GLENDALE, Ariz.—The Arizona Cardinals spent most of Tuesday scrimmaging in 11-on-11 drills, and one player stuck out once again, as he has all throughout training camp.
Rookie Tyrann Mathieu made multiple plays against Carson Palmer and the first-team offense. He will start Saturday’s game at home against the Dallas Cowboys because of Rashad Johnson’s injury, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
But he may have earned a preseason start eventually anyway because of his on-the-field omnipresence.
While the above tweet is currently arguable, it is very possible Johnson does not get his starting free safety spot back. That does not mean he won't play, as his versatility will put him on the field once he's healthy. But at this point, keeping Mathieu off the field—regardless of who’s injured and who’s not—seems like a difficult thing to do. (Here's the Wally Pipp story, if you're not familiar with the reference.)
Here are some highlights and lowlights from Tuesday’s practice.
Note: All information used here was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Three Who Impressed
Robby Toma is a Small Fitzgerald
It’s possible undrafted wide receiver Robby Toma has the best hands of all the rookies at camp. He catches seemingly everything thrown his way, and Tuesday was no exception.
Toma, a little 5’9”, 185-pound receiver out of Notre Dame, made multiple catches using only one hand.
He also did a nice job creating space between him and whomever happened to be covering him on any given play.
As of this week, Toma is a longshot to make the team. With fellow UDFA receivers Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins separating themselves in practice and during the preseason opener in Green Bay, it will be a challenge for anyone to top them.
But Toma would make a perfect addition to the practice squad if he cannot overtake Brown or Hawkins.
Patrick Peterson Doing it All
Already plenty noted is the fact that head coach Bruce Arians has used Patrick Peterson a lot on offense throughout camp. His role on offense until Tuesday had been deep routes, digs and reverses (with a reverse pass or two thrown in for good measure).
That all changed when Peterson was seen working with the receivers in route-running drills; he appears to be running the majority of the route tree now.
Does that mean Arians has decided to expand the 15 plays he has already designed for Peterson?
It could. Peterson adds an offensive dimension not seen in Arizona perhaps ever, and Arians appears ready and willing to use him in an even more expanded role.
Besides running more routes on offense, Peterson played lights-out cornerback and ended practice with a great one-handed interception while covering Kerry Taylor.
If Peterson is used during the regular season as he has been throughout training camp, it could be a historic campaign for No. 21.
Only one cornerback in NFL history has recorded at least four interceptions and double digit receptions in a single season (Billy Stacy, St. Louis Cardinals, 1961). Peterson could realistically do that by Week 9.
Rashard Mendenhall Back and Running Well
This is the best news to come out of Cards camp so far this week.
Rashard Mendenhall, who had missed a week or so of practice while nursing a sore knee, ran very well Tuesday.
He was seen cutting as though the knee was a non-issue, and he scored a rushing touchdown during red-zone drills on an off-tackle play as part of the first-team offense.
He did not produce a “Wow” moment, nor did he break many legitimate tackles (light tackling prevents that), but his presence on the field was a welcome sight.
This is not meant to take anything away from what Alfonso Smith did as the starter in Mendenhall’s absence, because Smith looked very good at times. But if healthy, Mendenhall is a better athlete than Smith is, and he can provide some stability to the running back position.
He Who Depressed
Javier Arenas Leaves Practice Early with Injury
This is depressing not because he performed poorly before being injured, but because of the injury itself. In fact, Javier Arenas looked good once again until his run-in with a football.
It’s speculation at this point until we hear word on its nature Wednesday, but Arenas appeared to suffer a hand injury while attempting to catch a pass during defensive backs drills.
He was in obvious and noticeable pain immediately, shaking the hand and kicking away the football responsible for his pain. A nearby trainer examined the right hand or wrist area for about a minute before leading Arenas off the field and to the locker room.
That wasn’t it, however.
Arenas had to be brought out and placed on a stretcher about 10 minutes later in order to receive an IV—presumably for dehydration—and was rolled away a short time later.
Whatever the extent of the injury, Arenas cannot afford to miss any time. Cornerback has been one of the best competitions at camp, and missing any amount of time could leave him out in the cold and down on the depth chart.
Other News and Notes
—Wide receiver Kerry Taylor showed up Tuesday, making several tough catches look easy. He missed over a week of camp due to injury and is behind the eight ball after Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins’ performances of late.
—The starting offensive line, once again complete with right guard Daryn Colledge, showed improvement in their collective run blocking. Rashard Mendenhall was given decent-sized holes regularly, and he was able to take advantage of them.
—Rookie running back Stepfan Taylor made multiple nice plays Tuesday. At one point, quarterback Drew Stanton slightly overthrew a screen pass to Taylor, and he was able to haul it in with one hand and gain nice yardage because of it.
—UDFA safety Tony Jefferson notched a diving interception of Ryan Lindley, then very nearly picked off Carson Palmer just a few plays later. He has started to show up daily of late, and that could go a long way in him making the roster.
—The front seven played well as a whole Tuesday. Pass rushing was improved from Friday’s game in Green Bay, as Lorenzo Alexander (Palmer), David Carter (Stanton) and newcomer Jonathan Mathis (Lindley) all notched a sack. And at one point, UDFA nose tackle Padric Scott blasted through the interior of the second-team offensive line to stop Stepfan Taylor behind the line of scrimmage.