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Breakfast with Bruce: Improving tackling, rookie QBs and defensive personnel

(Twitter photo/@CardsMarkD)

Wednesday morning at the Arizona Biltmore, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians sat down to chat with members of the media for nearly an hour.

Arians was there for the NFC Coaches Breakfast, which helped to wrap up the NFL’s annual meetings.

The topics Arians discussed were wide ranging — some had to do with his team as well as the NFL Draft, while others had to do with how some his former players will fit in new locales. He was also asked about his role on the competition committee, and prodded to share his thoughts on some of the rule changes.

It was a casual setting for a coach who fares well in most media sessions, and below is the first installment of our “Breakfast with Bruce” series, in which we will highlight the best of what Arians had to offer.

Part one of the three-part series can be found here, and part three will be published Friday.

On the NFL tweaking the rules for more contact

“No, I don’t think anything will happen until the CBA comes up again.”

On improving the Cardinals toughness

“Well to me it’s not the toughness, it’s the tackling. Tackling is a lost art, guys don’t know how to use their arms. There’s a great new invention of mobile dummies, that you can actually remote control and they can tackle moving targets and do that all spring. So I think that’s a great new invention to help the game to teach how to tackle at all levels, but probably too expensive for junior high. But that’s a great new invention. I think you’ll continue to see those types of innovations in the sport where tackling becomes a better art form. When I was taught to play football you never used your head, you used your shoulders, and I think through the ’70s and ’80s we got that big ESPN prime time hit that you’ve got to put on television and that took off.”

On it being the first year of remote-control tackling dummies for the Cardinals

“Yeah this is the first time we’ve had them.”

On why he decided to have the remote-control dummies

“Just seeing the technology. Being able to hit a moving target. We’ve used the donuts that came out last year, they really helped guys put their on the side. But it’s not the same as going to the ground, taking something to the ground and getting your body accustomed to going to the ground without using your head.”

On moving Jared Veldheer to right tackle

“We’re so fortunate, we have two left tackles, most people don’t have any and somebody’s going to play right. Right now it appears Jared is going to make that move. I haven’t completely sold him on it, but I want to see him at that position first. I saw D.J. (Humphries) play right, but I would like to see Jared try it, because it’s all about what’s best for the team and he is the ultimate team player.”

On Arians downplaying the cornerback opposite of Patrick Peterson

“I don’t care who you put on the other side of Patrick, he’s getting picked on! I mean, Cro (Antonio Cromartie) went back to the Pro Bowl at the end of his career because he was opposite of Patrick. And Coop (Marcus Cooper), everyone thought we didn’t have one last year and he’s making a lot of money now. So I think Brandon (Williams) is going to be fine. He got thrown into the fire, he had a couple of communication problems, that’s where that leadership back there is going to help early in the season and Coop got the chance to play. I think Justin Bethel is going to play a hell of a lot better if he can finally practice. He hasn’t practiced for two years on that broken foot, so he can now have a chance to really compete as a corner and get better, rather than just throwing him out there when we had to have him, and that’s not fair to him. But I think he’s going to really, really take off with it this spring. So I feel fine with those guys and this draft is loaded with corners. And corner is a position, I don’t think you need two or three years to learn how to play bump and run man to man. That’s your dude, it’s dude coverage, you’ve got your dude go get him. We’ll teach you how to bump maybe a little bit better. Another one of my pet peeves is in OTAs we can’t play bump and run, we’re a bump and run team and we can’t teach the techniques that we learn, that we want to play with until we get to training camp, because of the CBA.”

On if he regretted what he said about Justin Bethel at the press conference

“No, no, because only one line of that was used. Because I said it was not his fault because of his broken foot. That part never got to the article it was just me saying it was a failure in progress, because of not being able to practice. It’s funny because his father came to practice that Saturday and grabbed me and said, ‘You trying to motivate my son?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I think it’s working.'”

On Robert Nkemdiche’s work ethic being a concern in college and now in the NFL

“I wouldn’t say any of those concerns were off the field, other than just learning to be a pro. The little bit of time he was healthy, we saw the things we needed to see that we made the right pick. That ankle injury was more severe than probably any of us knew until the end of the season when it reoccurred and it was a slight tear. It’s all healed now, and when you kick everybody’s [butt] from high school through college, you don’t have to work that hard. But all of a sudden, these guys are kicking your [butt] and you better learn how to work. That’s all rookies, not just Robert. But he learned to work, I have no problem with his work habits, especially in the second half of the season.”

On Marcus Cooper’s growth as a player

“Coop is one of those really, really bright guys, studies a lot of tape, knows how to anticipate what’s coming and he’s got good hands. So he put himself in the right position a lot of times, probably could’ve had two more interceptions and he’s an okay-solid tackler and he’s got good length. That’s the thing about the corner position with these big, tall receivers, you have to have some length.”

On the right guard position 

“I think Evan Boehm those last three ballgames showed that he could play that position. He will be starting at right guard the first day.”

On how ready the quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft are to play now

“So far I would say one of the guys, I’m not going to mention names, I think one of them is probably ready to start as a rookie. I think all the rest, there are some really talented arms that need a year of learning how to play the position, especially at this level.”

On Mitchell Trubisky starting for just one season at North Carolina

“Really talented player. The growth potential is obviously there. The question is why wasn’t all that talent starting for the last three years. That’s always bugging me. So you have to go and answer those questions, with him, with his coach. But the physical talent is there.”

On the certain skills he’s looking for in a quarterback

“First of all you have to have some stature. There are no 5-foot-11 quarterbacks, haven’t been any since Doug Flutie and it took him a hell of a long time to get in, and the game has changed since Fran Tarkenton played. So you have to have some stature, you have to have some arm strength, it doesn’t have to be a cannon, because most guys with a cannon wait to see the guy get open then they throw a fastball. Those get intercepted the other way. You have to have some anticipation, so if your arm isn’t quite as strong you usually anticipate better and you’ll get it out on time. Accuracy is the key. Being able to decipher the information, what’s my protection? Am I hot?  Do I have a sight adjustment weak side? What’s the coverage? Who do I throw in this coverage? That all happens in 1.5 seconds, so if you can’t process that information, you probably can’t play.”

 On whether those traits can be coached in the NFL

“It’s real hard. You can either process information, you have the brain ability, or you don’t have it. That’s the hardest thing to evaluate.”

On whether quarterbacks can improve their accuracy in the NFL

“You know it’s just like a professional golfer. Sometimes great ball strikers can’t putt, you can teach them how to putt. It’s harder to teach them to be a ball striker. I think that you can change his throw, but can’t anticipate playing him as a rookie, because that changes. Look at Tiger, changed his swing twice, it took him a year to get that thing to where he trusted it in action and that’s the same thing with throwing a football.”

On quarterbacks learning specific things from coaches

“It goes back to not being able to be with out players. That’s coaching, so when they do send them up to someone else, they better be teaching the exact same things you’re teaching, or you’re going to be reteaching and it’ll be another year.”

On whether quarterbacks should play in their rookie season

“Again, that’s the evaluation. If you’re plug-and-play, then this draft is very small. But if you have time to bring them along, then this draft is large, because the talent level is there. But the plug-and-play guys are very small.”

On the level of coaching the quarterbacks in college

“I think with the quality of coaching in college right now, they’re going to come. All these seven-on-seven camps, you’re going to get better passers, whether the offense they are in. Do they develop a full-field pattern read or are they just half and half with some of this spread stuff? But you’re going to get taller, faster, better-arm guys than when I was coming out and everybody was running the wishbone.”

On whether his former player Ben Roethlisberger will play in 2017

“I think so, just a hunch.”

On how the spread offense affects players when they get to the NFL

“It’s changed how we coach. We now know what to anticipate with offensive linemen, defensive linemen, quarterback that it’s going to be harder to plug-and-play these guys because you’re getting a better athlete but less of a football player, technically. So you have to take that athlete and coach him harder. Since you’re doing it from scratch, some offensive linemen have never been in a three-point stance in high school and college. You’re seeing more offensive line coaches evaluating defensive linemen, because they are going to have to teach him everything anyway. Seattle has done a great job of that.”

On how the NFL is different than college for quarterbacks

“You go through the chalk board things. How do they learn? Can they regurgitate it? How smooth are they in the presentation? Then you get around them, what kind of moxie do they have? Do they have a presence? Do they have a swagger? They’ve got to have something to get in the huddle. This is the biggest problem, the young kids today, they’ve never got in a huddle and looked at ten other guys who’ve got families to feed and how to call a play. They just look to the sideline, kick their foot and roll. That is the hardest thing for these kids to come in mini camp and get in a professional huddle and try to lead these guys. First of all, you have to give them a wristband, because they can’t spit it out or you have to tell them three times, and now all the guys are getting pissed off in the huddle because he can’t call the play. You give him a wristband so they can read it. They’re reading something, I’m not making eye contact with you, and you know I’ve got a whole lot of confidence, I know what the hell I’m talking about. That has been the last, gosh, since I got Dennis Dixon in Pittsburgh, that has been the biggest problem. We had a young guy in Pittsburgh who had all the talent in the world, but he could not call a play and he could not go to the line and use his snap count. He just struggled with it and he lost all his confidence.”

On his young quarterbacks having accountability 

“I’ve got our offense. Byron will put it up there and teach him three basic plays and about eight formations. They’re going to go watch his offense and they’re going to get a bunch of his bad plays. Tell me what you’re thinking or why did the ball go here, and if they start blaming other people, okay, that tells me something. ‘Coach I just screwed it up. I tried to make something out of nothing. My first read wasn’t there so I,’ I like this guy. He’s honest first of all, and he’s got a reason for what he was doing, so you can work with that. That’s the fun part of getting to know these guys and look at them and evaluate them. What’s their ceiling, mentally?”

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