NFL Nation: John McNulty
Some reports said Sullivan was to interview Friday. But Schiano wasn’t shedding a lot of light on the situation.
“That’s part of the business," Schiano said. “I’m never going to comment when that stuff comes up or doesn’t come up. I will comment on the fact that when you have good coaches, as happened last year and as happened that (the media) aren’t ever made aware of because fellas tell them I’m not interested. That’s part of the business. Mike is a heck of a football coach. If that’s something that comes up and there’s something to report, I will report it. But our focus is really on the St. Louis Rams and what we have to do to win the game. I’m just going to keep it at that.’’
That’s all you can really expect from Schiano at this point. But this situation is very fluid. I think Sullivan’s candidacy is very strong, because he’s a West Point graduate and has done two stints as an Army assistant. If Sullivan were to leave, quarterbacks coach John McNulty could be a candidate to take over as offensive coordinator.
Previously, Sullivan had worked from the field during games. But Sullivan moved to the press box for Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia and apparently will stay there.
“In the bye week, we talked about everything,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “That was one of the subjects we talked about. I think the ability to be able to see everything was something that we thought would give us a chance to be better. I liked it.’’
Sullivan said he worked out of the press box in previous stops with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants.
“I know from all those years being up in the press box, there’s a perspective and a vantage point that you get that I felt that would be beneficial,’’ Sullivan said. “I just switched with John McNulty who is the quarterback coach. He’s now on the field so I was relaying the calls into him. It’s something that gives an added vantage point that I think is helpful from the standpoint of not seeing it ground level but having that bird’s eye view, so to speak.’’
In other news, Schiano said that running back/return man Jeff Demps had surgery on his groin Thursday. Schiano said it’s too early to tell how long Demps will be out for. Wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring) and guard Davin Joseph (knee) took part in Thursday’s practice.
"Every quarterback he acquired and developed seemed to get worse, not better," was how I put it when the Cardinals announced Bruce Arians' hiring Thursday night.
That was a little harsh, in retrospect, and so I've rephrased it.
Semantics? Perhaps. But the way we characterize what happened matters. Outcomes too frequently influence our analysis of process.
The quarterback situation in Arizona provides a good case in point.
When the Cardinals were a Super Bowl team, Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley got credit for the roles they played in reviving Kurt Warner's career. Whisenhunt got credit for naming Warner the starter back when the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a far-fetched dream for the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback -- back when Cardinals fans booed Warner.
Once Warner retired, however, his achievements in Arizona became the measuring stick for future Cardinals quarterbacks -- independent of the role Whisenhunt or anyone else played in helping Warner set the bar so high.
It's now easy to say Whisenhunt won because he had a potential Hall of Fame quarterback. But Warner wasn't Hall of Fame material after throwing 23 touchdowns with 18 interceptions over the three-year period before Whisenhunt's arrival.
Warner deserves much of the credit for his revival, of course. But the credit Whisenhunt and the coaching staff received at the time should be valid now as well.
Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall and Ryan Lindley left the Cardinals no better and arguably worse than when they arrived, in my view.
They deserve much of the blame, but Whisenhunt thought he could win with some of them.
Kevin Kolb arguably made strides under Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach John McNulty from 2011 to 2012. His touchdown-to-interception ratio improved from 9-8 to 8-3, but his passer rating rose only marginally (81.1 to 86.1). His Total QBR score rose marginally (34.4 to 38.0).
Injuries at running back and the offensive line complicated efforts to evaluate Kolb.
In the end, Kolb failed to meet expectations, the quarterback situation deteriorated to an unacceptable level and people lost their jobs.
That is the bottom line, but it's not the whole story.
The Bucs tried to interview McNulty for their offensive coordinator spot last season, but Arizona refused to grant permission. McNulty previously worked for coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers.
“It’s an exciting hire for our coaching staff,’’ Dominik said. “He has a lot of respect in coaching circles. Coach Schiano knows him personally. He’ll work closely with (offensive coordinator) Mike Sullivan and (quarterback) Josh Freeman. He’s another great mind to work with our offense. He’s been a quarterbacks coach before, he’s been a receivers coach before and he’s called plays before. He’s a well-rounded offensive mind.’’
McNulty has previously spent time with Jacksonville, Dallas as well as Rutgers and Arizona.
Dominik also said that reports that defensive line coach Randy Melvin had been fired were inaccurate.
“Randy Melvin is our defensive line coach,’’ Dominik said. “He has never been fired or terminated from his contract. He’s handled this extremely well. Randy Melvin is our defensive line coach for 2013.’’
Dominik said the Bucs still are looking to hire a wide receivers coach and a defensive backs coach. He said he hopes to have those spots filled next week.
The three-year, $19.5 million contract Matt Flynn signed in free agency signaled his status as the Seattle Seahawks' likely starting quarterback in 2012.
Coach Pete Carroll stressed from the beginning that Flynn would have to compete for the job. At the time, that seemed mostly like a respectful nod toward incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, who had played through a torn pectoral muscle during the 2011 season.
Russell Wilson's arrival as a third-round draft choice added another dimension to the competition, but rookies tend to struggle if given enough opportunities. Wilson isn't your typical rookie, however. He has only gotten better as the team has given him more chances. At this point, it'll be tough for Carroll and the Seahawks to keep him out of their lineup against Arizona in Week 1.
The 43 snaps Wilson played Friday night at Kansas City were the most in a 2012 preseason game for a potential NFC West starter.
Wilson did not let the opportunity slip past. Seattle scored three field goals and three touchdowns on Wilson's first six possessions during a 44-14 victory at Kansas City. A seventh drive produced a 40-yard completion and a missed field-goal attempt.
"Honestly, this is what we had hoped to see," Carroll told reporters after the game. "He was very comfortable in the pocket. He had good protection for the most part. He took off when he needed to. He did that really well. He had run so much in the first two games, and I wanted to see if he would hold in there and read it out and he did exactly that. It was a nice job by him."
Wilson has now taken 112 preseason snaps, most for an NFC West quarterback. Below, I've updated an earlier chart showing how many snaps potential NFC West starters have taken during the preseason to this point.
St. Louis' Sam Bradford and San Francisco's Alex Smith are running unopposed. Neither player's team has played its third preseason game yet.
Arizona has already played four thanks to its participation in the Hall of Fame game. Even so, Cardinals quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have combined to play only four more snaps than Wilson to this point.
Arizona went into its fourth preseason game expecting to take a longer look at Skelton. Kolb wound up playing the most. His 32 snaps against Tennessee doubled his snap count from the previous three games combined.
My general impression was that Kolb helped his cause against the Titans despite throwing two interceptions, one of which Tennessee returned for a touchdown. Kolb showed some resiliency in the game. He played freely and effectively while leading a touchdown drive in the two-minute offense. There were enough mistakes to amplify questions about his worthiness for the starting role, but Skelton wasn't any better. For the first time this summer, Kolb emerged with a foundation from which to build.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, like Seattle's Carroll, has said he won't announce a quarterback decision right away. Whisenhunt indicated he would probably use the next few practices to help make a decision. Carroll was less specific during postgame remarks Friday night. Might he wait til after the fourth exhibition game before announcing whether Wilson or Flynn would win the job?
Flynn's absence from Seattle's game against the Chiefs threw another twist into the competition. Flynn had missed practice with a sore elbow earlier in the week. He planned to play against the Chiefs, Carroll said, but the elbow flared up on game day.
Quarterbacks do take many reps during training camps, but this injury comes as a surprise under the circumstances. The NFL's labor agreement has significantly limited the number of snaps available to players over the course of a camp. An NFC West assistant coach I spoke with during camp estimated a roughly 50 percent reduction in the number of camp throws.
"Overall, if you counted them all the way through camp, maybe a little more than half, 60 percent," Cardinals quarterbacks coach John McNulty said last week. "In those double sessions, you ran those long seven-on-seven periods. You might be at half the throws realistically."
How teams allocate those snaps varies from camp to camp. Seattle put added focus on getting reps for Flynn and Wilson at the expense of its other quarterbacks. Flynn had worked only as a backup in the past. This was his first camp as a potential NFL starter.
Wilson was going to be the featured quarterback Friday night whether or not Flynn was available. The team concludes its preseason schedule at home against Oakland on Thursday night. Arizona is home against Denver on the same night. Quarterbacks will be the focus, as usual.
Another quarterback at Cardinals camp had outperformed his status as a late-round draft choice. He was bigger and had a stronger arm. Teammates responded more favorably to his presence on the field, it seemed, but he wasn't the most accurate passer, which was a concern.
If those descriptions stirred thoughts of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, respectively, you'd be correct. But the same passages applied to the Cardinals' ill-fated 2010 quarterback race between Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson. Back then, Arizona cut Leinart, struggled with Anderson and finished with a 5-11 record.
The comparison naturally did not sit well with Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals' sixth-year head coach. He sees a team that has won with both Kolb and especially Skelton behind center. He sees a team returning a 1,000-yard rusher, a fleet of perimeter playmakers featuring the incomparable Larry Fitzgerald and a defense that dominated during a 7-2 run to finish last season.
"The biggest difference, in 2009, we were a damn good football team at 10-6, but how many [key] players did we lose after that year, five?" Whisenhunt said.
Four, if we count Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle.
"This year, we didn’t lose that," Whisenhunt said. "That is the biggest difference in how I feel from 2010 and the way I feel in 2012."
How the quarterback situation plays out will largely determine whether Whisenhunt is right.
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Kolb's adjustment. Going from Philadelphia's West Coast system to the Cardinals' offense has been tougher than anticipated for the Cardinals' would-be starting quarterback. The goal seems so simple: Find ways for Kolb to remain in the pocket and trust the offense. But the instincts Kolb developed with the Eagles keep getting in the way. That could explain what Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly indelicately called "skittishness" -- the tendency for Kolb to bail from the pocket at the first sign of trouble.
Learning the Cardinals' offense hasn't been a problem. Unlearning what he did in Philly? That's another story.
"It's just the way they create the pocket, there versus here," Kolb said. "They teach us to really push up in the pocket in Philly. Two, three hitches up in the pocket when you get up there. You can see that. If you watch Mike [Vick], he has got two really big hitches into his throws. If it’s not there, it’s go or throw, you know what I mean?
Coaches would rather have Kolb throw the ball away immediately than take off running without clear purpose. The line has a hard enough time protecting Kolb when it knows the quarterback's location. Unscripted relocation has proved costly.
Kolb has a firm command of the offense. He's football savvy and fully capable of processing information at the line of scrimmage. That's what makes his difficulties confounding.
"There haven't been any problems mentally," quarterbacks coach John McNulty said. "He is on top of things, he anticipates things. I think sometimes it’s not as clean or as clear as he wants and then all of a sudden you start moving. And when you make those big, violent moves when the line is not expecting it, then you’re kind of on your own. If we’re not making plays out of it, they’re not worth doing, because all you’re going to do is get hit or go backwards."
2. Shaky offensive line. The Cardinals were auditioning left tackles as camp broke after Levi Brown suffered a potentially season-ending torn triceps tendon. For all the criticism Brown has taken over the years, he was clearly the best offensive tackle on the team. The line was a concern even before Brown's injury. Now, it's bordering on a crisis.
Jeremy Bridges, D'Anthony Batiste, Bobby Massie, D.J. Young and Nate Potter are the other tackles on the roster. Bridges has started 55 regular-season NFL games. Batiste has started four. Massie and Potter are rookies. Young has no starts after entering the NFL in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.
One more time: The Cardinals have drafted zero offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. They did not draft an offensive lineman in any round of the 2011 or 2010 draft. The 2012 draft didn't fall right for them when it came to adding a tackle early. They got Massie in the fourth round, which seemed like good value. He'll start at right tackle eventually, and perhaps right away.
3. Running back health. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are coming off knee surgeries. The Cardinals felt good enough about their prospects to sail through the offseason without addressing the position. That seemed a little risky.
Likely troubles in pass protection could lead the Cardinals to lean more heavily on their ground game, at least in theory. Wells and Williams would appear to carry greater injury risks than backs without recent knee troubles. Utility back LaRod Stephens-Howling was banged up during camp.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
The team showed dramatic improvement, particularly on defense, while finishing with that 7-2 record over the final nine games last season.
Sometimes momentum doesn't carry over. In the Cardinals' case, however, there are reasons to expect sustained improvement.
The 2011 team was breaking in a first-time defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, following a lockout-shortened offseason. Players needed time to grasp the concepts. They got better late in the season. They should be better yet following a full offseason.
Arizona has front-line talent at every level of its defense. End Calais Campbell, inside linebacker Daryl Washington and cornerback Patrick Peterson are dynamic young players on the rise. End Darnell Dockett and strong safety Adrian Wilson are in their 30s now, but both remain productive.
The team has gone 7-4 with Skelton as its starter. That figure doesn't even count Skelton's most impressive performance of the 2011 season, when he replaced an injured Kolb and helped Arizona upset San Francisco.
Skelton might not be pretty to watch, but six game-winning drives in 13 career appearances give him credibility in the locker room. Whisenhunt was with the Pittsburgh Steelers when the team won ugly with a young Ben Roethlisberger. Skelton is not Roethlisberger, but he is a big, strong quarterback with some moxie.
The Cardinals have big-play threats on offense. They finished last season with 15 pass plays of at least 40 yards, more than New England and every team but the New York Giants (18), Detroit Lions (16) and Green Bay Packers (16).
Greater consistency from the quarterback position isn't out of the question. If the Cardinals get it, they'll surprise skeptics.
REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
The team that finished last season on that 7-2 hot streak also went 1-6 to open the season.
And let's face it, the Cardinals, while unfortunate in a few instances early in the year, were fortunate to win seven of their final nine. They claimed four of those seven victories in overtime. Five came against teams with losing records at the time.
Kolb hasn't been able to stay healthy or produce when on the field. That isn't going to change with the floodgates likely opening at both tackle spots.
Skelton has shown greater ability to keep his wits against pressure. Whichever QB starts will need every bit of resourcefulness he can muster against a schedule featuring a long list of able pass-rushers: Jared Allen (22 sacks last season), Jason Babin (18), Aldon Smith (14), Chris Long (13), Chris Clemons (11), Julius Peppers (11), Cliff Avril (11), Trent Cole (11), Mark Anderson (10), John Abraham (9.5), Cameron Wake (8.5), Kyle Vanden Bosch (8), Justin Smith (7.5), Clay Matthews (6) and Mario Williams (5).
- William Gay appears to be running unopposed at right cornerback. Opportunistic rookie Jamell Fleming, a third-round choice, will factor one way or another at the position. Fitzgerald: "[Fleming] is extremely talented. The thing I like about him is he can move around. They’ve got him playing inside a little bit, playing outside. What it shows you is that he is intelligent, he can pick up the defense. He understands terminology, what’s going on, and he plays fast. And the ball just seems to find him."
- Coaches noticed a big jump from the spring to June to training camp in Skelton's ability to handle pre-snap responsibilities. They hope that progress can help him fare better early in games. One theory holds that Skelton's grasp of a game would improve as he had a chance to study photos of opposing formations on the sideline between possessions. By the fourth quarter, he was up to speed. "We're trying to get to where we have the handle before the game," McNulty said.
- Losing Brown hurt, but center Lyle Sendlein is arguably the offensive lineman Arizona can least afford to lose. He has started every game over the past four seasons and, like many centers, holds everything together up front. Left guard Daryn Colledge: "If we had to replace one guy, he would be the worst one probably on the whole football team. He is the key cog, especially for this offensive line. He is the captain and he is our guy. Without him, the wheels just might come off."
- Sixth-round choice Justin Bethel, a free safety, looks like a keeper after making a positive impact on special teams.
- Inside linebacker Stewart Bradley appears more comfortable in the Cardinals' defensive scheme, but the team still appears to value Paris Lenon as the starter next to Washington. That arrangement is more palatable after Bradley, one of the team's big free-agent signings in 2011, took a pay reduction.
- First-round draft choice Michael Floyd hasn't stood out yet. Fitzgerald will continue to carry the passing game. Rob Housler will emerge as more of a threat at tight end. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet give the team two strong inside options. Getting Floyd going will be one key to unleashing Roberts from the slot. Roberts has good quickness and instincts. The Cardinals' quarterbacks like the way he moves within zones, but they need to do a better job locating him.
- The Cardinals think they have a great one in Peterson. The physical attributes are obvious. Peterson also has the necessary desire. Arizona saw it last season when Peterson played through an Achilles injury suffered at Cincinnati.
- This season as last, the Cardinals are counting on young outside pass-rushers O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho. Schofield is fighting through knee problems, a potential concern given the career-altering surgery he underwent coming out of college. He played 38 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Arizona will need him to play a much higher percentage in 2012. Can Schofield hold up? Clark Haggans, 35, is the backup.
- Arizona should be strong at nose tackle with a leaner Dan Williams and underrated backup David Carter at the position.
- It's tough to envision Kolb emerging as the starter based on what we've seen to this point. There's no clear indication Kolb is close to breaking through. "The only thing I can do is stay patient, know that it’s all part of God’s plan," Kolb said. "My mentality is that I’m going to get through the bad to get to the good. Something good is going to come of it."
Half of a second can mean everything for a quarterback when an All-Pro defensive lineman is bearing down on him.
Kevin Kolb appeared to do little wrong on the play that ended his first season with the Arizona Cardinals. He dropped back to pass on third-and-6 and hesitated briefly before attempting to target tight end Todd Heap in the right flat.
Only 2.5 seconds elapsed between the snap and the blindside hit from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. Smith hit Kolb from behind and knocked the ball free. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks turned to chase the loose ball and, in the process, whacked Kolb in the helmet with a churning knee.
The diagnosis: concussion.
The treatment: lots of rest, followed by an offseason focusing on the little things a quarterback can do to avoid undue punishment and keep an offense moving efficiently.
In some ways, that play against the 49ers typified Kolb's first season. He never had much of a chance. Acquired from Philadelphia as the lockout was giving way to training camps, Kolb was on the field for his first exhibition game after less than 12 hours of camp practices. He struggled to make the transition. Kolb took 30 sacks in nine regular-season starts, missing seven games to injury and opening the door for backup John Skelton to challenge him for the starting job this summer.
The first-year reviews for Kolb were resoundingly negative.
"Kolb's play was disturbing and uneven in Year 1, but like the rookie QBs from a year ago, judging him just off of that is probably too harsh," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Still, he is a limited passer and takes way too many sacks. Of course, his offensive line didn’t help that. He isn't extremely accurate in terms of ball placement, either, which is something you must have if your arm is average."
On the positive side?
"He did do very well against the blitz, which shocked me, honestly, when I heard Jaws doing his Kolb breakdown, because I wouldn't have said that Kolb is the type of QB to stand firm in the pocket, take a big hit and deliver the football," Williamson said.
Even the praise was qualified, in other words.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't like to anoint players as starters based on their salaries, but he had little choice last offseason.
The lockout left little time for a true quarterback competition. Division-rival Seattle, another team big on competition at all spots, forced into its lineup the newly acquired Tarvaris Jackson, also in the interests of expediency.
"Sometimes when you want something really bad, you press a little bit too hard," Kolb said after a recent minicamp practice. "I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm trying to make sure I stay relaxed, stay calm, because when I play like that, I usually play pretty good football. ... Hopefully try to make that last for 16 weeks."
A new approach
The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and replaced him with receivers coach John McNulty. The move came after Arizona denied McNulty a chance to pursue the offensive coordinator's job with Tampa Bay. It also came with a mandate to re-emphasize the basics.
Arizona wants Kolb adhering more closely to the offensive script. That means methodically moving from one receiver to the next on schedule. It means throwing away the ball instead of inviting trouble with unscripted scrambles. Less creating, more executing.
"In Philadelphia, I think there was a lot of movement stuff they did," McNulty said. "They moved the pocket a lot. You can do that for a while and you can do that, I think, when a guy is playing on a limited basis. But when you want to operate the whole game and the whole season, there's a high percentage of the plays you're going to have to be in the pocket and operate in the pocket.
"He hadn't had as much experience, and he didn't have experience in our system of being just a pure pocket guy that hangs in there and doesn't rely on moving to get things a chance to get open."
Whisenhunt has alluded to the Cardinals having receivers running open frequently without getting the ball last season. That was the case specifically with Andre Roberts, a player Whisenhunt thought enjoyed a strong season without sufficient statistical rewards. Evidence collected over a four-game stretch suggested that might have been a problem for Kolb in particular.
A firmer grasp of the playbook should make it easier for Kolb to trust that his secondary receivers will be available. McNulty is working with Kolb on shortening the quarterback's movements in the pocket to keep plays on rhythm. Nothing too fancy, in other words.
"Just being around for a long time in some different systems now and being around some really good coaches, the ones that simplify it are the ones that really grasp it," Kolb said. "He's really good at that."
What Kolb can become
The Cardinals went 3-6 when Kolb started, but Skelton was the primary quarterback for the Dec. 12 game against San Francisco, the one in which Kolb suffered the concussion.
The burden of proof lies with Kolb after Skelton, who is receiving less than $500,000 per year, played a role in five game-winning drives last season. There is no way around that reality, not with Whisenhunt insisting on an honest competition.
Still, the Cardinals invested $12 million a year in Kolb because they liked his potential, not just because they needed a quarterback and that was the price.
"He's an athletic guy who is very smart," McNulty said. "He's a football guy. He's really done a lot of work to master the system in the last few months, and if he can get the ball out quickly, he's got a whip arm, he's accurate with it when he's working in rhythm. He can present problems as a guy who can move enough to get out of the way if he needs to, but he's capable of taking the snap and getting the ball out quickly and accurately and really diminishing what the rush can do to him."
Less than 11 months have passed since Arizona acquired Kolb. The vision McNulty described is still there for Kolb to salvage.
Just as Kolb must learn to avoid the rush, there's risk for his team if it rushes to judgment.
"I've really got a good hunch, a good instinct about this year," Kolb said. "I really think things are going to go well. That helps. When I have that feeling, that helps relax me and play better ball."
While those plays were naturally favorites, the ones most significant to the Cardinals' 2012 season generated no discernible buzz. These three plays meant everything to second-year running back Ryan Williams, who was back on the field for his most meaningful work since suffering a torn patella during the 2011 exhibition season.
The Cardinals need better luck with injuries at the position. Beanie Wells remains sidelined by knee surgery his agent described as a clean-out procedure. Wells, who topped 1,000 yards rushing last season despite playing hurt for stretches, worked with a trainer on the sideline during practice.
This was the second of three non-contact minicamp days for the Cardinals before the team breaks until training camp. Players wore helmets but no pads.
As the session was winding down, Williams lined up at halfback from the I-formation with two tight ends. Fitzgerald lined up wide to the right. Williams took the handoff up the middle, made a cut and churned his legs through a mass of linemen. This was as close as Williams could come to simulating a game situation under the circumstances.
"You can't really make your full reads when everybody is two-hand touching you," Williams said. "I was just trying to make my reads, seeing if I still have it."
A few more notes from practice Wednesday night:
- Tight end Rob Housler stands out for his size-speed combination. The Cardinals thought all along Housler would emerge in his second season, after adapting to the pro game following a college career at Florida Atlantic. Housler will be a player to watch when the Cardinals put on the pads at training camp.
- Cornerback Greg Toler appeared to be practicing without fear, a good sign after recovering from season-ending knee surgery. Toler contested one pass to Fitzgerald about as aggressively as the rules would allow.
- Andre Roberts dropped a ball early, but he caught several and played much better last season than his stats indicated, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. The Cardinals feel as though they had receivers running open all season, if only their quarterbacks could have found them.
- Speaking of the quarterbacks, they hit some passes and missed a few. As much as I'd like to declare Kevin Kolb or John Skelton the early leader in their competition, this job will be won or lost during camp. I did catch up with Kolb and quarterbacks coach John McNulty during this trip. More on them as time permits.
- Undrafted rookie receiver LaRon Byrd made an impressive leaping grab in the corner of the end zone. He's 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. The Cardinals like his potential. He'll be a player to watch in camp. The game changes when players put on the pads. Many little-known receivers have impressed early in camp, only to fade when exhibition games start. That might not happen for Byrd, of course, but the disclaimer is worth keeping in mind.
That's it from Cardinals camp. I'm on an early flight Friday to Seattle and plan to check in from Seahawks camp then. Also, I'll be processing multiple interviews from San Francisco 49ers and Cardinals camps once I'm back on a regular schedule.
As for St. Louis, not to worry. I'm already booked for an extended stay at Rams camp beginning in late July.
Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Cardinals in 2012:
Dream scenario (11-5): A full offseason of healing and playbook study lets Kevin Kolb prove the Cardinals knew what they were doing when they acquired him from Philadelphia last offseason. There's plenty of credit to go around. The team's decision to reassign assistant coach John McNulty from receivers to quarterbacks becomes a popular storyline. There's no doubt Kolb's mechanics have improved, but talent and good health are what win football games.
Michael Floyd's addition through the draft makes the Cardinals' passing game nearly impossible to defend, particularly with second-year back Ryan Williams emerging as the game-breaking runner Arizona was convinced it had drafted. Adding young linemen for Russ Grimm to develop also pays off, particularly as the season progresses. Bobby Massie looks like a keeper at right tackle. On the other side, Levi Brown picks up where he left off last season, proving Arizona was right in re-signing him to a five-year contract.
The transformation on defense surprises even the Cardinals. Yes, Arizona made strides on that side of the ball while winning seven of its final nine games in 2011. But there was no way anyone could have expected Sam Acho to challenge Simeon Rice's season franchise record for sacks since 1982 (Rice had 16.5 in 1999). With a healthy Dan Williams at nose tackle and Acho pumping up an already underrated pass rush, cornerback Patrick Peterson takes the next logical step in his development: picking off passes and returning them for touchdowns.
Winning at San Francisco in Week 17 delivers an 11-5 record and the NFC West title to Arizona, the team's third division crown in five years.
Nightmare scenario (5-11): No one can blame Gregg Williams or Jonathan Vilma for the concussion Kolb suffers in the Hall of Fame Game against New Orleans to open the exhibition season. Some in the Cardinals' organization welcome the switch to John Skelton, but with Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells predictably battling knee problems, the offense becomes one-dimensional. That's tough for a team with Brown and a rookie starting at tackle. Kolb's return after a few weeks means as much as it did last season -- nothing.
By October, it's clear the Cardinals didn't do enough at tackle or outside linebacker to take the next step. Those offseason stories about a full offseason helping Kolb seemed justified at the time, but we should have known better. McNulty's coaching helps, but players revert to form under pressure and Kolb is no exception. He wasn't going to develop instincts all of a sudden, was he? Aldon Smith's three-sack game against Arizona on Monday night in Week 8 doesn't seem so bad when Clay Matthews collects four of them the following week.
For the second time in three seasons, the Cards finish 5-11 after getting blown out at San Francisco in Week 17. The quarterback questions persisting upon Kurt Warner's retirement continue to linger. Watching Peyton Manning in the playoffs doesn't help.
"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"
Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.
"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."
That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
- Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
- Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
- Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.
Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.
Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.
I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
The latest example of this comes from this report that says the Green Bay Packers denied permission for the Bucs to speak to tight ends coach Ben McAdoo about becoming offensive coordinator.
McAdoo is at least the second offensive coordinator candidate the Bucs have been blocked from interviewing. The Arizona Cardinals previously denied permission for offensive assistant John McNulty, a former Schiano assistant at Rutgers, to interview for the job.
It also was reported Monday that University of Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn turned down a position with the Bucs, presumably as the defensive line coach.
The Bucs have not made any official announcements about any hirings of assistants. The only assistant known to have accepted a position is wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck, another former Rutgers assistant.
The Bucs appear to be in line to add several other Rutgers assistants, but nothing definite has happened yet. There also has been speculation from the moment Schiano was hired that he’d be joined by former NFL and college head coach Butch Davis as defensive coordinator, but nothing has been announced on that move.
Although Tampa Bay was extremely thorough in its search for a head coach -- the process took more than three weeks -- it appears the late start has put Schiano at a disadvantage when it comes to filling out a staff. Most assistant jobs have been filled across the league, and teams are trying to hold onto what they have. Quinn turned down a chance to get back into the NFL, and Rutgers reportedly is doing its best to keep as many assistant coaches as possible.
One of the knocks on former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris was that he lacked a strong stable of assistants, especially after firing experienced coordinators Jim Bates and Jeff Jagodzinski during his first season. It’s starting to look like the late start might make it tough for Schiano to assemble a quality staff.
My initial thought: Haley's pull-no-punches approach to motivation worked well when he was with the Cardinals previously, but how might Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger respond? After all, Roethlisberger was reportedly upset when management forced out previous coordinator Bruce Arians.
The dynamics could be complicated going into this relationship.
We should remember, however, that Haley and former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner became very close during their years together in Arizona. Also, the well-publicized blowups between Haley and former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin did not necessarily reflect an unhealthy relationship. They were overblown in some cases.
Haley showed no fear in confronting players when he thought it would get the most from him. Will he take that approach with Roethlisberger? The quarterback position is different from others. Back in early 2009, when the Cardinals were playing Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, Haley had this to say about what he liked about Warner:
I think that No. 1, his preparation is second to none. I don't know who could prepare more than him. He's into it. He obviously has great ability to throw the football. I think if you had to say one thing that separates him, he’s got unbelievable vision and anticipation and he’s probably one of the better progression passers as far as getting through his complete read. That’s why a guy like Steve Breaston gets 1,000-yards out of nowhere, because of Kurt’s ability to find the open guy. He’s got a lot of great skills as a quarterback and he knows how to use them.
How Haley and Roethlisberger get along isn't a huge concern in the NFC West, obviously. The Cardinals' decision to move forward with Mike Miller as coordinator and receivers coach John McNulty as the likely quarterbacks coach carries more importance. And if that arrangement does not work out, Cardinals fans will wonder what might have been had Arizona made room for Haley in the role of coordinator.
Bidwill would not comment on reports suggesting Arizona would have interest in Peyton Manning, citing tampering rules against discussing players under contract to other teams. Bidwill also took care when discussing incumbent Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, inserting qualifiers when saying the team plans to pay a $7 million bonus March 17.
"You sort of cross bridges as you get there, you know, but I wouldn't say we are going to deviate from the plan at this stage," Bidwill said.
Kolb would become a free agent if the Cardinals did not pay the bonus. The Colts have until March 8 to pay a $28 million bonus to Manning. Many other issues remain unresolved, including the most basic ones: whether Manning will be available at all, whether he'll be healthy enough to play, whether he would want to sign with Arizona, whether the Cardinals would pursue him and whether they would meet his demands.
Whatever the Cardinals do at quarterback, assistant coach John McNulty appears likely to play a more prominent role in overseeing the position. The team recently blocked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from pursuing McNulty for their job as offensive coordinator. That could result in additional responsibilities -- and pay -- for McNulty in Arizona. That could diffuse hard feelings.
"We're in discussions to move him over to quarterbacks coach and that will give us an opportunity to address some things with him," Bidwill said. "I don't want to speak for John, but I think we'll be OK."
If McNulty becomes quarterbacks coach, the team will have a vacancy for a receivers coach.
"It was universal that we were going to be a better team with John McNulty with us rather than not with us," Bidwill said in explaining why he prevented the Bucs from pursuing McNulty, "and we needed to make the best decision for the team."
The Bucs are still pushing behind the scenes and could appeal directly to Cardinals ownership, according to Rick Stroud's report in the Tampa Bay Times.
The Cardinals have nothing tangible to gain from letting McNulty leave.
Rules prevent teams from seeking compensation such as draft choices or cash in exchange for all but the highest-level staffers, defined as head coaches and "high-level club exmployees" with general manager-type powers.
Preventing McNulty from joining his longtime friend, new Bucs coach Greg Schiano, risks creating ill will between the Cardinals and McNulty. The alternative, however, requires losing a valued staff member.
Neither alternative carries much appeal for the Cardinals. One does beat the other, however.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Sacramento Bee summarizes the 49ers' comments from the team's meeting with season-ticket holders. President Jed York again stresses Mike Singletary's intensity as reason for fans to have hope.
Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith would compete for the starting job if he signed a revised contract with the team. The 49ers also would not rule out taking a look at Michael Vick, although the likelihood seemed remote. Maiocco: "One possibility is free agent Jeff Garcia, who has been told he will not return to the Buccaneers next season. But Singletary said the question is how much of an improvement Garcia would be over Hill. Singletary: "When I look at Shaun Hill, I think he did a great job last year. I'm not sure how much better we get by bringing a Jeff Garcia in and adding to the mix when you have a guy like Shaun Hill."
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle attended the meeting and came away impressed. Knapp: "Singletary and the rest of the cast thanked everyone for coming there in the bad weather, even though the audience was well below the expected full house of 1,600. The weather wasn't really all that bad, either. The rain had stopped, and with Singletary's sizzle in the air, it was impossible to imagine how anyone could prefer Detroit."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects Hill and Smith to compete for the 49ers' starting job in 2009.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan as saying he "fully believes" Smith will become a good quarterback for someone, whether it's the 49ers or another team.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation provides blow-by-blow coverage of the 49ers' meeting with season-ticket holders. His entry from 7:53 p.m. PT: "Great intro video for Singletary. This seems like something you'd see in professional wrestling!"
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic provides a quick update to the Cardinals' search for coordinators. He expects the team to hire from within. Offensive assistant Dedric Ward could be headed to the Chiefs as receivers coach.
Also from Somers: "Former Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders interviewed for the receivers job last week. According to Mike Jurecki at XTRA-910, [Ken] Whisenhunt also has interviewed Rutgers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John McNulty. Jurecki also says former NFL quarterback Chris Miller could be the new quarterbacks coach."
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind breaks down the Cardinals' outside linebackers and pass-rushing defensive ends. Travis LaBoy started quickly but had a hard time finishing.
John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks the Seahawks will probably draft quarterback Matt Stafford, although Tim Ruskell's teams sometimes target quarterbacks in the third round.
Also from Morgan: Why he thinks Stafford will be available at No. 4.
More from Morgan: While one projection suggests Stafford will fail in the NFL, but the quarterback could compare favorably to Matt Ryan.
Shaun Dolence of 12th Man Rising spotted familiar names on the Broncos' cut list. Niko Koutouvides and Marquand Manuel are former Seahawks. The Broncos paid a $2 million signing bonus to Koutouvides last offseason. They seemed to think he projected as a starting middle linebacker.
VanRam of Turf Show Times lists offensive players Rams fans should keep in mind heading into the combine. VanRam: "Keep an eye on Cal center Alex Mack and Oregon center Max Unger. Both of these guys are great prospects at that all important position, a position the Rams desperately need to address if they have any intention of competing this year. Both of those guys could potential, arguably be drafted with the Rams second round pick, third pick overall in the second round."