GLENDALE, Ariz.—With the Arizona Cardinals running what essentially amounted to a walkthrough practice Wednesday, it is time to choose the best and worst players from the first two weeks of training camp.
There really was not much to see during the practice preceding the day the team will travel to Green Bay—other than the players having fun running trick plays and such.
There were still a few plays of note: Drew Stanton was picked off twice, once by Daryl Washington and once by Justin Bethel. Carson Palmer tossed a long touchdown pass to Patrick Peterson, who continued to see action on offense. Palmer dropped it in Peterson’s lap; it was a perfect strike, hitting No. 21 in stride.
The rest of practice was nothing more than the aforementioned trick plays, which included a play involving many laterals that was run no less than five times. Situational plays were run all throughout, with the offense working on the Hail Mary play toward the end.
Plays like that will be run on average twice per season, and they are very important. It’s nice to see head coach Bruce Arians making that a point of emphasis. The little things on Sundays often show up largest in Monday morning’s box score.
Here are the highlights and lowlights from the first two weeks of Cards camp.
Note: All information was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Three Who Impressed
Tyrann Mathieu’s Fast Start
Rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu was the most impressive defender through the first two weeks of camp.
For his first NFL training camp—after a full calendar year of no football activities, mind you—Mathieu impressed daily with either an instinct play to knock away a pass, or by creating turnovers by the bunches.
That trend continued Wednesday.
On a play in which he was covering Larry Fitzgerald from the slot, Mathieu peeled off Fitz to get his hands on a pass intended for tight end Rob Housler. He had no business being in the area, but when he looked to see if the ball was being thrown to Fitzgerald on the out route he’d just run, the ball instead was heading over Mathieu’s inside shoulder.
He stopped on a dime, sprinted back to where the ball was going and batted it down.
You can’t teach that kind of football play. His natural instincts are impeccable, and if he continues his play, he could be a special player.
Secondary-mate Jerraud Powers is just as impressed as everyone else is, according to Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com:
You can see the guy just turning that corner, and if everything continues to go as well as it has gone, the sky is the limit. He’s a heck of a football player.
Michael Floyd Takes the Next Step
There is growing hype surrounding Michael Floyd this offseason. After just eight receptions in his first seven games as a rookie, Floyd notched 37 in his final nine—especially coming on strong during the final game of the 2012 season against San Francisco, when he totaled eight receptions for 166 yards and a score.
Floyd was unstoppable during the first two weeks of his second training camp with the Cardinals.
Palmer has developed a nice rapport with Floyd already, and the two routinely hooked up on long strikes down the field, as well as on intermediate routes over the middle.
Floyd is the clear-cut No. 2 receiver opposite Fitzgerald, and it’s looking more and more like he will have a breakout season in 2013.
That could open things up for Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler, all of whom are dangerous weapons in Arians’ offense.
Alfonso Smith Looks Like a Different Back
Sometimes, it’s obvious when a player knows he has a chance to make an impression on his new coach. Other than Floyd, Alfonso Smith has been the most impressive offensive player through two weeks of camp.
He looks quicker, faster and shiftier than in past years, and with injuries to Ryan Williams, Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington all within the first two weeks of camp, now is Smith’s opportunity to not only make the roster, but to play and make a difference.
He has 30 career carries for 102 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Year four in the NFL could be a career-defining season for Smith, and whether that goes good or bad is entirely up to him. He has done his part so far. Can he keep it up?
He Who Depressed
Ryan Lindley on the Verge of Being Cut
Coach Arians told the media Tuesday that it is possible the team keeps just two quarterbacks on the roster going into the regular season, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
If it comes down to Ryan [Lindley] and another guy at another position, we’ll determine what’s more valuable to our football team at that time. We’re going to keep the best 53 [players].
Read: A third-string quarterback is less important than, say, a third-string safety—especially with a solid starter at quarterback in Palmer. That safety can play special teams and contribute in other ways.
Lindley would be holding a clipboard all season in hopes that Palmer and Stanton both succumb to injury.
Lindley has been erratic throughout the duration of camp. His accuracy has not improved a bit since throwing zero touchdowns and seven interceptions as a rookie.
A day after saying what he said on the matter, Arians had Lindley—not undrafted rookie Caleb TerBush—handing the ball off to running backs down on the lower field while the offensive line worked on run protection against the defensive line.
Carson Palmer Report
Making a return only for biweekly reviews, the Carson Palmer report has nothing but good things to say about the Cardinals starting quarterback.
His first two weeks were about as solid as one could hope for despite early connection issues with Fitzgerald. The two worked it out and have been on point for over a week.
Palmer has been bested a few times by sneaky cornerbacks who have made great plays, but only one interception that I saw him throw was truly his own fault.
Were more of them his fault? Probably. But his interceptions were not as dreadful to watch as anything from the Cardinals starters in 2012. Although I could be off, I charted 12 touchdown passes to five interceptions for Palmer while in attendance at University of Phoenix Stadium.
That kind of touchdown-to-interception ratio would be very acceptable from Palmer and would drastically improve the Cardinals’ offensive efficiency.
Other News and Notes
—Rookie Running back Andre Ellington left Tuesday’s practice early with what appeared to be a head or neck injury. He has been given the concussion test, according to Urban. If he can’t play in Friday’s preseason opener at Green Bay, that would leave three backs for the entire game. Rashard Mendenhall reportedly will play, as will Alfonso Smith and rookie Stepfan Taylor.
—The cornerbacks have all had their moment of glory, it seems. Through two weeks of camp, all four of the top corners on the roster have at least one interception.
—Right tackle Eric Winston took over the starting spot from Bobby Massie after only a week of being on the roster. Initially, it was thought that there would be more shifting of linemen in an attempt to get the right group out there. But as of Wednesday, the only changes to the starting rotation were Winston over Massie and free-agent signee Paul Fanaika filling in at right guard for the injured Daryn Colledge.
—UDFA nose tackle Padric Scott had a nice first two weeks. He has shown up defending the run a few times against the third-string offense, and he appears able to hold his ground well. Being short (he’s 6’0” for a defensive lineman helps him get leverage. The lower one can get, the better.
—There could be a good battle for the final wide receiver spot over the coming weeks. Both Charles Hawkins and Jaron Brown provided highlights throughout the first two weeks of camp. Throw four-year veteran Jarett Dillard into the mix, and there you have your typical, everyday fight for one of the final roster spots. Robert Gill was in that mix until he re-injured his hamstring early in camp; he has yet to return to work but remains with the team for now.