Dealing Cards: Bruce Arians’ return to Indy, Jim Dray’s return to Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. — Visiting Indianapolis is something Bruce Arians has done countless times. It’s where he goes each February for the NFL Scouting Combine.
But this trip is different. And everyone knows it.
Never before has Arians returned to a place where he served as that city’s NFL head coach. Of course, it was on an interim basis, a stint that ultimately led to him landing his first full-time NFL head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals.
Five years ago, Arians was asked to fill in for Chuck Pagano, then in his first year as head coach in Indianapolis, when he was diagnosed with leukemia early in the season.
Arians went 9-3, helping the Colts reach the postseason.
“I’ll get a feeling when I walk in the stadium,” he said. “It’s different than the combine, that’s for sure. But, I’ve been back and forth as a visitor and the home team about four teams, so it’s no big difference.”
Arians and Pagano have been on opposite sidelines since their time together in Indianapolis. The Colts traveled to University of Phoenix Stadium in 2013, with the two head coaches sharing a warm embrace at midfield before the game.
Another special greeting is expected to take place Sunday inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Oh, it’s just like two brothers going in the backyard. One of us has got to kick the other one’s ass and go back and have — well, we don’t drink milk anymore, but we’ll have milk and cookies,” joked Arians, who added he last spoke with Pagano “right at the end of the last preseason game.”
Arians isn’t the only former Colt making his return.
When Arians arrived in Arizona, he brought with him a pair of coaches: offensive line coach Harold Goodwin, now the Cardinals offensive coordinator, and special assistant to the head coach and outside linebackers coach James Bettcher, who was promoted to Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2015.
For Bettcher, specifically, the return to Indianapolis is significant. He grew up in Lakeville, IN, just outside of South Bend, and can remember, as a kid, going with his father to watch the Colts at the old RCA Dome.
“Maybe that’s what I get out of it, that time with dad when he took us to the game. That was the first one and it was something special,” he said. “But to reflect back to be as lucky as I am to have the job I have right now, that’s really the reflection for me.”
A handful of Cardinals players also have Colts ties, including safety Antoine Bethea.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be fun. My first time going back to Indy since leaving,” he said, “so it’s going to be fun but at the end of the day, it’s just going to be a regular game for me.”
Bethea was a two-time Pro Bowler in eight seasons (2006-13) with the Colts, though, he’s not expecting to see a ton of familiar faces.
“I think when I was there, it was maybe three guys: Adam Vinatieri, Vontae Davis and Darius Butler. I think those were the only guys that was there when I was there my last year,” he said.
Needed depth at tight end
With both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas considered questionable for the game against the Colts, the Cardinals signed tight end Jim Dray, who is expected to have a role on Sunday, just three days after being plucked off the street.
“He has some good recall so the packages we have him in, he kind of knows them solidly,” Arians said.
Dray spent the first four seasons of his career with the Cardinals, who drafted him in the seventh-round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Stanford.
“(The offense) is the same, pretty much the same from my fourth year, Coach Arians’ first year. Just like riding a bike,” he said. “Hopefully it feels that way on Sunday.”
After splitting last season with Buffalo and San Francisco, Dray had a brief stint the Colts in the offseason. He participated in a veterans mini-camp. Dray, though, was hoping for a return to Arizona.
“This is home for us,” he said. “Physically, the structure of this building has changed a little bit, but there’s a lot of the same guys here that were here when I was here. It’s kind of nice to see the same faces, players and guys in the office and everything, so it’s kind of fun.”
Haason Reddick grades out well
It wasn’t all bad in Week 1.
Rookie linebacker Haason Reddick excelled, finishing with a team-high 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and a quarterback hit in his NFL debut.
“He was outstanding,” Arians said. “He’s one of those young guys that played extremely well. He got the one penalty with hands to the face, but he was going full speed. He’s fast and he’s going to be a heck of a player.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Reddick, the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, scored the second-highest grade among rookie linebackers, receiving a mark of 80.9 — the highest of any Cardinals player.
“I thought Haason played really well. I loved that what I saw on tape, the first thing that jumped out was a guy flying around and playing fast,” Bettcher said, adding Reddick had no mental errors. “The things that we were hoping he would do in that first game, he showed up.”
Is Sunday a must win game?
The odds say it won’t happen.
Since 2006, only 10 teams have started 0-2 and made the playoffs, most recently the Carolina Panthers in 2013.
In other words, at 0-1, the Cardinals cannot lose this week.
“Good teams, they don’t lose two in a row,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said.
“I feel like they’re all must-wins,” added wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. “It’s not a baseball schedule. We only got one a week and 16 of them schedule and you got to try to win as many of those as you can to put yourself in position.”