After every practice, I've been writing what I've seen at practice. Today, I want to focus on Minnesota. Here's what I hope to see Saturday night.
It's ridiculous to find fault in the Cardinals incredible offensive efficiency against Houston. Nothing even rose to the "concern" level after the game. However, the running game didn't come close to looking like a strength, either. The Cardinals have weapons all over the passing game depending on Arizona's ability to protect Carson Palmer. The best way to slow down an opposing pass rush is to run right by it. Although there's plenty of time this preseason, the Cardinals haven't proven a strong ground game is a weapon.
There's no chance Todd Bowles is going to lose any sleep game planning to defeat the Vikings. Bowles will call his defense and evaluate individual player's ability to execute. He will have little interest in showing any of his blitzes. None of that means that one player shouldn't be able to simply beat his man and hit the QB. The Cardinals need more people than Abraham that can pressure the QB without a coaching scheme.
Just keep the show going. No critiques, just continue to prove yourself.
There's real pressure for the kicker spot. The worst would be to release Feely, only to have it proven that was a mistake to take a rookie kicker. Not only does Jay have to be perfect to match Chandler Catanzaro, but he also must prove his kickoffs will be much deeper into the end zone to set up better field position. Jay will win any tie because he's a veteran. Right now, Jay is not tied.
Andre Ellington is running receiver routes. He has all camp but I've noticed more of this lately, the final manifestation of an offense that will try to get him the ball in many different ways. He motioned out of the backfield and ran one of the prettiest 5 routes I have ever seen. He's going to represent a nightmare match-up whether they put a safety on him or a backer.
There are so many ways the Cards can get him the ball but...that really got me thinking. The Cards have so many weapons and one ball.
Larry should have a massive year. The Japanese Fighting Fish is going to draw single coverage more times than he's seen in the last three seasons, combined. Michael Floyd is trending to eclipse last year's 1,000-yard season and should have a monster year. His understanding of the offense, commitment to being a great player and overall athleticism has improved…and this is weird. It doesn't typically happen where scouts are talking about somebody improving their athleticism but the evidence is there: Floyd is smoother, not nearly as stiff as he once was in the hips and upper body and he's catching the ball more naturally than I've ever seen him. Ted Ginn Jr. can run and is a threat merely because he can still run by many DBs. John Brown is getting ready to explode on the national scene. John Carlson does nothing but catch balls all over the field every day. And the TD that was called back on Saturday is just a shadow of what he can do, especially in the red zone.
And now you have to get the ball to Ellington? The Cards have a great problem on their hands: they have weapons. And this is one more reason why I think Carson Palmer is going to get paid after this year! If they can protect him, he's going to explode.
Getting Ellington the ball is paramount but making him the focal point may prove to be a ruse in the end. There's only one ball.
Here are the things that stood out to me watching Wednesday's Cardinal's practice.
There has been the occasional interception, but he has had a great camp. I think I can read Carson pretty well to determine if the INT is his fault or not. When it's his fault, he either puts his hand on his head or runs ahead after the defender to simulate a tackle. If it's the receiver's fault, he uses hand gestures to signal what was expected of the receiver. Bruce Arians usually follows with a profanity-laced tirade at the receiver so I assume Carson is right in those situations.
After explaining that frame of reference, Palmer looks excellent. In the red zone drill, Palmer gave the safety a shoulder fake then hit Fitz in the back of the end zone late in Larry's skinny post route. The throw was perfectly high. Rashad Johnson couldn't get high enough and Larry had the ability to go up and get it. A few plays later, Brittan Golden caught a fade in the front, right corner of the end zone placed in the exact drop zone where only Golden could catch it.
Something that hasn't been discussed is how strong of a camp Arians is having. The pace is excellent. There's been one poor practice out of three weeks' worth of work. Players clearly respond to Arians. Every practice the offense is building in its complexity, but Arians is not letting up on his expectations.
Every practice (except one) he's the last man off the field. Before Jake Ballard retired, Daren Fells had the upper hand on the finishing fifth in the four-horse race for a TE spot that was probably going to be a practice squad spot. From the moment practice began once Ballard's announcement was made, Hardy has jumped from an irrelevant 6th position to winning the last TE spot that will now be on the 53-man roster.
Here's what I saw and experienced at Cardinals practice on Tuesday (full disclosure, I was about 45 minutes late because I had a late meeting):
It finally happened. I was actually there to see it. John Brown made a mistake.
During 7-on-7 drills, Palmer threw what appeared to be a slant pattern. I think Brown sat down and curled it to the sideline. I'm not reporting this to mock John Brown. I report in amazement. After attending every practice except one, I've never seen Brown make a mistake. Immediately after the pass, Palmer gave Brown the "go that way" signal. Coach Arians was just as fast with his sharp tongue.
Although his mistake cost the team an interception, it's a great testament to the rookie Brown that these moments are so rare.
Who was it that made the pick? Yeah, another rookie.
He hasn't shown much in camp. He's been kind of forgotten with how intense the wide receiver battle has been. The only question has been whether Buckner will finish eighth in a five- or six-horse race. Tuesday was his day.
He looked much more athletic and made some great catches. He had one touchdown (notice I said one, Craig Grialou). Didn't fight the ball as he normally appears to. It would take about nine more practices like that for him to close the gap but you have to start somewhere.
Jay Feely is involved in a drag-out kicking battle. He went 7-for-8 on field goals including two from 50+. The one that he missed occurred at exactly the moment Cardinals sideline reporter Paul Calvisi walked under the uprights. The Paul Factor struck.
Heavy screen day by the Cardinals. Almost every drive had a screen mixed in it. The offense didn't re-invent the wheel. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary but a very wide variety of screens. It was a very weak area for last year's offense. An advanced screen game would dramatically help Arizona's offense reach the much higher expectations for this year.
Arizona State football had a closed scrimmage Saturday morning. Coach Todd Graham doesn't mind if I watch the scrimmage as long as I don't say anything about what I see or hear.
Those restrictions do not extend to filling you in on whom I get to talk to while I'm there. I had met Ray Anderson only twice before. We met once at his press conference, and there's no way he could remember one face and name among the sea of people he met that day. The second time was a quick conversation at a luncheon. Despite only two handshakes, he walked by me at practice and said, "Hi, Doug. Good to see you out here."
Obviously a simple greeting, but you have to assume he's done that to a lot of people. I watched him interact with some others. He said, "You guys are welcome back anytime. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you."
Very few people have his level of dignity and professionalism yet bring an inclusive personality to the fold. Anderson does that.
"When you run a disciplined program, of course it helps the good players to become great, but it does a lot more for the undrafted guys. There's going to be times where a team is deciding between two guys to sign. If word gets around that ASU produces hard-working, smart kids, our players will get the benefit of the doubt. I want pro scouts around the program to see what we do."
In the seven-and-a-half years I've lived here, I don't remember an ASU athletic director concerned about giving his football players on the NFL bubble an edge. He talked to me about the intangibles NFL scouts look for when making final decisions. Name an AD in all of college sports who knows more about the NFL than the one running Arizona State athletics. You can't.
So that would let you know he's a football AD. Then I talked to another member of the athletic department who told me about a parent in an Olympic sport who told him the difference for the parent's child between other schools and ASU was the amount of time Anderson spent with the family during recruiting. So he's more than a football AD.
Of course there's going to be a decision Anderson makes that I disagree with, and I'll say it on air or blog about why I thought he was wrong. It was only a few years ago that ASU had one of the worst director of athletics in the Pac-12. Now, it might have one of the best.