At long last, the Arizona Cardinals have begun training camp 2014. This piece will lay out some first impressions from Monday’s practice—the first fully padded work the team has done this offseason.
A few defenders were eager to get out there, as evidenced by the shots they were laying on ball-carriers. Rookie first-round pick, strong safety Deone Bucannon, for example, hit rookie second-round pick, tight end Troy Niklas, hard along the sideline at one point. Niklas acted as though Bucannon hadn’t even touched him despite the shot being heard by everyone in the stadium.
Overall, it was a good official start to camp. Even though the team had two practices prior to putting on the pads Monday, it’s not really football until you hear the crack of the pads.
The offense won some battles, the defense won some as well, and a few players stood out early and often. These are the first impressions from Cards camp 2014.
Bobby Massie is Ready to Start
An offensive lineman wants to go unnoticed during games. If that happens, it means he did his job all game and was not caught having a mental breakdown of some kind.
Right tackle Bobby Massie had that kind of day on Monday. General manager Steve Keim told the Doug & Wolf show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM just Monday morning that Massie has a good chance to start, per Nick Krueger:
It’s pretty much his job to lose. Some people forget that when he started as a rookie, the first half of the season, there was no question there were times he struggled, but the second half of that season his rookie year, he played pretty good football.
If he can pick up where he left off there and play focused and continue to not have any mental errors, Bobby’s got a chance to be a pretty good player because he has all the physical tools. There’s not many right tackles that have his feet.
Massie echoed the sentiments of his GM before practice. From the same report: "[Right tackle] is my spot. I’m not giving it up and letting anybody take it. I’m tired of sitting on the bench and watching the game on the sidelines, so this is my year to shine."
From what I could tell, Massie went error-free Monday, stifling the pass rush with ease and providing quarterback Carson Palmer with a clean front side all afternoon. His run protection was up to par as well.
And he really is in the best shape of his short NFL career. Massie looks notably thinner in the hips and butt, meaning he will be quicker to the edge—and he already had quick feet.
Rookie Receiver John Brown Better than Ted Ginn Right Now?
Rookie third-round pick John Brown looked better Monday than free-agent signee Ted Ginn Jr. did. Brown caught everything thrown his way, including providing the highlight of the day with an 82-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Drew Stanton on a deep post. He turned cornerback Justin Bethel into a pretzel as he wove in and out of his route, leaving the speedy rookie wide open for an easy score.
(Aside: Bethel had a day to forget. Not only did John Brown beat him deep, but second-year receiver Jaron Brown did as well.)
Ginn, on the other hand, dropped a couple of routine passes Monday. He made a few nice plays, but dropped passes have been a bugaboo all throughout his career, and the issue reared its ugly head again.
It may be too early to tell right now, but if we see similar performances from both receivers deeper in training camp, Brown could wind up the No. 3 receiver with Ginn relegated to return duties and being the second receiver off the bench.
Logan Thomas Looking the Part
The rookie fourth-round pick looked like just that a couple of times during his first professional fully padded practice. But Thomas was accurate for the most part and even showed some touch at times when he needed to take something off a throw.
You can see that below. During end-zone drills, Thomas showed nice touch on a fade to Jaron Brown.
That’s a new aspect of his game that appears to be taking shape nicely. While there was no defense in his face and obviously no pressure to speak of, it’s a positive start to camp for the rookie project. He will need to further develop the touch pass, and he is not ready to step in and play should the injury bug bite those in front of him on the depth chart.
Early Tight End Report
I spent a good amount of time Monday watching tight ends do what they do, and I came away impressed with one of them. Free-agent signee and current starter John Carlson was far and away the best among the group at the first padded practice of the season. He caught everything, blocked well and showed enough speed to turn short receptions into big-gainers.
He even provided fans with a nice highlight with a one-handed catch in the right flat that turned into a short touchdown. You can see the video here, via AZCardinals.com (it’s at the very end).
Rob Housler did what he does and dropped multiple passes while also making the occasional flashy reception—one such reception over the middle from Stanton will likely end up on the Day 3 highlight reel.
And Niklas struggled catching passes at times and appears behind in the offense. Not only that, but he also could end up running an abbreviated route tree for at least the early part of the season until he learns the routes. He is slow getting out of his breaks, which led to Thomas having to either wait longer to get him the ball or to simply miss him because the big rookie wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
That can be attributed to all of the time Niklas has missed this offseason. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly not good, either. Jake Ballard didn’t do much Monday.
Much more play like Monday and Carlson will lock down the starting tight end spot before a preseason game is played. He looks healthy, and when healthy, he is a really good football player.
–Wideout Larry Fitzgerald spent most of the beginning part of practice—during special teams drills—working his hamstrings with a trainer on the sideline. He dealt with strained hamstrings all of last season, so that could be something to watch.
–Speaking of special teams drills: Now that cornerback Patrick Peterson is just a cornerback and nothing else, he spent his time doing drop-back drills with the quarterbacks and catching passes from them as they warmed up. It was fun to watch. He looked almost bored.
–The block of the day goes to fullback/running back Robert Hughes. He took on starting inside linebacker Kevin Minter during positional drills and just crushed the second-year player.
–Center Lyle Sendlein left practice early with a calf injury, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. No word on the extent of the injury, but free-agent signee Ted Larsen filled in for him, and, after a few kinks between he and Palmer were worked out, there were no major hitches of which to speak.
Unless otherwise noted, all information obtained firsthand by the author.