There are three things to be taken away from the first week of Arizona Cardinals training camp.
Good things or bad, that's not as important as it will be in a few weeks. What is important right now is there is work to be done—everywhere on the field.
At the Red-White scrimmage on July 28, I saw some good things to note. But there were more bad things than I would like to have seen. And that’s OK because the season has yet to begin, and there's ample time to work out the kinks.
As the week wore on, some of those noticeable mistakes had already begun to work themselves out, and that's to be expected, so what you read throughout this column should not spark as much worry as you initially may feel—goosfraba.
What were the biggest takeaways from the first week of Cards’ camp?
The Quarterback Competition Is By No Means Settled
To be expected. Both quarterbacks had moments of glory throughout the first week. But both also looked bad at times.
More so for Kolb, as he threw multiple interceptions and forced many passes into closed lanes, leading to incompletions.
During the Red-White scrimmage, he threw a pick to linebacker Brandon Williams near the goal line. It was another forced pass with Kolb on the run from a shrinking pocket—a pass both into coverage and underthrown.
Don’t assume Skelton was head-and-shoulders above Kolb performance-wise, because, though he hasn’t completed as many passes to the defense, he’s been inaccurate too. His inaccuracies have been—at least they were at Red-White—less harmful than Kolb’s.
How do you mean, you ask?
Skelton’s incompletions have largely been due to the ball being placed where only his receiver can get to it; either his guy will get it or no one will. A handful of passes were thrown to the back of the end zone and fell incomplete because they were just out of reach of Cardinals receivers. That’s a solid way to become a good NFL quarterback.
As far as pocket awareness and courage go, Skelton has the early edge.
Kolb has had issues with hanging around in a collapsing pocket, and it was evident all week. Numerous times, he scrambled out of the pocket when he could have gotten rid of the ball earlier or bought some time by stepping up and away from the edge rushers.
This is becoming a problem for Kolb.
It may cost him the starting job at some point because the offensive line is not built to be on the move with their quarterback. The Cardinals offense and its line are structured around a pocket quarterback who can deliver passes on time. Kolb’s initial indecision could be what causes him to flee the pocket, whether it’s breaking down or not.
He also experienced an injury once again, and though it caused him to sit out the remainder of Monday’s practice and all of Tuesday, it likely should not have resulted in any missed repetitions.
After a hand off to running back William Powell, Kolb took a knee to the thigh from defensive lineman David Carter and ended up on the ground. He was later diagnosed with a right thigh bruise.
Speaking from experience (these happen all the time in football), a “Charlie horse” is not an injury that should cause a player to miss any time—especially a player in the middle of the most important competition of his life. They are painful, sure, but not painful enough to miss an entire day of work.
It’s possible that he was forced out of practice by trainers and coaches as a precaution. But for how much the franchise has invested in him so far, Kolb should have been out there regardless.
Or, could he simply be soft? He left the Hall of Fame Game during his third possession with what was called bruised ribs after being taken down by Saints defensive end Sedrick Ellis. He lay on the turf in pain for roughly two minutes before walking gingerly off the field.
Defense Will be Great But Don’t Sleep on Offense
I think the defense is ahead of the offense. It’s been that way a lot of times. Defense is more reactionary where offense is more learning and being in the right spots. It will end up balancing itself out hopefully.
—Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt on the camp turned in by the offense and defense so far.
The defense was spectacular from what I saw with my own eyes.
Later in the week, the offense began to click and things have already begun to “even out,” as Whisenhunt put it.
At Wednesday’s effervescent night practice at Northern Arizona University’s newly renovated Lumberjack Stadium, both units got the better of the other on more than one occasion. A Kolb touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald; a bone-shattering hit on fullback Anthony Sherman from undrafted rookie free-agent linebacker Colin Parker; a Skelton-surprise, naked boot for a goal-line touchdown.
Beyond the practice field, the offense will have its way with a number of opposing defenses in 2012.
NFL Network Analyst Bucky Brooks believes Arizona’s four-receiver sets will be heavily-featured throughout the season, and he offers a great explanation why:
The [four-receiver] package features [Michael] Floyd and Fitzgerald on the outside, with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet aligned in the slots. What makes the grouping difficult to defend is the possibility of Fitzgerald being used on the move from his flanker position to create stack or bunch formations and run various crossing routes over the middle.
He goes on to explain that because of Roberts and Doucet’s proficiency at running deep vertical routes from the slot, defenses using bracket coverage to double Fitzgerald will be neutralized as they would have to account for them both during any given play.
If you’re asking what “bracket” coverage is: Bracket coverage simply means a receiver is double-covered by a primary and secondary defender before the snap. As the play develops, the secondary defender (normally a safety) has the flexibility of staying on the receiver if the ball is intended for him, or he can peel off and cover another receiver if the pass goes elsewhere, leaving the primary defender (cornerback) alone in coverage. This differs from straight double coverage where two defenders are assigned to the receiver at all times.
That, put together with what should be an improved rushing attack (running back health pending), could mean a lot more firepower from the offense.
Being Cautious With the Running Backs
Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams were held out of the Hall of Fame Game Sunday in Canton, Ohio. Wells is still on the PUP list, and that was no surprise, but Williams’ knee has held up thus far at camp after missing all of his rookie season with a ruptured patella tendon, and fans are anxious to see him return to game action.
Many may have expected Williams to take the field against the New Orleans Saints, but coaches were wise to hold him back.
They want to make 100 percent sure his knee is ready for game action before unleashing him on the NFL.
According to Darren Urban, Whisenhunt told AZCardinals.com Wells would likely start work this week when the team is in Kansas City to practice with the Chiefs. He also said he is being cautious with the running backs because, “what you worry about is one more (injury). Then you’re pretty thin.”
Last year’s offense was forced to be without Williams, as we know, and it is the reason Wells has yet to practice. With both on the mend this preseason, the most important thing will be to get them ready for the Seattle Seahawks on September 9.
If the plan of action includes holding the two out as much as possible until then, then we all should trust that judgment.
Rookies to Watch During Week 2 in Kansas City
This early on in the preseason it will be premature to expect anything big from any of the rookies. We should see improvements, though, and these three players should be at the forefront of your watch list.
Jamell Fleming, CB:
Fleming has had a good training camp so far. He could make it even better when he faces Steve Breaston this week. Coming from the Big Twelve Conference, covering receivers like Breaston—small but strong, fast but tough—were a weekly event for Fleming.
LaRon Byrd, WR:
Byrd impressed during the first week. How he performs against Kansas City youngsters like 2012 fifth-round pick DeQuan Menzie (Alabama) could be key in Coach Whisenhunt’s decision on whether to keep him or go with one of the veterans on the roster bubble.
Bobby Massie, RT:
It is not yet known if the fourth-round draft pick will get any work against the Chiefs’ first defense, but it could be a good idea just to give him a look at how an NFL pass rush can look. Outside linebacker Justin Houston is one of the best pass-rushers in the AFC. Kansas City’s linebacking corps could be the best group in the entire league right now. He was beaten on a sack by Saints defensive end Martez Wilson, who beat Massie on a speed rush off the edge.
Blake Gideon, S:
An undrafted free agent out of Texas, Gideon could be making his way into the good graces of coaches. He has had a strong camp so far, and he played very well Sunday night against the Saints. The 6'0", 204-pound safety intercepted a pass in the end zone from Chase Daniel and made a nice third-down stop on the next possession.
I originally predicted he would not make the squad, and he still may be relegated to the practice squad if fellow rookie safety Justin Bethel—who made a great special teams tackle during the game—impresses, but he certainly has potential.
Ryan Lindley, QB:
Lindley's first week of training camp as a professional was up and down, but his performance at the HOF Game was eye-opening. He showcased not only his copious arm strength, but his high football IQ as well. He threw the ball away when he needed to (as opposed to taking a sack as Kolb often does) and only rolled out of the pocket to avoid the pass rush.
Veteran third-stringer Rich Bartel looked bad, underthrowing receivers by 10 yards at times. Watch Lindley's feet during Friday's game against the Chiefs. The major knock on him going into the draft was inaccuracy, which was due to poor footwork. It looks as though he's been working hard at correcting the issue.