' biggest key to success for the next three seasons can be summed up in one word: offense.

How the Cardinals can adapt and adjust on the offensive side of the ball will determine whether they continue to build on the foundation that coach Bruce Arians laid in 2013 or whether they regress back to the state of mediocrity.

The first step to being successful over the next three seasons is finding a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starter Carson Palmer is entering the final year of his contract because his third season voids if he remains on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. A young, steady, productive quarterback is needed to take over this team, and the question then becomes is Logan Thomas that guy? The Cardinals also need to solidify the right side of the offensive line, like they did the left side by signing tackle Jared Veldheer and drafting guard Jonathan Cooper.

Stability up front can make the offense run despite rough conditions behind it. In three years, the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd might not be wearing Cardinal red anymore. Fitzgerald is coming up on the end of his career in the next few years, and Floyd might be a free agent in the next two. The Cardinals will need to make Floyd their next No. 1 receiver and build around him to remain successful.

Running back and tight end are the two positions that are young and feature players poised to be around for the next few seasons, but, in order for the Cards to be successful through 2016, the rest of the offense needs to be stabilized and shored up.
When the final practice of minicamp ended Thursday morning, earlier than expected, it gave the Arizona Cardinals a jump on summer vacation.

But instead of celebrating with back slaps and high fives on a minicamp well done, the Cardinals looked at their improvement, gave it a nod and moved on. They know there’s still work to be done, especially offensively.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinBoth coach Bruce Arians and QB Carson Palmer said they were pleased with the offensive improvements the Cardinals made in the offseason.
“I’m extremely happy with where we are,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We have a long way to go. I couldn’t be happier to see the growth from the film we watched this offseason of us playing in games, and to see where we are now and to see the future’s bright because you see mistakes made and you see the potential of the scheme, the potential of these plays.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians shared in the admiration of the progress the offense made, especially compared to last offseason, but it’s still not up to his standards.

“I'm pleased where we are. We’re not where we need to be to win what we want to win,” Arians said. “We’re still making too many mistakes and especially in the blitz game with all 11 guys.”

It would’ve been easy for the Cardinals to have gone stagnant during practice, Palmer said, especially this time of the year. The status quo could’ve been the status quo for Arizona. The offense found its rhythm in the second half of the season, topping 300 yards in each of the final nine games and 400 in three of those. Arizona’s lowest output during that stretch was 307 yards against Seattle in Week 16, a game the Cardinals still won. Its most was 482 a week later against San Francisco.

Even though they weren’t perfect, the Cards finished the season playing good football. It would’ve been understandable had Arizona remained content until training camp. But that wasn’t the case, Palmer said.

“We’ve gotten better every day,” he said. “You can see the improvement. You can see the individuals improve and you can hear the coaching in the classroom and on the field.”

One thing Palmer noticed since April 21, when the team descended on Tempe to start conditioning, was his teammates’ willingness to put in extra time. Slowly the mistakes began to decrease along with the names on the Cardinals’ accountability sheet, which tracks mental errors and mistakes. It’s been getting shorter every day this offseason.

Last year, that wasn't the case.

“It did not ever get better last year,” Palmer said.

One large reason for their improvement was their ability to watch film of themselves. Last offseason Arizona watched game film of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis – two teams that Arians coached with – running Arians’ scheme. It didn’t register for the Cards the same way, and Palmer said this group learned better watching themselves instead of studying “a diagram on a piece of paper.”

He watched the strides being made and the mistakes being lessened.

“You have the same play and the same defense comes up and all of a sudden you do it right and it’s a nine-yard gain on third-and-3,” Palmer said. “You see it on the field and you see it in the film room of the strides that we’ve been making.”

But Palmer also sees the strides the Cardinals can make in training camp.

“Just knowing we got a long way to go and we got a lot of training camp, we’re going to get a lot of reps,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot of plays. That’s kinda Coach Arians … that’s his motto. You’re not out there in practice to get quality reps. It’s just get rep after rep after rep, and then we’ll coach it up.

“That’s really good.”
First it was the recovery from hernia surgery.

Now it’s a broken hand.

Troy Niklas’ first offseason as a professional football player isn’t going so smooth. The Arizona Cardinals’ second-round pick in May’s draft has been on the field for just about a week of practice since reporting to the team in early May. While he’s been studying his playbook and watching film, learning from the sideline simply isn’t the same.

And it’s already causing the tight end to fall behind.

“I’d definitely be further along with the offense had I been out there practicing, and that’s what sucks,” Niklas said. “I’m just getting my head in my playbook trying to learn all the conceptual stuff.”

He's part of a tight end room that includes Jake Ballard, John Carlson and Rob Housler, all players with at least a few years of experience who'll be able to help guide Niklas once he's back on the field.

Niklas called his broken hand last week “one of those freak things.” He got it caught in another player’s jersey during the final week of organized team activities. After going his entire career without having surgery, Niklas has had two in the past six months.

The frustration of not being on the field for much-needed reps is starting to pile up. On Tuesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Niklas will be ready for training camp.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said it’ll be important for Niklas to increase his workload once the Cardinals begin camp in late July.

“Anytime you miss time and you’re a young guy, and you can’t get on the field, obviously it’s not ideal but that’s the game,” Palmer said. “That’s this league and that’s any professional league. Being a young guy, you need reps. You got to kinda put it in overdrive once training camp gets here to catch up.”

Niklas has just one more practice to watch from the sidelines before the Cardinals go on a summer break. Palmer said he’ll catch up to speed with Niklas once he’s healthy at camp.

But, regardless, it hasn’t been easy for the Notre Dame product to deal with “just another bump in the road.”

“It’s not fun,” he said. “Could you imagine just watching someone interview people all day and not be able to do your job?”

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

May, 29, 2014
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By almost everyone’s estimation, the rough and rugged NFC West was the best division in the NFL in 2013. It had the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, two teams in the NFC Championship Game (Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers) and another 10-game winner in the Arizona Cardinals. The St. Louis Rams were 7-9 but likely would have had a winning season in any other division.

And now? Other than adding Godzilla and three superheroes to the four teams, they could not get much better. It looks like the big boys on the NFC block will remain out west.

Most experts believe the Rams had one of the best drafts in the NFL, adding Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, giving St. Louis four first-round picks on what is arguably the best defensive line in football.

The 49ers had 12 draft picks, including seven in the first four rounds, and made a trade during the draft for talented Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson.

The Cardinals signed gigantic left tackle Jared Veldheer and blazing kick returner Ted Ginn in free agency. They also added a vicious hitter, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, with their first draft pick.

As always happens with Super Bowl champs, the Seahawks lost a few key players to free agency, but they kept the man they really wanted to keep in defensive end Michael Bennett and locked up "Legion of Boom" stars Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long-term deals.

Believe it or not, the best division in the NFL just got better.

First Down

As usual, the Seahawks drafted some players other teams would have taken later, if at all. Should people question their choices, or have they earned the benefit of the doubt?



Terry Blount: Have we learned nothing from the past? Questioning Seattle's draft strategy, along with undrafted signees, now seems a little foolish. Shall I name a few who stand out that other teams passed up or the experts questioned? Sherman, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith, for starters. The Seahawks bring in players with specific traits -- unusual athleticism, driving competitiveness and obvious intelligence. Where those players rank on another team's draft board means nothing to them. And at first glance from rookie camp, they found some winners in receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, along with defensive end Cassius Marsh.

Nick Wagoner: At this point, it's hard to argue with the results the Seahawks are getting from the players they draft. It is interesting that it seems like the first-round picks (such as James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin) are the ones who seem to struggle most relative to draft position. But the thing Seattle does so well is find players who fit the confines of who they want to be on both sides of the ball. Then they develop them and have them ready to go. It is why they never seem to miss a beat when injuries hit or a player is suspended. The results speak for themselves.

Josh Weinfuss: A little leeway should be given to the Seahawks because, first, they are the reigning NFL champions, and second, their personnel department has been able to piece together a pretty good roster with players who were not highly rated. With that being said, good will should only go so far. Sometimes a general manager and coach think they have the secret recipe and get cocky about their ability to find talent. When that happens, bad decisions are made. Obviously, the Seahawks have a reputation for picking good players, but they won't be right every time. Every team has an off draft and picks who don't pan out. It is also too early for us to know if some of their "rogue" picks will do anything. Their picks should definitely be questioned until they have a chance to show us their stuff.

Bill Williamson: The glue to the Seahawks is general manager John Schneider. Yes, coach Pete Carroll is a tremendous fit for the franchise and is a big part of the team's success. But Schneider is the architect of this franchise. He built this roster. There is little doubting the way he has drafted. Look at the core of the team -- they were all great value choices by Schneider. The tie goes to Schneider. You can doubt him if you choose, but it would be a lousy idea. Expect these Seattle rookies to develop into players. Schneider always wins.


Second Down

Do the additions of Johnson and Carlos Hyde give the 49ers the most dangerous offense in the division?



Blount: Both players will help, but the real key for the 49ers is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Having enough weapons wasn't really the problem. Using them effectively on a consistent basis and cutting down on mistakes is the issue. Kaepernick's extraordinary talent is unquestioned. But can he be the same type of team leader that Wilson is and make the big play in the most difficult moments? He couldn't do it last year in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. If he shows he can do that consistently when the big game is on the line, watch out.

Wagoner: Well, the competition for that crown isn't exactly daunting in a division known mostly for grinding it out offensively and dominating defensively. But the 49ers probably do have the most dangerous offense in the division. I don't personally think Johnson or Hyde will be a major difference-maker right away, but they don't have to be. Putting Johnson with a healthy Michael Crabtree at receiver and tight end Vernon Davis should allow Johnson to operate free of the pressure of being a No. 1 wideout. Hyde can learn from Frank Gore before taking over the reins. In terms of top-to-bottom talent across the roster, yes, the 49ers look to have the most dangerous offense in the NFC West.

Weinfuss: It is certainly looking like the 49ers have one of the most dangerous offenses in the division, if not the most dangerous. San Francisco has the right pieces at every position, from quarterback to running back to wide receiver to tight end. But the first question that came to mind when going through San Francisco's offensive depth chart is this: Will one football be enough to go around? This might turn into a case of the 49ers being better on paper than they are on the field, which has happened many times throughout the NFL. The Cardinals bolstered their skill positions during the offseason, giving themselves a lot of talent at wide receiver and tight end to complement two young running backs and a veteran quarterback who finds ways to win. A team can have all the ammunition in the world, but if the coach doesn't know how to use it, it will be stockpiled for naught.

Williamson: I think so. There is nothing missing from this offense. We saw how dynamic it can be when Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. Put Crabtree, the clutch Anquan Boldin and Johnson together and that is a great veteran group of receivers. Someone is always going to be open. Rookie Bruce Ellington was added to give the 49ers the ability to take the top off of defenses, an aspect they didn't possess last season. We didn't even mention Davis at tight end. Really, how is this offense going to be stopped? Kaepernick looked like a completely different quarterback when Crabtree played last season. Kaepernick with all of these weapons? Oh, and we didn't even mention the bread and butter of the 49ers' offense -- the running game. Hyde, Gore and a healthy Marcus Lattimore? How do you defend this group?


Third Down

After a narrow miss last season, have the Cardinals made enough of the right moves to get into the playoffs?



Blount: I don't think they needed to make many moves to reach the playoffs. Record-wise, they were a playoff team last season, but a victim of circumstances in the playoff structure. So the real question is can the Cardinals catch Seattle and/or San Francisco? And my answer is yes, especially the 49ers. Quarterback Carson Palmer will be better after having a full season in the Arizona offense. Bruce Arians might be the most underrated coach in the NFL. The team clearly is on the rise, while San Francisco's offseason turmoil could come back to bite it.

Wagoner: I like what Arizona did this offseason. The offensive line should be much better with the addition of Veldheer and the return of Jonathan Cooper. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a nice pickup, and first-round safety Bucannon should be a good complement to the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. But it is still going to be difficult for them to make the playoffs. The Seahawks and 49ers remain at the top of the heap, and until we see otherwise, it's hard to see how they fall from that perch unless injuries strike. That would still leave one playoff spot for the Cardinals. Three teams from the same division can make the playoffs, and it just happened last season, but I expect Arizona to take a small step back and just miss the cut again.

Weinfuss: The Cardinals have made enough moves to make the playoffs this season. They missed the postseason a year ago by a game, which might have been different if Arizona had been stocked with a better kick returner, left tackle, second cornerback and safety. The Cards addressed those issues in the offseason, which should make them better in 2014. Adding left tackle Veldheer to anchor the offensive line should ease Arians' concerns about Palmer's blind side. One thing Ginn has shown throughout his career is that he can return kicks with the best. But the biggest difference for the Cards will be their improved secondary. Signing talented veteran Cromartie gives the Cardinals two lockdown cornerbacks (along with Patrick Peterson) and drafting Bucannon gave Arizona an instant upgrade against tight ends and big receivers -- which there are plenty of in NFC West.

Williamson: I really like how well the Cardinals are coached. I think Arians is on to something. His players seem to respond to him. So the program will continue to rise under Arians. Also, I love the defense; it is nasty, aggressive and ball-hawking. Add great defense and a well-respected coaching staff and a team is going to win a lot of games. I think the bottom line with the Cardinals is quarterback play. Palmer had his moments last season, but I'm not a big believer in him. I think he will cost the Cardinals at some point. Maybe this is a playoff team, but I think the Cardinals are a couple of steps behind the Seahawks and the 49ers. The deficit starts at quarterback.


Fourth Down

The Rams decided not to draft help at wide receiver and waited until the sixth round to add a young quarterback. Will their offense score enough to make up ground in the NFC West?



Blount: Sure, it would have helped to add a top receiver, but is there a bigger unknown in the entire division than Sam Bradford? What the Rams, and everyone else, have to find out is whether Bradford is an elite quarterback. Frankly, I have my doubts, but he did play well last season before his injury. Bradford's situation is much different than that of Kaepernick, who is as gifted a player physically as you will ever see. In Bradford's case, it's hard to know how good he really is or can be, because he hasn't had top talent around him. And it doesn't help that he has to play six games against three of the of the best defenses in the NFL. It's time for Bradford to step up, no matter whom he is throwing the ball to each week.

Wagoner: The Rams are clearly hoping they will be able to win games in classic heavyweight slugfests by playing good defense and running the ball. The Rams did put up points against playoff teams like New Orleans and Indianapolis without Bradford, and most of the same cast of characters returns this season. The question is if they can score enough to overcome teams following a similar blueprint within the division? Adding Robinson and running back Tre Mason and having a full season of Rodger Saffold at guard should certainly help the run game. But until one or more of the young receivers proves himself and Bradford can consistently take advantage of play-action opportunities down the field, I don't see the offense being able to do enough to win games without the help of a special-teams or defensive score from week to week. The Rams should be better against division foes than they were a year ago and might be able to push Arizona, but it still seems unlikely it will be enough to overtake Seattle or San Francisco.

Weinfuss: The depth of the NFC West makes this the toughest question of the four. The Rams' additions weren't significant improvements to their offense, but will help. Bradford will come back with a vengeance and try to light up the scoreboard. He will have a talented group of receivers, but can they score enough to close the gap from the bottom of the West? Not sure that can happen. Rookie Robinson will take his lumps and bruises and might not come into his own until the second half of the season, so the Rams have to be hoping it's not too late by then. Points will be at a premium in the West, especially considering how good the three other defenses are, so the Rams will have to be even better than expected to make up ground, and I'm not sure they are ready for that just yet.

Williamson: Points scored? Who needs points with that defense. Man, the Rams' defense is getting silly good. Adding Donald to that defensive front should have been banned. It's simply unfair. The Rams are not going to allow many points this season. So the offense won't have to be overly dynamic. With that said, I am not a big Bradford fan. I don't think he is the answer. Until the Rams upgrade at quarterback, I don't think they will reach their full potential or be able to hang in the division race. But they will dangerous every week because of the defense.

 

Raiders offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Oakland Raiders' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Photo/Michael ConroThe Raiders were happy to land versatile linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round.
Best move: Letting the NFL draft come to them. By sitting tight in the first round, the Raiders saw playmaking linebacker Khalil Mack fall into their laps at No. 5 overall. By sitting tight in the second round, the Raiders saw their quarterback of the future fall into their laps at No. 36 overall. General manager Reggie McKenzie gets high marks for not overthinking things and staying true to his gut and drafting for need as well as snagging the best player available a year after trading down and taking injured cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Riskiest move: Call it semantics or claim that someone -- either McKenzie or the player’s mom -- was not telling the whole truth as to whether the Raiders presented a respectable offer, but the Raiders allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer to leave and reunite with quarterback Carson Palmer in Arizona was not a good way to begin free agency. In Veldheer, the Raiders had a known commodity. In his wake Oakland had to rebuild the offensive line. Replacing Veldheer was seemingly an unnecessary distraction, and though Donald Penn seems a suitable replacement, left tackle will be a need again soon enough.

Most surprising move: Getting an established, respected and accomplished veteran like two-time Super Bowl-winning defensive end Justin Tuck to buy in early and sign with a rebuilding team in the Raiders. The signing of Tuck, who put pen to paper a day after Austin Howard was signed, gave legitimacy to Oakland’s efforts in free agency and opened the doors for the likes of other vets LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew to also choose Oakland as their destination ... without Oakland overpaying. They are all on the back ends of their careers, but they should have enough left in the tank.

About face? Early in his tenure, McKenzie spoke of signing “high character” players with little to no baggage. So it was a surprise when he spent the third day of the draft taking players with questionable pasts, be it legal spats or getting kicked out of school or off a team. It reached a crescendo with this week’s signing of oft-troubled receiver Greg Little. But McKenzie believes he has built a strong enough locker room to withstand a wild card or two. Besides, if a guy can contribute and has convinced McKenzie he has changed, he deserves another shot, right?
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What a difference a year makes.

During the Arizona Cardinals' first organized team activities of 2013, the offense was a bunch of lost souls. On Tuesday, not only did Carson Palmer know his way around head coach Bruce Arians' scheme, he was teaching it to others.

"Last year he was learning, now he's coaching," Arians said. "They're getting on the same page, talking. Every play, you see him come back and there's good dialogue on what they saw: 'Why'd you break out? Why'd you break in? So, yeah, that's by far the best part."

Having a year to learn, if not master, the offense put the Cardinals "light years" ahead of last year's first practice. To Arians, 2013 and 2014 are like night and day.

Instead of worrying about nearly every little part of the offense as he did last offseason, Palmer was focused Tuesday on three things: "my first progression, my second progression, my third progression." It was a vast difference from when the Cardinals offense was "just swimming. Inside your head, you're thinking about 80 different things," Palmer said.

"It was actually enjoyable," he added. "It wasn't frustrating and all the motions you go through when you're learning a new offense. I've had an entire offseason to study this offense and study our guys in this offense, and it was fun."

One of the major differences this offseason is the Cardinals' ability to watch themselves on film. Last season, when Arians was installing his complex two-tight-end, pass-happy scheme, he could teach it only using cut-ups of the plays from his time in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Arians said it makes a huge difference and made working on the offense this offseason easier.

To Palmer and the offense, however, watching themselves on film instead of Indianapolis' Andrew Luck or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has built confidence, a broader comfort level and a respect for each play.

"It's just a totally different comfort level right now," Palmer said.

"There’s not a shadow of a doubt on certain plays where there was in the past like there are in new systems and new offenses."

Even though there wasn't anything that happened Tuesday that concerned Palmer, Arians wasn't pleased with a few rusty mistakes. There were too many offsides penalties on hard counts and false starts, including one by right tackle Bradley Sowell on a 20-yard pass.

"That doesn't help," Arians quipped about Sowell. "You've got to be able to count to two."

Arians started the Cardinals from scratch this week, despite a veteran presence on the roster. He began by installing the huddle, then the snap count and going from there, or from "soup to nuts" as he put it Tuesday. Even though the majority of the offense returned, Arians couldn't move too fast. He didn't want to assume everyone knew everything.

But when it came down to installing the offense, Arians isn't adding another chapter. He wants his team to master what's already there.

"Just [get a] better understanding and knowing why we're doing it, and getting to know how to do it better," Arians said. "You can overcoach it. There are a few wrinkles that we saw last year [with] defenses that we can attack with. [Just] a play or two but not a philosophy."
It didn't take long for the Arizona Cardinals to have a quarterback controversy this offseason.

But it doesn't involve the starter or even the back-up.

Fourth-round draft pick Logan Thomas began his quest to win the third-string job from Ryan Lindley on Monday, when rookies reported to the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe.

“It's competition,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Saturday after the final day of the NFL draft. “There is nothing being handed to this guy. He is not the quarterback of the future until he earns it. He has to be a pretty good guy to get that No. 3 spot. The No. 2 spot isn't changing. That's not a problem.

“It's just a matter of, can he beat out Ryan?”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLogan Thomas will compete with Ryan Lindley to be the Cardinals' third-string quarterback.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Arians said the Cardinals wouldn't take a quarterback if they didn't think he could beat out one of the two back-ups already on the roster. By simply drafting Thomas out of Virginia Tech, Arians showed his hand.

Then on Saturday, after general manager Steve Keim said a team should draft a quarterback later in the draft if it thinks he could eventually be a franchise player, Arians said Thomas fit that bill.

“He has the skill set to,” he said.

A decision won't be made on Lindley's future with the team until some point toward the end of training camp. Until then, it'll be a daily battle between Thomas and Lindley. Although he's likely to make the roster, Thomas' spot isn't guaranteed just yet. He was drafted as a developmental quarterback, Arians said, which means Thomas has to show progress for Arians and Keim to believe he can eventually be Palmer's successor.

Arians already knows what Thomas has physically. There are two intangibles, however, that Arians and Keim couldn't evaluate at the combine that will dictate what kind of quarterback Thomas turns into.

“The hardest things to judge are the heart and the brain because that's what they play with,” Arians said. “You have to have them in your huddle and in your (quarterbacks) room for a little while to really know what you've got. All the athletic stuff, he's got all that stuff.

“He's got the heart. If we can get him trained to play in this offense, his skill set fits what we love to do. He has a beautiful deep ball. He's got as pretty of a deep ball as (starter) Carson (Palmer), who I think has one of the best in the league. He can stand there and just drop it in the bucket.”

Arians said there's a drill that proves how well Thomas can throw a deep ball. The drill places a bucket 40 yards down field, four yards off the sideline. The goal is to throw the ball into said bucket.

“He'll put it in the bucket four out of 10,” Arians said, “which is unbelievable.”

Thomas only has from Monday until the end of the preseason to show the Cardinals how much he's improved. If he's not the starter, Thomas will be running the scout team, Arians said. And even then he'll only be getting half of the reps because back-up Drew Stanton will get the other half. Skill-wise, Arians thinks Thomas is ready to play now but how fast he progresses up the depth chart is all up to him.

What Thomas can offer the Cardinals that Palmer, Stanton or Lindley can't is the ability to make plays with his feet, Keim said. And that's exciting, but it may not be enough on its own to get Thomas snaps.

"Now, is he ready to play?" Arians asked. "No."

But Arians said Thomas will be playing quite a bit in the preseason because Palmer won't.

“The hardest part is you don't get enough practice,” Arians said.

“Once the season starts, the development is more learning the offense, learning why the ball comes out of your hand and it will show up the next offseason when he starts, again, attempting to move up the depth chart. But that first year it's all about coming in, beating out a guy that's already here who's pretty good, who's really improved in the year and (a) half that we've had him and that's Ryan.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If you read deeper into what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said last week about drafting a quarterback, Arizona will have its eyes on one when the second round starts Friday afternoon.

After that, a quarterback may not be worth it.

"If the guy that you believe in is there, then you make the move," Arians said. "But, when you start thinking about a quarterback in the third, fourth, fifth round, is he really going to beat your second and third guy? Why is he in the third, fourth or fifth round? Historically, it doesn't happen in this league."

Arians threw out the one name everybody talks about when they want to make a point about finding a gem late in the draft: Tom Brady. He was went in the sixth round of the 2000 draft to the New England Patriots and went on to win three Super Bowls and three NFL MVPs. But when Arians and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim reconvene in Arizona's war room Friday, they'll have to figure out if someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron, Tom Savage, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas or Zach Mettenberger could be the next Brady.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Bruce Arians
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriBruce Arians prefers and has won with quarterbacks that are 6-foot-3 and taller.
Or at least the Cardinals next starting quarterback.

Preparing for life after Carson Palmer has long been a topic when discussing the Cardinals' draft needs. They went with safety Deone Bucannon in the first round, squashing mock drafts that had Blake Bortles -- who went third -- falling to Arizona at 20th, and silencing rumors that Arizona wanted Derek Carr.

Picking a quarterback on Friday is a distinct possibility. The Cardinals have one pick in the second round (52nd) and two in the third (84th and 91st), heading into Day 2. But picking a quarterback Friday is a play for the future. The Cardinals showed last year when they picked linebacker Kevin Minter and played him just one down in 2013 that they're open to the idea of sitting a second-round pick.

And the Cardinals' brain trust doesn't see an immediate need to replace Palmer.

"We feel good about where Carson is," Keim said. "Just going through this season and now heading into a second season with us, Carson's understanding of our offense has really grown. I think his comfort level with our offense is going to show this year and pay huge dividends. Like any other time, I think you have to always look for quarterbacks of the future.

"There are a few quarterbacks that we like in this draft and we think they fit what we do. I've said this many times before, whether it's at 20, 52 or 84, if they're the best player on our board, we'll take them."

But how many quarterbacks fit the mold Arians prefers and has won with with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer? Only four left in this class. McCarron, Savage, Mettenberger and Thomas are the only quarterbacks among ESPN's Top 11 that are 6-foot-3 or taller. McCarron and Savage will likely go in the second round, leaving Mettenberger and Thomas to fall.

Arians worked out Thomas, the Virginia Tech quarterback, in April.

"Tremendous athlete," Arians said. "Probably one of the strongest arms in the last 10 years to go with good athleticism and good size. (He) was (with) a couple different offensive coordinators and philosophies of offense.

"I think (he's) a guy that when he was a sophomore, had really good players around him that deteriorated, speaking as an alumnus."

Arizona won't pick a quarterback just for the sake of it. With Palmer under contract for one more season, a new quarterback will have to be someone the Cardinals can entrust the offense in after Palmer's days in the desert are over. Anything less won't be worth it.

"Guys are on your roster for a reason," Arians said. "They're pretty damn good. So to think that you just draft one in the third round and he's going to beat out Ryan Lindley, that's tough to do."
There are few secrets about Bruce Arians as a coach.

He likes to throw long and deep, and he likes to put up a lot of points. And here’s another thing we know about Arians: He’s had some great quarterbacks.

With the draft less than a week away and speculation increasing that the Arizona Cardinals will take a quarterback with one of their six picks, what kind of quarterback Arians favors has become a hot topic.

Here is what we know: Arians has had a lot of success with taller quarterbacks who don’t run much. Just look at Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. They can run, but don’t in Arians’ system. And most every quarterback that fits those dimensions has succeeded in his scheme.

Here’s a look at the past six quarterbacks Arians has coached and the top 10 quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, according to ESPN:

With the Arizona Cardinals' schedule not even 48 hours old, it’s been dissected almost every way possible.

Palmer
Let’s add another.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer has a winning record throughout his career in two of the five months he’s played a regular-season game in. Palmer is 15-14 in September and 19-16 in November. But Cardinals’ fans shouldn’t frown.

The Cards have five 2014 games in November, a month in which Palmer has historically peaked. He has completed 64.7 percent of his passes in November, and has thrown 63 touchdowns compared to 40 interceptions. According to a month-by-month breakdown of Palmer's stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, he's gradually improved until November and then fell off a little in December.

But the month Arizona will need him the most is December, when three of the Cardinals’ four games are against NFC West foes. In December, Palmer has gone 17-19 with his highest monthly completion percentage: 67.7. He’s thrown for 8,452 yards, 54 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

Thankfully for Arizona, its regular-season schedule doesn’t stretch into 2015.

Palmer has lost all four of his regular-season games in January, throwing three touchdowns to just four interceptions and hasn’t even thrown 1,000 yards total after the New Year.

The Oakland Raiders' trade of quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday to the Seattle Seahawks for the Super Bowl champions’ seventh-round draft pick garnered the Raiders a total of seven selections in May’s NFL draft.

It also gave Oakland three seventh-round choices. Following is where the Raiders currently sit:
  • First round (No. 5 overall)
  • Second round (No. 36)
  • Third round (No. 67).
  • Fourth round (No. 107)
  • Fifth round (No. 146 sent to Seattle for QB Matt Flynn in 2013)
  • Sixth round (No. 181 sent to Houston Texans for QB Matt Schaub on March 21)
  • Seventh round (No. 219, No. 235, from Arizona Cardinals for QB Carson Palmer in 2013, No. 247, from Seattle for Pryor)

And to answer the question, no, Pryor was not traded for the pick that will become the NFL’s Mr. Irrelevant, or, the final pick in the draft. Rather, there are nine compensation picks that follow the pick the Raiders now own.
So, you already knew that the recently acquired Matt Schaub was earmarked to be the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback this season. And while neither Terrelle Pryor nor his fans should be happy about that development, what coach Dennis Allen told reporters Tuesday will perk up more than a few ears.

Schaub
Schaub
"We have a quarterback now," Allen said at the NFL owners meetings, per the Bay Area News Group, "that's on par with the quarterbacks in the division."

Got it?

Shaub = Kansas City's Alex Smith. Sure.

Shaub = San Diego's Philip Rivers. Meh.

Shaub = Denver's Peyton Manning. Um ...

If nothing else, Allen is a glass-half-full kind of guy. He has to be. After consecutive 4-12 seasons in which his teams folded spectacularly down the stretch both times, Allen knows this is a make-or-break type of year in which the Raiders need to show improvement.

And for the purposes of this discussion, it all begins under center ... with a new quarterback who is a two-time Pro Bowler coming off a nightmarish season. So what kind of quarterback does Allen prefer, exactly?

"Guys that can move the team down the field, guys who can put points on the board," Allen said. "I think there's certain qualities you look at in the quarterbacks that have been able to be successful over the years. I'm talking about guys like Drew Brees, who I was with [in New Orleans]. I'm talking about guys like Peyton Manning. I'm talking about guys like Tom Brady. Guys [whose] work ethic is unmatched; they're the first ones in the building, they're the last one to leave.

"They have the ability to process information quickly and they can throw the ball with timing and accuracy. And those are the things you have to be able to do to play the quarterback position."

And water is wet.

Of course, that's the goal of every team -- to find a franchise quarterback. It's been a tortuous journey for the Raiders the past three years as they've used first- and second-round picks (Carson Palmer), a third-round supplemental pick (Pryor), a fourth-round pick (Tyler Wilson) a fifth-round pick (Matt Flynn) and now a sixth-rounder (Schaub) in their search for a savior.

The new regime of Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie is responsible for the last three on the list.

"It's pretty obvious that we feel good about Matt Schaub as our starting quarterback," Allen said. "We feel comfortable with Matt McGloin as a back up. But we'll see what happens in the next few days, next couple weeks.

"Everybody has down seasons. Everybody has down years. It's not a shame to get knocked down; it's a shame to not get back up. [Schaub] is a guy that's been a two-time Pro Bowl player, he's been a top 10 quarterback in the National Football League over the last five years and we believe, and he believes, that he's still that. And I don't think that changes overnight, I really don't."

Schaub had a career-worst total quarterback rating of 43.65 last season, losing his starting job midway through the season and throwing 14 interceptions, including a stretch of four straight games with a pick-6, with 10 touchdowns and a 61.1 completion percentage rate.

"Do I think he's going to have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder? Yeah, I really do," Allen said. "I think there's going to be a little bit of added incentive for him to kind of prove what he can do? Yeah, I think there will be, and I think that's a good thing."
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie's mantra is to build a team through the draft, and to fill in the gaps through free agency. McKenzie loves his draft picks, but with Monday's news that the Raiders were shut out of the compensatory pick pool, he has but five picks at his disposal.

Currently the Raiders hold picks in the first round (No. 5 overall), second round (No. 36), third round (No. 67), fourth round (No. 107) and two in the seventh round (Nos. 219 and 235).

The Raiders' fifth-round pick went to the Seattle Seahawks last April 1 for quarterback Matt Flynn and Oakland's sixth-rounder just went to the Houston Texans for quarterback Matt Schaub. Oakland's second seventh-rounder (No. 235) came from the Arizona Cardinals in the deal that sent quarterback Carson Palmer to the desert on April 2, 2013.

So with only five selections at his disposal, it's easy to imagine McKenzie going into Trader Reggie mode again to garner more picks, even if it means moving down from the fifth overall pick.

Last year, McKenzie entered the draft with five picks. By the time it was over, he had 10 selections.

First, he dealt the No. 3 overall pick to the Miami Dolphins for their first-rounder at No. 12, which he used to selected cornerback D.J. Hayden, as well as the Dolphins' second-round selection at No. 42 to take offensive lineman Menelik Watson.

Then, after the Philadelphia Eagles traded in front of the Raiders to draft USC quarterback Matt Barkley, McKenzie gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their fourth-round pick at No. 100 in exchange for the Buccaneers' fourth-rounder at No. 112, which they used on Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, and their sixth-rounder at No. 181, which became running back Latavius Murray.

McKenzie completed his third trade of the draft in the sixth round, flipping the 176th overall selection acquired in the Palmer trade to Houston for the Texans' sixth-rounder at No. 184, which became tight end Mychal Rivera and seventh-rounder at No. 233, defensive end David Bass.

Even if McKenzie is not as aggressive this time around, he should be active. The key, then, is hitting on his picks, which is especially important in first year of the Raiders' reconstruction.

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