NFL Nation: Carson Palmer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was going to overthrow receiver Michael Floyd in the end zone and have a miscommunication with Larry Fitzgerald lead to an interception returned for a touchdown, Sunday night in front of a national TV audience was the time for it.

That's what preseason is about, working out the kinks, figuring out what went wrong and why it happened. Arizona will spend the next few days breaking down the film of their 19-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, figuring out where its offense went.

"We had a number of things that were just off, from overthrows to missed opportunities," Palmer said. "Some funky things that happened on some routes, some drops. We didn't take advantage of some of the looks we had.

"We're just a little bit off and that's not what we wanted to do. That's not what we expected at all."

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Terence Newman
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty ImagesTerence Newman returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
The first-team offense's sluggish start was unexpected considering how efficient the Cardinals have looked during the first two preseason games. Arizona had scored on its two opening drives this year, but the Cards' first drive Sunday stalled at the Bengals' 37 after three straight incomplete passes, including two straight to Floyd.

The first bounced off his hands. And on the second, a miscommunication by Cincinnati's defense led to Floyd running nearly the exact same route wide open, but Palmer overthrew him.

"Every single series isn't going to go how you want it to go," Floyd said. "You got to get to the sideline and talk about it and move to the next play."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was concerned with missing a wide-open touchdown, especially one that would've given Arizona a 7-0 lead on its opening drive.

"It's hard for a quarterback to believe they blew a coverage and that there's not somebody coming," Arians said. "So you just throw it on out there and we picked up the blitz perfectly.

"They broke the coverage and Mike was wide open and we throw an easy touchdown, which gets us off to a totally different ballgame, 7-0."

On Arizona's next series, Palmer looked to Fitzgerald on an inside route, but Fitzgerald never broke stride and didn't make his cut. It was too late by time he looked to his left and saw Bengals cornerback Terence Newman intercepting Palmer and returning it 54 yards for a touchdown.

Fitzgerald was supposed to cut in front of Newman, Arians said.

"Those things you learn from and move on, but they shouldn't happen this time in camp," Arians said.

From there, the Cardinals' first-team offense looked more like its early 2013 version than the revamped edition unveiled throughout training camp. Arizona converted just 3-of-13 third downs and ran for 82 yards. The offense mustered just three points in the first half on a Jay Feely field goal early in the second quarter. And Palmer, who finished 7-for-19 for 92 yards, nearly threw two more picks but they were dropped by the Bengals' defense.

Sunday wasn't an anomaly, but it wasn't a reason for Arians to be overly concerned. If the Cardinals had been making those mistakes and looking sluggish on offense for the past three weeks, then Arians would've been ready to worry with two weeks until the season opener.

But there were some parts of Sunday's first half that Palmer was glad happened. He wants them to be addressed in the next couple of days, fixed and put behind them so they can continue being the efficient offense that was on display against Houston and Minnesota.

"This offense has the potential of being a truly prolific offense with the dynamic weapons that we have at our disposal," Fitzgerald said. "Every single week, we have to be taking a step in the right direction and I don't know if we did that today, more of a lateral step.

"We left some plays on the field and obviously we need to get that corrected before, so to speak, the real bullets start flying."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For much of the first half, the Arizona Cardinals' starting offense looked too familiar. It played like last year’s offense, especially quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw one interception that was returned for a touchdown in the Cardinals' 19-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and had two others go either off or through the hands of Bengals’ defenders.

With impressive protection from the offensive line, Palmer threw for just 92 yards on 7-of-19 passing while not leading the first-team offense on a scoring drive for the first time all preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cardinals' third preseason game of the season:
  • Veteran kicker Jay Feely might have sealed his own fate late in the first quarter by missing a 48-yard field goal wide right. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has been clear that his first requirement for a kicker to make the team is making his field goals. If all is equal after field goals, then kickoffs will decide who stays and who goes. Feely’s two kickoffs both went 9 yards deep. Rookie Chandler Catanzaro hit a 23-yard field goal and sent one of his two kickoffs nine yards deep and the other out of the end zone.
  • Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles used a variety of formations and combinations Sunday night, but nose tackle Dan Williams had to sprint off the field every time he went from a base to the Cards’ nickel defense, which seemed like nearly every other play in first quarter. But the defense, as a whole, played well with defensive tackle Frostee Rucker in place of the injured Darnell Dockett, holding the Bengals to just 14 offensive plays for 40 yards in the first quarter.
  • Kenny Demens is finally looking like he’s coming into his own. His four first-half tackles showed off Demens' power up the middle and his newfound quickness. Demens tracked down a short pass to the right side from Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to receiver A.J. Green in the second quarter to make the tackle. With the severity of Kevin Minter's pectoral injury unknown, Demens might be getting more reps with the first team, and coupling him with veteran Larry Foote might be to the Cardinals’ benefit. Foote started the game with two straight tackles and finished with three. The 34-year-old looked quick in the box, and the pair’s only mistakes seemed to come when Bengals tight end Jermaine Greshman got behind them for a 33-yard catch.
  • The addition of Ted Larsen as the first-team left guard was seamless. Palmer didn’t get sacked in the first half and was given plenty of time to throw. Larsen may have played well enough to keep the job through the beginning of the season.
  • Don’t read much into Jaron Brown or Ted Ginn not playing much with the first team in the first half. John Brown needed more time with the starters, but Jaron Brown and Ginn have showed throughout camp and the preseason that they’re worthy of first-team reps.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Around football, they say a player improves most between his first and second seasons.

Same can be said for a training camp.

[+] EnlargeMathieu
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsThe return of cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was one of the highlights of Arizona's training camp.
The Arizona Cardinals concluded their second training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium -- a vastly different setup than they had for their first 25 years in the desert, when camp was held in Flagstaff -- on Friday, and its rave reviews weren't as much for the location as it was the execution.

“A lot different of a camp,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “It was so much easier. Everybody knew the routine -- where to go, what to expect. [Cardinals turf manager] Andy [Levy] did another great job with the field. Fabulous. The whole thing just runs so smoothly here.”

Arizona's final training camp practice ended more than an hour early, and players were antsy to get home. Since reporting on July 25, players stayed at a neighboring hotel, enjoying the luxury of comfortable beds and housekeeping instead of sleeping at the Northern Arizona University dorms as they used to.

While the accommodations were the same for the second straight year, the practices had a different feel in 2014.

"This year, I felt like was more intense than last year just because last year we were trying to learn everything," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "But this year it was just more about repetitions and being perfect."

This year's camp had its highlights and its lowlights -- and its share of headlines.

Rookie John Brown proved he’s as fast with pads on against a live defense than he was in shorts and a jersey during offseason workouts. Receiver Jaron Brown stood out with a slew of resume-building catches in practices and in games. Cornerback Jerraud Powers proved his worth to the Cards all camp.

The offense picked up where it left off, looking efficient and quick in the Cards’ first two preseason games.

Quarterback Carson Palmer said there’s no comparison between this camp and last.

“Totally different for everybody in that offensive room,” Palmer said. “I mean, there’s no comparison.”

Overall, Arians was “very pleased” with camp but injuries to Darnell Dockett, who’s out for the season with a torn ACL, linebacker Kevin Minter -- who’s missed time with a pectoral injury -- and guard Jonathan Cooper, who’s out with turf toe, have set the Cardinals back a half-step.

"It sucks," Campbell said. "That’s the worst part of training camp, too. This is like a practice to get you ready for the regular season so when this stuff happens in practice it sucks because he’s one of our better players and one of our intense leaders. For us to lose that now, we have to overcompensate for that somewhere."

But there was some good news this camp with the return of safety Tyrann Mathieu from an ACL and LCL injury and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu from a torn ACL.

“Getting two guys back was shocking,” Arians said. “I didn’t think either of those would be back yet. Losing Darnell was just as shocking. You know they’re going to happen, it’s just a matter of overcoming them, staying positive and marching on.”

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 19

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
GLENDALE, Ariz. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Friday was the Cardinals' last training camp practice and head coach Bruce Arians ended it more than an hour earlier than its scheduled conclusion time.
  • Arizona worked on its situational offense for most of practice, most notably from inside the red zone and from its own 1. Quarterback Carson Palmer worked the Cardinals down the field, working on a variety of routes. He hit Michael Floyd on an out route, John Brown on a screen, Ted Ginn deep and Brown again deep during the drive.
  • Palmer has built his career around his arm strength but on Friday it didn’t look up to par. On two deep passes, Ginn had to stop almost dead in his tracks to keep from overrunning the ball, and then Brown had to stutter step and slow down to make the catch.
  • Parts of the situation work were deep routes, with Palmer connecting with Floyd for a 58-yard catch and running back Andre Ellington on a 28-yard pass.
  • Safety Tyrann Mathieu worked with the scout-team defense again, avoiding contact throughout practice. He almost intercepted Palmer on a pass to tight end John Carlson but Mathieu pulled away from the effort at the last second because he appeared to be a split-second behind.
  • Backup quarterback Drew Stanton threw two interceptions during practice, one by safety Tony Jefferson and another by cornerback Patrick Peterson.
  • Tackle Max Starks returned to practice.
  • Injury report: LB Kevin Minter (pectoral) and G Jonathan Cooper (toe) didn’t practice.
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

"The last time I talked to Carson," the Cincinnati Bengals head coach said, his eyes drifting as he visibly scanned his mind for the exact moment when he previously corresponded with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, "I guess probably was when we played the Raiders. After that game. I think so."

Aside from one other text-message conversation, Lewis admitted Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't exchanged many formalities with Palmer since the Bengals faced the veteran quarterback when he played for Oakland two years ago. It just hasn't been one of Lewis' top priorities to check in on the quarterback who soured on the team near the end of his tenure, and months before his October 2011 trade to the Raiders. That previous April, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, giving a clear sign they were preparing for life after Palmer, as he previously hinted they should.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer, a former Bengal, has found a home as Arizona's starting quarterback.
So far, that life has been good for the Bengals and for Palmer, who meets his old team in a Week 3 preseason game Sunday night in Arizona.

Last season, his first with the Cardinals, Palmer set a career-high in passing yards and had his highest completion rating since 2007.

"He's gone on, we've gone on and everybody's happy," Lewis said during his Wednesday news conference. "I mean, he's impressive to watch. He's still Carson. That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback we bring these guys in from the street, man, it's hard to compare."

Added Lewis about Palmer's throwing ability: "It's hard to compare anybody else to [him]. I've never seen anybody like it."

Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith spent parts of three seasons Palmer was a quarterback in Cincinnati's offense. He remembers the drama associated with Palmer's departure quite well, but he wasn't trying to discuss the inner workings of it. Three times he was asked to divulge his true feelings about Palmer's Queen City finish. All three times, Smith stuck with the same answer.

"I don't think anyone on this team has any bad blood against Carson," Smith said. "It was a situation that came up and he bettered himself in that situation and we bettered ourselves in that situation."

After reaching the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, Palmer grew tired of playing in Cincinnati when the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 showing in 2010. The No. 1 overall 2003 draft pick told the team that selected him he either wanted out or would simply retire.

Months after Dalton's drafting, Palmer got his wish.

In the three seasons since, Dalton has started all 51 games the Bengals have played. He was handed the starter's role entering the 2011 season and hasn't looked back, leading the organization to three straight playoff appearances, and anchoring a top-10 unit last season. This month, the Bengals committed to Dalton long term, signing him to a six-year extension worth up to $115 million.

"Andy's been doing a great job here leading," said safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the roster when Palmer played for the team. "That's just it. I don't think nobody thinks any different, whether Carson was here or not. Andy's doing a great job leading this team and Carson's doing a great job leading Arizona."

Besides, Nelson added: "It's a business. Things happen."

Aside from exchanging greetings with Palmer, the business the Bengals really hope to concern themselves with Sunday involves winning. They are, after all, 0-2 this preseason.

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 13

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • On the day that Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said safety Tyrann Mathieu was "pretty close" to being taken off the preseason physically unable to perform list, one of his replacements continued to make an impact. Free safety Rashad Johnson intercepted Carson Palmer about midway through practice. That makes three interceptions in two days by the players who have filled in for Mathieu during training camp. Jerraud Powers, who Arians called the defensive MVP of camp earlier Tuesday, picked off two passes Monday.
  • During a 7-on-7 drill later in camp, Palmer threw an interception right into the hands of safety Anthony Walters during a busted play.
  • It seems like it's becoming a daily habit for Jaron Brown to impress with his speed. He had another good catch-and-run through traffic and down the sideline. With the battle for the fifth receiver not sorting itself out yet, he's looking like the best candidate for that job.
  • Playing with the first team in place of Jonathan Cooper at left guard, Earl Watford has been holding his own and he brings a dynamic that Cooper still needs to improve on. Watford showed off his wheels getting downfield to block for running back Andre Ellington.
  • Tuesday was Jay Feely's day to kick and he took advantage of it. Feely went 7-for-8 on field goals, hitting 33 yards, 29, 39, 44, 47 and 50 twice. He missed wide left from 43.
  • Injury report: T Max Starks (ankle), OL Anthony Steen (neck), G Jonathan Cooper (toe), T Nate Potter(back), LB Kevin Minter (pec), WR Michael Floyd (groin), WR Ted Ginn(knee) and C Lyle Sendlein (calf) did not practice.
  • The Cardinals practice from 2-4:30 p.m. Wednesday local time at University of Phoenix Stadium. Admission and parking are free.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- All that talk about the Arizona Cardinals' offense being light years ahead of where it was a year ago at this time wasn't a bunch of hyperbole.

The Cardinals' passing game was perfect through two series as Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton combined to start 9-for-9 for 121 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 32-0 win over the Houston Texans. The offense looked like a well-oiled machine even without two of its top three receivers.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cardinals' first preseason game of the year:
  • The passing game looked nearly spotless between all three quarterbacks. As a trio, Palmer, Stanton and Logan Thomas went 27-for-34 combined, with Thomas going 11-for-12 in his NFL debut. The Cardinals totaled 409 yards, although 326 of them came in the air. If the offense can find a way for the running game to keep improving like the passing attack did, it can be a dangerous one. The key is that Arizona was able to move the ball in the air without Michael Floyd or Ted Ginn, who were out with injuries.
  • Speaking of debuts, wide receiver John Brown lived up to the hype. He had 87 yards on five catches, but it was his ability to get open and haul in the passes that really stood out. Even though it was only the first preseason game, Arizona may have found its fourth receiver.
  • Bruce Arians will have a hard time arguing with Chandler Catanzaro's performance. The rookie went 3-for-3 on field goals, hitting from 32, 28 and 35, while going 3-for-3 on extra points and nailing his kickoffs. His six kicks went, in order, for a touchback, six yards deep, six deep, seven deep, a touchback and eight deep.
  • Because of the first and second team's offensive success, Thomas was given the ball for the entire second half. He looked calm and collected in the pocket, not appearing to make any hasty decisions that plagued him in practice. He went 7-for-8 for 69 yards in the third quarter and finished 11-for-12 for 113 yards and a touchdown. His passes were crisp and direct but they didn't have the usual velocity on them. Overthrowing his receivers or them not handling his passes wasn't an issue Saturday night.
  • Call it the preseason all you want and talk about how poorly Houston's offense played, but the Cardinals' defense picked up where it left off in 2013. It limited the Texans to 132 yards in the first half, the duration of which was played by the Texans' starters. The Cardinals' secondary held Houston to 55 passing yards and the seven slowed the run to 77 yards. Arizona even picked off Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, one by Marcus Benard and the other by Antonio Cromartie. To top it off, linebacker JoJo Dickson sacked Tom Savage for a safety late in the fourth quarter.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Houston Texans take the field at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday, they will be welcomed with open arms by the Arizona Cardinals' offense and defense.

The defense can’t wait to hit someone besides a teammate. And the offense can’t wait to face a defense that doesn’t know what’s coming. When a defense faces the same scheme for almost 25 practices since April, it can memorize the audibles and have no shame in letting the offense know.

“As soon as we audibled one time, the whole defense said the play that was coming because we’re in practice nine, 10, 11,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “[Cardinals coach Bruce Arians] just wants to see the audible executed. It could get completely covered and completely blown up, he wants to see it executed because you see it in the walk-through, then you see it in the practice that day.

“From a defense, it’s pretty easy to pick up.”

All it takes, however, is a receiver to break off a route a split second early and Palmer can have a passing window.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie can’t sense frustration from Palmer or the other three quarterbacks yet. Learning the offense’s plays and calls is a byproduct of practicing against each other for so long, Cromartie said.

“The quarterbacks are back there making the right reads,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of coverage you’re in, you can find someone that’s open.”

The offense doesn’t have the luxury of seeing the same defensive plays on every snap.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is adding new coverages and blitzes daily, if not changing them on the fly during practice, Palmer said. He’s also masking his coverages enough to confuse Palmer.

“You can’t get a beat on what you think is coming,” Palmer said. “He’ll show you a look where they’re bringing [the] Will free safety one day, and they’ll have the exact same look four periods later in practice and that’s a blitz from the other side of the field that looks exactly the same.

“It’s very well built and it’s very well orchestrated.”

It’s gotten to the point, however, where a good play by the offense isn't the norm anymore.

“When the offense wins a few matches in practice, I’m very proud,” Arians said. “Our offense is getting better.”

When the season begins, Palmer said, Arizona will use the same audible about once every three weeks, limiting how much opposing defenses can predict what’s coming. For the next few weeks, however, Palmer will have to settle for trying to execute his plays well enough to make them difficult to defend.

“You just try to execute, but that stuff does get frustrating,” Palmer said. “It just gets frustrating. You got to fight that frustration.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So much for the notion that quarterbacks don’t like getting hit, especially in the preseason.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer wants to get knocked down, tossed around and tackled as much as possible between Saturday and the start of the regular season.

“If your body’s not used to being that kind of sore, because it’s so rare -- it only happens five months a year -- that soreness kinda lingers on through the week for a little bit longer,” Palmer said. “So, I like to get that soreness out of the way before the regular season starts.”

But don’t expect Palmer to tell his tackles, Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie, to start letting defensive ends come off the edge untouched.

"No, I don't want those guys knowing that," Palmer said with the hint of a smile. “(But if) we miss a block here or there, it’s OK."

Palmer doesn’t have a player or two he’s fears getting hit by most. It’s how he gets hit that concerns him, not by whom. Yet, one player came to mind -- 340-pound defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. He’s currently a free agent but his Twitter handle, @QBComa92, says it all.

“He landed right on my sternum one time,” Palmer said. “You think of not individual players as much as the way they can hit you. When a 400-pound player lands right on your sternum and just crushes you and separates ribs and those kind of things, [those] are the ones you think about, not necessarily individual guys.”

Palmer has been sacked 244 times in his career, including 41 in his first season in Arizona, the most he’s taken in one season. There’s no way to prepare for it, he said, except for getting manhandled.

“You can’t replicate standing up and just getting slammed into and knocked a couple feet in the air then hitting the ground and rolling,” Palmer said. “Your body is not used to it. You can lift weights. There’s a million things you can do but unless you do that, your body is not used to it and just get your muscles used to that soreness ... that type of soreness.”

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 8

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Monday was an impressive day for rookie wide receiver Walt Powell. Fighting for the fifth receiver job, Powell plucked a pass over the head of cornerback Justin Bethel along the sideline and took off into open space. Powell showed his quickness on another catch, when he cut back after securing the pass, freezing cornerback Antonio Cromartie in his tracks. During a drill in which the offense had 19 seconds to go 60 yards, Powell hauled in a 32-yard pass from Drew Stanton that put the Cardinals in field goal range. Powell is making a strong case to make the 53-man roster because Powell is also taking reps as a kick and punt returner.
  • Ted Ginn also had a strong day, hauling in a couple of nice passes including one from Carson Palmer that he had to come back for. The offense was working inside the 10-yard-line when Ginn blew by the defense and overran the pass a little but was able to come back and make the catch. Ginn also drew a congratulatory high five from Palmer later in practice for landing a block that allowed another pass to be completed.
  • The third team, led by Logan Thomas, struggled to execute the no-huddle offense Monday. Starting around midfield, the third team couldn't get set in the right position and Thomas couldn't get the play off. Arians said the no-huddle offense will be used more this season because Palmer has experience in it.
  • Feely went 6-for-7 on field goals, hitting from 33, 37, 39, 44, 47 and 50. He missed from 47. During a drill in which the offense had to go 60 yards in 19 seconds, Feely missed two field goals, one of which was tipped.
  • Earl Watford split series with Jonathan Cooper at left guard during the last half of practice.
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?

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

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

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

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

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

Who will replace linebacker Daryl Washington?

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

Can place-kicker Jay Feely keep his job?

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

Can running back Andre Ellington carry a full load?

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

How healthy are the injured players?

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

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

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

Can Carson Palmer cut down his interceptions?

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

Will the defense regress without Karlos Dansby and Washington?

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