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Dealing Cards: Notes from a weekend of Cardinals practices

Arizona Cardinals running back Elijhaa Penny (35) celebrates his touchdown with Brittan Golden (10) and J.J. Nelson (14) as linebacker Gabe Martin (50) kneels on the ground during an NFL football training camp Saturday, July 29, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals played the first of five preseason games Thursday, falling to the Dallas Cowboys 20-18.

They had the following Friday off, but returned to the field over the weekend with a pair of practices that were closed to the public.

Saturday morning’s session was held outside on a field adjacent to University of Phoenix Stadium, whereas Sunday’s was back in their normal cool confines.

While there is not much we can report on from the practices (the only part that is “open” to the media usually involves basic drills and nothing of any real note), here are some highlights from the weekend.

Roster notes

Missing Sunday’s practice were WR John Brown (quad), $LB Deone Bucannon (ankle), LB Philip Wheeler, LT D.J. Humphries (hamstring), WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring), DL Frostee Rucker (day off) and LB Jarvis Jones (back).

Arians said Saturday Bucannon is on track with his rehab, and could be ready for Week 1. He said Sunday they expect to have Brown back this week, while Humphries’ issue is minor.

Preseason Game No. 2

Bruce Arians said Saturday that his team’s starters would be on the field for about 15 plays Saturday against the Raiders, and on Sunday he was asked to be more specific with regards to his quarterbacks.

Starter Carson Palmer will start the game, but, “Drew (Stanton) will take the second quarter and Blaine (Gabbert) will take the rest of the game,” the coach said.

Gabbert was good in the opener, though

Plenty of eyes were on the seventh-year pro in his debut with the Cardinals, and the QB was fairly impressive in his one half of action.

Against mostly second and third-string players, Gabbert completed 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards, capably moving the Cardinals down the field with accurate and timely throws.

“They were probably second-stringers,” Arians said. “With the guys he was playing with, they were our seconds against their seconds. When you play good, you play good. I don’t care who it’s against. I don’t think it matters who was out there. He was throwing to the right guys and those were big-time throws.”

Arians was pleased with a variety of things the former No. 10 overall pick did.

“His poise mostly. His accuracy. I thought his accuracy was outstanding because those balls over the middle were not primary receivers,” he said. “It was a really good throw to Brit (Golden) with tight coverage; and to Troy (Niklas). Just his overall poise and the only negative play was that third-down play.”

Gabbert is not competing to start for the Cardinals, but there is some thought to the idea that he could push for the No. 2 job with a strong preseason. Arians seemed to throw some cold water on that idea, however, saying that yeah, he is competing for the job, but has a long way to go since Stanton knows the offense so well.

A good Baker

For the entire story on Budda Baker’s impressive opening effort, click here.

Badger looks back

We all know what Tyrann Mathieu can do when he’s healthy.

These days, he looks healthy.

Arians said he stood out in Saturday’s practice, in which he recorded a pick-six. It was just another in a growing list of days where the Honey Badger is seen making plays all over the field.

“Every day he’s starting to get an interception, so yeah, he’s getting his hands on balls but I want to see it in games,” Arians said.

The coach will not caution Mathieu against overdoing it in practice in fear of injury because, as Arians said, thinking of getting hurt will lead to exactly that.

But rest assured, the hope is Mathieu will remain healthy because of what he does for the defense.

“Yeah, it’s what you’re looking for,” Arians said. “He was defensive player of the year before he got hurt (in 2015). We’re looking for that back.”

Robert Nkemdiche appears to be stepping up

After a lost rookie season, it appears DL Robert Nkemdiche may be ready to take a step forward as a second-year pro. Craig Grialou has the story here.

Getting in (better) shape

Chad Williams was not necessarily expected to make a huge impact as a rookie, but still, the third-round pick out of Grambling is someone people are looking forward to seeing progress.

He caught one pass for 19 yards in the Hall of Fame Game and will now be in the mix to return kicks for the team, but before he can really make an impact, Arians believes he’ll have to get in better shape.

“He can get in better shape,” the coach said of the 6-foot-1, 204-pound receiver. “He’s a gunner so he’s covering about 20 punts before we start practice and then he gets gassed real quick; then it affects him mentally.”

Williams is not exactly in poor shape, but after a practice like Saturday’s, which was outside in the heat, he certainly understands he has work to do.

“It’s so hot out there,” he said. “You’ve got to pump fluids; you can’t be down on fluids. It’s already burning up, then you put on nine pounds of pads. you have to be conscious of your body and how your body works.

“It’s just one thing about being hydrated and focused out there on your body, because if you don’t it will get the best of you.”

Fitz at the Hall of Fame (not for the last time)

Larry Fitzgerald was in Canton to see former teammate Kurt Warner get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For that story, click here.

Movement at corner

The race is not over yet, but there is a leader.

“Justin (Bethel) is ahead now,” Arians said. “I thought Brandon (Williams) fought his tail off (Thursday). He gave up one but he got an interception. The rest of the guys — Tramon (Williams) looks really good in practice so far. It’s going to pan itself out pretty good.”

What can Brown do for you?

Two years ago, John Brown topped the 1,000-yard mark and looked like one of the game’s better young receivers.

It has been a struggle for him to stay on the field ever since, and after heading into training camp as healthy as he had been in a while, to have him out with a hamstring injury for as long as they have is disappointing.

“Yeah, it’s a shame because he was really getting better,” Arians said. “Hopefully it’s gone and he can finish out the rest of the preseason.”

If Brown returns on Tuesday like Arians expects, he will have plenty of time to get back into the swing of things and be ready for the opener. Still, it would seem to be a concern that for whatever reason, Brown — who also missed the end of minicamp — has been unable to stay on the field.

“That’s more Steve’s (Keim) concern,” Arians said.

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