Wednesday morning, at the Arizona Biltmore, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians chatted with members of the media for roughly an hour.
He was there for the NFC Coaches Breakfast, which was part of this week’s annual NFL Meetings.
Arians touched on a variety of topics — and avoided at least one other — throughout the morning. There were a lot of smiles and laughs, as well as the classic Arians sound bite.
Below is the third and final installment of our “Breakfast With Bruce” series, in which we will highlight some of the best stuff the third-year coach had to offer.
What does John Brown need to do to take step from rookie year
“He learned to play in press man-to-man. He’s got to get a little more physical, get a little more strength. He can’t escape running around out here all the time; he’s got to be able to get down the field faster. And that’s hard because we’re not allowed to play bump-and-run in practice until training camp. But he learned the nuances of the game. For a rookie, I thought he did a heck of a job because his natural position is in the slot and he played outside a lot. And once guys were pushing him and shoving him, mostly illegally, that he struggled. And he hit the wall about Christmas.”
On the Carson Palmer/Larry Fitzgerald relationship growing, hitting its stride last season
“I think both guys were very comfortable in the offense. Carson had had enough now where he understood it. Larry has started to play extremely well inside, and outside. But his inside play had really improved and there was a nice trust factor. Larry struggled early when we gave him two or three-way options. He played faster when he had one option, well you’ve got to learn to play almost as fast with a few options. He has progressed so much, I don’t think there’s any doubt they can go down now on an option route and Carson will know where he’s going, and the ball’s on time and Larry’s going to make those big, physical catches inside. He’s a true mistmatch in there, and it really showed up, I thought, in the playoff game.”
On convincing someone like Fitzgerald to learn new positions/roles
“You have to press the envelope, then you also have to not ask him to do too much. If he’s playing slow, I’m asking him to do too much. You’ve got to put him in a position to play fast. That’s my job.”
On how he feels about his tight ends
“I’m really excited. Troy (Niklas) is going to be a good player, we’ve got to keep him healthy. I thought Darren (Fells) made the step. He made the step to the NFL, now can he make the step as a consistent, every-day player. But his December-January play was really good. Made some catches, made some blocks. I think John (Carlson) lost his swagger a bit after a couple of dropped passes. The guy never drops passes, but it gets in your head. We talked about it in his exit interview, I think he’ll come back better than ever. We’ll still just see how, can we find another young guy to fill that multiple role who can play on special teams? To dress as a third and fourth tight end, you’ve got to play on special teams.
On Michael Floyd’s progression
“I think Mike was a victim, of all people, of the quarterback situation last year. And I think some frustration went into his play at times. But he still needs to hit a consistency level. He’s a thousand-yard player every year. He should have had a thousand, easily, last year. There were some balls that we expect him to come down with in the end zone that he didn’t come down with last year. That’s what’s holding him back from being elite. The game he had, the last game of the year in ‘Frisco, he’s proven what he can do to make big plays for us.”
On Jaron Brown taking the next step
“He already took it. Everybody remembers one play – he dropped a ball in Seattle. He was our most productive player in the red zone last year, and he would have really been had he caught that one. But he made play after play; won the Kansas City game with an unbelievable catch in the seam. Great throw, great catch. Yeah, he’s already made that step. Dynamic special teams player. He, to me, could go out and start any ballgame and I’d never worry about him.
On Calais Campbell being explosive and dominant this year
“I hope so. I’d like to see a more consistent player out of him. He went to the Pro Bowl, but I still think he’s not even scratched his consistent level of play. He disappears too much. I told him that the other day, you can’t disappear in games anymore. You’ve got to be dominant the whole game.”
On how much being in the Pro Bowl will help Calais
“I only saw him for a minute…you automatically see swagger in a guy as he changes. Haven’t been around him enough to see it to know. But I would hope. Saw it in Justin Bethel, especially the second time because he’s been around rehabbing a lot. I’ve seen a little bit of it in Calais just the other day, but I want to see it on the field.”
Is this a make or break season for Cooper?
“No, no. He’s just got to stay healthy,” Arians said. “Every time Coop gets out there he’s still a rookie. He’s only played, what, three games last year? No games the year before. So he’s always going back to step one, so it is frustrating. But right now he looks great and hopefully he can stay healthy; there’s no question he has the ability to be a heck of a player.”
On the offensive line
“I really like where we’re at right now. I think we have really good depth, really good competition. Adding Mike (Iupati) on the left side, not only is a very physical, passionate guy, but he’s an excellent puller, he’s good in space. We know Coop is very athletic, so we can do some more things. Our screen game improved last year, but more plays to get it to the outside with athletic people, because both our tackles can run. The completion we’ll have at center. We’ve still got Earl Watford, Bradley Sowell, guys who have played a lot of football, and Bradley started for a year. So we have good competition, good depth. And that’s probably the least of my concerns right now is offensive line.”
On Veldheer and Iupati making each other better
“It’s getting into chemistry. That’s two truckloads coming down there on a double team; they should be dominant. And they do take a lot of pride in it. I’ve only been left-handed running one time in my career, and that was in Indy a couple years ago with (Anthony) Castonzo, and it’s like, I don’t mind running left, I don’t mind telling you we’re coming over there. Stop it.
“That will be my challenge to those two guys: Come up to the line and tell them, ‘We’re running right here, stop us.’ That’s the attitude we want to have.”
On John Abraham’s prognosis
“John still has to get past the MRI on his brain, and the last I’ve heard he has not passed it yet.”
On what he thinks of the NFC West teams making changes
“Interesting, to say the least. I wasn’t really excited to see Jimmy Graham go to Seattle. But that was a great move for them. They continue to do a great job; I think John Schneider and Pete are a great combination. I was extremely surprised to see the things that happened in San Francisco, but they obviously have a plan. Jimmy (Tomsula) is a heck of a guy and I think he’ll be a good leader for them. St. Louis, Nick Foles played very well, now it’s again, was it a system, can he go to a different system? I think there will be some growing pains there but he is a proven winner in the league. And I’ve always thought Sam Bradford was a great quarterback, he just was unlucky.”
On the 2015 running back class
“I think this might be the best group, top to bottom, that I’ve seen in about 10 years. There are some teams in college now running the ball. Not just the top two or four guys, but all the way down. There are 15 really quality running backs in this draft.
Will you get one of those running backs?
“I think we’ll have a chance to get one we really like.”
On how he’s changed as a coach
“I think experience, just experience. If I coached today the way I coached at Temple I’d be in jail. You’re not allowed to coach today like we coached in the 80s or the 70s. You don’t jump in, facemask, pull ‘em out of the huddle. That’s just the way we coached back then. You had to learn to keep your hands to yourself a little bit more. But no. Evolving. I was very fortunate to be around guys like Joe Pendry and Tom Moore. Once I got into the NFL I was around really quality coordinators who understood and knew the game. Took bits and pieces from all of them, and when I finally got a chance to coordinate I used it all. But I hopefully haven’t changed who I am, the way I coached. I swore that as a head coach I’d never take that pill; some guys take two of them, just change their personality. And they’re a different guy because they’re a head coach all of a sudden.”
On when he knew James Bettcher was going to be a coordinator
“When I hired him two years ago. He was already in line. There’s an evolving thing on our staff. Guys climbing the ladder and there’s the veterans up here teaching them how to do it on the staff. The questions that come up, you make sure they learn what happened right there, why we did what we did so that when you’re ready to be the coordinator, you’re ready to do it. You try to put them in positions to be ready other than calling the actual plays. My job is to push my coaches. When I get out of this business, I would like to have four or five guys out there. That would be my dream.”
On the identity of his offense
“I think whoever’s playing quarterback plays better with a good running game. When you go through four of them, it’s very difficult to have continuity in the passing game. Then, when you lose your running back, it’s a bit harder to have continuity at running game. I think losing Andre and Jonathan were more devastating at times than losing our quarterbacks. I thought Ryan, at times, played extremely well. That first half in San Francisco, you couldn’t play better. Like a 150 quarterback rating. Then, when teams adjusted, he didn’t adjust well. And that’s experience. Logan, again, we would do things different. We obviously ran the read-option in the playoff game on third down for about eight yards. That’s something he could handle, and we would probably incorporate more if he were our quarterback.”
On if it’s possible to be successful without a franchise quarterback
“It depends what you consider success. You can win a lot of games and you can get to the playoffs. If that’s success, then yeah. But I don’t think, when you look at who’s won most of the Super Bowls, it’s an elite quarterback. They beat that running team that had a great defense most of the time. Now, I think of the Ravens with Trent — but Trent was very efficient that year. That’s probably the last one I can think of.”
On if Darnell Dockett going to San Francisco was a surprise?
“No. It’s a business decision. You can take all the feelings out; everybody knows how I feel about Darnell. But to go to the Niners, it’s a business decision for him and I wish him all the best.”