PHOENIX — Sunday evening in Phoenix, members of the Arizona Cardinals organization descended upon Steak 44 in Phoenix to support the Arians Family Foundation Fundraiser Dinner.
It was one of many charitable events led by head coach Bruce Arians, and just another in what has been an ever growing list of community-oriented ventures held by the team’s coaches and players.
“Extremely proud of it,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said of the charitable nature. “The coaches and players understand how much of an impact they can have, not only leading and personally getting involved, but also raising money, like tonight, and it’s fantastic.
“The Arians Family Foundation does a lot of special stuff, but the one organization that they support, that I really appreciate, is CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, where they help abused and neglected kids get through tough times. So his wife, Christine Arians, has been involved with that for years and tonight we’re going to raise a lot of money for them, so it’s exciting.”
More on the Arians Family Foundation can be found here, and while the final tally of what was raised Sunday has not been released, no doubt the night was just another notch in the belt for a Cardinals brand that is experiencing success in multiple arenas.
“I’d like to think that we’re trying to be champions on the field and champions off the field,” Bidwill said.
Buzz, thy name is Cardinals
It’s fair to say this upcoming Arizona Cardinals season is the most anticipated one in franchise history.
Such is life following a 13-win season that saw the team fall short in the NFC Championship Game but appear to significantly upgrade the roster over the ensuing months.
Might it all lead to a trip to Houston next February? Time will tell, but for now, as the saying goes, waiting is the hardest part.
“This has definitely been the most excitement,” Calais Campbell said. “But really, every year is exciting — I can’t lie to you and say that, but it’s a little bit more exciting because I really believe we have a real chance. And not only do we have a real chance, but probably a lot of people expect us to make a run for it. I like that; I like the pressure that comes with it.
Campbell added the important thing is taking everything one day at a time and not getting ahead of themselves, which was the message all last season, too.
It worked out pretty well then and it stands to reason they will keep the same approach now, if only because they have no choice but to. The second of three weeks of OTAs begins Tuesday, and from there the team will still have to get through a week of mini-camp and then training camp and preseason before the games start to count.
But make no mistake, fans are not the only ones with a hightened sense of anticipation.
“No, no,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said when asked if he’s ever been part of an offseason with these kind of expectations. “This is definitely uncharted in terms of what we were able to accomplish last year, winning the most games in franchise history.
“Now we understand what it’s like to have that bulls eye on our back.”
Keep blitzing? You Bettcher
Last week, as a guest of Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians earned some attention when he was asked if the team will continue blitzing at the rate it did in 2015 after the addition of pass rusher Chandler Jones and rookie Robert Nkemdiche.
The belief is, of course, that with players like that along with Markus Golden, Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker, among others, the team will not need to send extra defenders after the quarterback nearly as often because they’ll be able to apply pressure with base defenses.
“If I’m calling them we’re still blitzing,” Arians said, with some laughter. “I’m not a big four-man rush guy, I don’t care how good they are.”
Arians said if they have four good pass rushers they have five or six, and noted they have enough coverage in the secondary to allow them to keep blitzing.
Of course, Arians is not the one calling the defense, as that responsibility falls on coordinator James Bettcher. So, what says him?
“Well, it definitely gives you versatility to have guys up front like that,” he said of the team’s base pass rushers. “But we are who we are on defense: we’re an aggressive, attacking defense. We’re not going to sit back and be dictated to. We’re going to find a way to approach each and every week with a gameplan that attacks the things that we want to attack, not sit back and wait to react.
“That’s my personality and I know that was part of Coach promoting me in this position is because that’s my personality as well. That’s our personality as a team. If you watch how we play overall, from offense, defense and special teams. We are who we are, period.”
Since Arians took over in 2013, with Todd Bowles leading the defense the first two seasons and Bettcher last year, the Cardinals blitzed on 46.1 percent of opposing dropbacks, which is by far the most in the NFL.
About this time two years ago, Andre Ellington was being talked about as the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense, a player who could touch the ball 25-30 times per game.
Now, there are questions about whether or not he still fits with what the team is doing.
Since posting an impressive rookie campaign in which he tallied 652 rushing yards and 371 receiving yards in 2013, Ellington has battled injuries and amassed just 949 rushing yards and 543 receiving yards over seasons two and three.
The starter entering each of the last two campaigns, he now appears to find himself behind second-year pro David Johnson and veteran Chris Johnson in the pecking order for touches.
“I’m just excited to finally be healthy, to be able to go out and compete with those guys and contribute to the offense and to the team as well as I can,” he said.
Ellington has never been one to demand carries or anything like that, and as he enters the final season of his contract, appears to have no plans on doing so now. Whether he is slated to have a significant role this season or not, he understands there’s a good chance he will be called up on often during the course of the year.
He may be one of three starting-caliber running backs on the roster, but that kind of depth is not a bad thing.
“That’s what makes it so special,” he said. “Injuries are bound to happen in this game and we’re kind of fortunate to have a lot of guys that can kind of step in there at any time. And even when we’re all healthy, we can all just switch and rotate and keep the offense moving.”
According to recent reports (and Tyrann Mathieu himself), it appears the Cardinals and the defensive back are close to reaching an agreement on a contract extension.
The same is not being said of the team and Campbell.
Campbell is about to enter his ninth NFL season, and like many other players on the roster, the two-time Pro Bowler is slated to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 campaign.
The 29-year-old is carrying a salary cap hit of $15.25 million this season, which, along with his impending free agency, has led some to believe the team would look to redo his deal, too. But so far, all is quiet on that front.
“Nah, not yet,” Campbell said. “Just being patient.”
Campbell said all he can do is be patient while he waits, because these things take time.
“I hired an agent, put him in place to do all the hard work for me,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to do what I do on the football field and try to be the best player I can be and lead this team to a championship. That’s all I can control.”