After a weekend of definitely not normal -- a plane flight that went nowhere, a preseason game canceled -- we've arrived on a mailbag on Larry Fitzgerald's birthday. We have a couple of Fitz questions today, so that's our present to him. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag right here.
From J.R. Sheridan:
"Hey Darren. Right off the bat, I understand life isn't fair. With that said, it must be said, that keeping Andy over KeeSean just rubs you the wrong way. Fans, and more importantly, players. This coaching staff in particular, moreso than any I can remember, is really undermining this idea of 'compete for a job.' Not going over the Zaven/Hicks thing again. What is it about Andy that grants him underserved opportunity? Is it the second-round armor? Is it the refusal to acknowledge they screwed up with the Andy vs DK situation, and releasing Andy would be a admittance of failure? I don't dislike Andy one bit. In fact I think it would be good for him to get a fresh start elsewhere."
I guess I need to know what is rubbing at this point. If it is just that Isabella makes everyone mad because he has not performed as a second-round pick, fine. If you are seriously talking about Isabella vs. KeeSean in this camp, I would have an issue. Yes, Isabella unfortunately missed all the games because of Covid and a hurricane. But I would also say that the time he was on the practice field, I thought he looked solid, and I thought Johnson struggled for a good chunk of camp. Isabella still has a chance to provide something on special teams, something Johnson cannot. So if this is a competing thing, I disagree with you. If this is just a "I'm fed up with Isabella" thing, I can't help that. (And I am curious to know how you are certain this move would rub players the wrong way. Did you speak to some of them?)
From David McCommack:
"I understand why the game was not played in New Orleans and, I'm assuming that changing locations, even back to Arizona was a major cost issue. But, does (did) coach have another plan to give the team some kind of game situation practice to make up for it? Seems that many players still needed the extra game-type environment to be properly evaluated."
I mean, there have been two preseason games and five weeks of practices to evaluate players. I think another game would've been nice, but I don't think it was necessarily going to have a lopsided impact one way or the other.
From Aston Jackson:
"Hey Darren, this would have been a great question for Larry, but now that he's gone it falls to D.J. Humphries given he's the longest-tenured Cardinal. What is it like being the 'last guy' in the locker room? With Larry and P2 gone, D.J. can now say that every teammate he had in 2015 is gone. That's pretty amazing to think about. You have 52 colleagues and friends, not to mention coaches and other people, who are all now gone. Same building, but it's just you. For D.J. its a new experience so maybe he has a current perspective about it."
I can ask him at some point, but this doesn't all happen in a vacuum. Yes, those guys are gone, but the way you describe it, it's like he doesn't get to know the guys coming in along the way. He was obviously friendly with Fitz and Patrick, but he's closer with Justin Pugh, who came in after. It's the nature of the job. There are a ton of people I was friends with that have left since I started with the Cards in 2007 -- life goes on.
From Bob Wooster:
"Are the issues with Jordan Hicks and Chandler Jones put to bed? Based on how much Hicks plays in the packages, he's essentially a pseudo-starter. You can't imagine he's going anywhere at this point. And frankly he shouldn't even feel slighted anymore, considering he essentially is still a starter. Chandler was never getting a new deal, so that whole thing with him was weird. Just wondering if both are for sure set to play on the team this year or if there's still a chance either is traded?"
Once we got to training camp I never thought anything other than Hicks would play this year (and I never once thought Jones would go anywhere.) Now, when you ask if the issues are "put to bed," meaning are they forgotten -- I don't see how. Hicks still isn't starting and still have his paycut. Jones still doesn't have a contract. Both guys are professional. Both guys will play at a high level despite these things. But the issues, I am sure, are still there, and I do not blame them for feeling that way.
From Zak C:
"Is it just me or do I sense a not-so-great change in Kyler's attitude? He kind of is starting to feel like the crowned 'next best thing' without having earned it yet, despite making some good plays at times. He's been inconsistent and is dangerously close to just being a flash in the pan as he's seemingly put the cart before the horse. What's your sense?"
My first sense is, if he is being "crowned," he's not the one crowning himself, so I am not sure how that reflects on his attitude. He's always had confidence in himself. He can't help what others say. I disagree with the "flash in the pan" assessment as well. Can he still improve? Of course. We will see how this plays out. But it's interesting -- I get that you disagree on those who claim Kyler is the "next best thing." But what is the bar to which you are holding him, a player who was Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler in his second year?
From Rudy Vance:
"Hi Darren. Do you believe we may make any waiver wire additions during cuts this year? If you recall Angelo Blackson was a late addition to our team last year, and I thought he played tremendously. I was sad to see him leave. Along those same lines I do believe our defensive line is still somewhat a weak point. At this point its fair to expect Jordan Phillips or Watt to miss time this season (hopefully less than more), but I think its prudent to plan accordingly. Kawann Short is still out there. He'd be a good one. Of course there will always be surprise veteran casualties. I'm wondering if you expect us to take anyone?"
We will know by Wednesday if there are waiver claims but yes, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one. Whether it is a defensive lineman, I don't know. I understand the fear of injuries, but I don't know how many linemen you are expecting them to keep. Watt, Phillips, Allen, Peters, Fotu, Lawrence and possibly Dogbe. I don't see them releasing any of the top six.
From Blain S.:
"Hey Darren. I can't believe we are almost at the season opener! After a long time waiting, I am (FINALLY!) a Rise Up Red Sea card carrying Cardinals season ticket holder! I have been to games in the past but do you have any insider top level tips for me (best food, activities, things to see and do, etc, etc)? Thx!"
Unfortunately I don't have the time to have first-hand knowledge of that stuff, but you can go to this page every home game for some details, and I am sure some fellow readers can also chime in on what their favorite activities would be to do,
From Joseph Cammiso:
"Throwback: What do you think the reason was for Ryan Lindley getting the start over Logan Thomas in the 2014 Wild Card game. Bruce Arians as we know doesn't really like to play rookies. I get it. Obviously Ryan is out of the league. Logan is now a tight end which speaks to his athletic ability but not his QB skills. We know Logan didn't pan out as a QB but like Lindley was hardly good enough to make a team every year and eventually didn't. Logan had the drive to learn a whole new position and hang around despite the odds. That says something about his love for the game and his drive to compete. I just don't see how a D grade pocket passer gives you a better chance to win than a D grade athletic 6-6 250 pound dude who can chuck it 50 yards. I will never forget Logan's pass to Andre Ellington for 75 yards. It was a thing of beauty hit him right in stride. Good arm. Yes he went 1-7 that game against the broncos but still. I just thought we gave up on the Logan Thomas project too soon. Rant over."
Joseph, my first thought is that you really need to move on. I can say, watching Thomas all the time, I understand why the Cardinals started Lindley instead of Thomas. (The pass to Ellington was kind of lucky when you look back to that Denver game, but that's a side note.) I disagree they gave up on Thomas too soon; his career since then has proven he was never a quarterback. And he was never going to be a tight end with the Cardinals; he wasn't mentally there at that point.
From John Tharp:
"This one may be a little work. It seems like opponents miss a lot of field goals when playing in Arizona. Can you find out what the opponents' field goal percentage is since the stadium has opened? It may be that you remember the misses because they are big plays, but I really believe State Farm may be hard on opponents kickers."
I have to be honest, I almost passed on this question because of the work involved. I wasn't sure I had the time to do the research. (I actually didn't, but I did it anyway.) Since I spent the time, everyone needs to see the work, in the form of this table:
From Stacy Wright:
"Darren, during the start of Kyler Murray's first year, much of the league was keenly focused on his use of the 'hand clap' to signal the start of a play. I understand the hysteria surrounding a new college coach hitting the NFL scene, known for the much ballyhooed, 'Air Raid' offense, which in the case of the Cardinals never really manifested itself, yet the clapping of the hands resulted in Murray being often penalized, all while other QBs in the league were not. The Cards and Murray stopped the practice altogether. Is this tactic legal today and if so, do you see the Cardinals reinstating it on an infrequent basis to gain an edge on opposing defenses?"
The snap-clap is legal, but the Cardinals moved away from it because it was drawing the penalties. You are right, it did and does feel like the Cards and Murray were getting flagged for issues that seemed to go unflagged when veteran QBs used it. I don't think it makes much sense to go back to it at this point, although I did see it a time or two during training camp.
From Matthew Chadduck:
"At the end of the Chiefs game, Gore makes a literal game-winning high IQ play to beat us and all three ESPN announcers crap on him saying he was probably confused and doesn't know what he is doing. Isn't that an absolute embarrassment to all of football? I sure wouldn't want them calling a Cardinals game ever again. What are you thoughts?"
I think you're being a little over the top here. Gore made a smart play not to score, although he did run out of bounds when he shouldn't have. I wouldn't say that's the play that beat the Cardinals either, just one that sealed the game. I didn't hear the call of the game -- I was in the press box -- but if they lit him up for not trying to score, then that's a big mistake. If they had an issue with him running out of bounds, then I think it was fair criticism.
From Matthew Stroh:
"Hello again from Tucson. Is it bittersweet for you seeing both Kyle and Lisa leaving? I know Kyle sorta went to bigger things. Where did Lisa go? Are you scaring employees away or are you training and teaching them and helping them grow to bigger better things. Love the mailbag. Go CARDS."
Of course if I had a choice both Kyle and Lisa would still be around, but life never stops and both of them are much younger than I am and in a different point in their lives. I hope I am teaching/training the best I can. But you'd have to ask them that.
From Cy Fredrick:
"The Athletic Football Podcast with Nate Tice and Robert Mays discussed coaches at a crossroads in 2021. Kliff Kingsbury came up and I think their comments were interesting. Basically they said that the Cardinals offense never looks easy, everything seems to be hard. Then they made some comments about lacking identity as an offense under Kliff and that it feels like a lot of 'callin' ball' plays and no resemblance of a plan in place. Kilff has gotten where he is because he can coach, so these comments cannot be 100% true. Where, in your opinion are Nate and Robert wrong and where might they be on to something? Thanks for the mailbag, great stuff as always!"
I'll be honest, given that I am not in the meetings or the planning, I don't know where the comments might make sense. I do agree generally that the playcalling/planning has to take another step for Kliff just like Kyler's play needs to take another step. I find it hard to believe, since Kliff has a lot of coaches on his staff that have been through NFL stuff, that they would not have some sort of plan. This, however, is obviously an important season for Kingsbury, and all eyes are going to be on the offense.
From Ricardo Spencer:
"Hello sir, my question is how does Coach Kingsbury get better at his play calling at situational football moments with the lack of preseason games?"
I'd say 2020 had a lack of preseason games. This year only had one fewer than expected, because of the hurricane. Besides, no team is getting full "situational" moment playcalling in preseason because they aren't gameplanning and they aren't using the full playbook. I'd argue that when Kingsbury is calling plays in closed practice it's a more realistic situation in which to call plays than preseason games.
From Sonny Azcards:
"Hi Darren. What do you think of TE Ross Travis and WR Antoine Wesley making the team, both sizes are noticeable on the field. Looks like they have advantage when catching passes over defenders. Without Arnold our big body pass catcher need replacement. Wesley maybe tough as he is a WR, but if this was in your hands would you take Wesley or Isabella?"
Isabella, given his tools, still makes more sense to me. I think Travis is intriguing, but the experience of Demetrius Harris may get him the nod as the third tight end. I like what Wesley has shown too, but I agree that it is going to be difficult to knock off Isabella this year. I could be wrong, but I feel like the fan's perspective on Isabella and what the Cardinals think are not quite the same.
From Lou Daniels:
"No reason to get upset about Kliff's handling of Kyler this preseason. It doesn't hurt anyone but Kliff himself. Kliff's job is on the line, not Kyler's. Kyler isn't going anywhere. So if he's confident that his QB is ready and able to save his bacon with no additional reps, then that's up to him. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I REALLY hope they don't blow up the whole team. Sean Kugler and Saxon and Buck are some of the best position coaches we've ever had. It would be a travesty to lose them. It's been said by others by I think Kugs would be a phenomenal head coach. As for the team, we go as far as Kliff and Kyler take us."
For starters, Kugler said early in camp he doesn't have an interest in being a head coach anymore anywhere. So there's that. But I think you're getting way ahead of things talking about blowing up the roster. No games have even been played. I'll say this: I agree that people need to let Kliff coach and choose preseason playing time how he sees fit. It is ultimately his job that will be judged on how the team performs.
From Ben Vance:
"Hi Darren. Now that public practices are over and we are onto the more normal practice schedule of an NFL season I was curious if you could discuss the differences between open and closed practice. I know that practice is closed to reporters, however I'm sure in your 20 years you peaked at something you weren't suppose to see once or twice. When going to Cards camp in the stadium, I was always struck by how ineffective it seemed. Positional groups going through drills felt like guys were going through the motions, moreso than working hard and learning. Scrimmages seemed to be the only valuable portion of the practice I saw. So I've always wondered how different closed practice looks in comparison. Is there more seriousness and more teaching moments? I don't want to compare my piddly time playing high school football to the NFL, but I know the most valuable practice time for me was walkthroughs."
So, to begin with, the Cardinals do plenty of walkthroughs every day, and you never see those. I'm not sure why you feel positional drills are ineffective; that's the part of practice repetition that has to be drilled every day. They are supposed to be "going through the motions." Closed practice doesn't look much different than open practice. Are they working on plays and some packages that they kept hidden when fans were in the building? Yes. Over the years, sure I've seen some trick plays that can't be reported upon, but mostly, it's just football practice.
From Stevie Henderson:
"Not a question, just comments and observations. I just listened to Cardinals Underground with Felipe Corral, Jr. and was really impressed. I loved the generational input as well as his knowledge and his observations of the players at practice and during the preseason games. He should become a regular participant on this podcast. I like the idea of diversifying the podcast contributors as your audience is not solely made up of mature white males. As a mature white female, I appreciate the opportunity to keep up with the younger generation's culture and language and the occasional feminine perspective on the Cardinals. I have really felt the loss of Katherine Fitzgerald and Lisa Matthews when watching, listening and reading Cardinals interviews and podcasts. Still love you and Paul, too, though, Darren. Keep up the good work and intelligent evolution of all the various Cardinals' media. Now if we could only get Wolfley to realize we are in the 21st century and he hasn't played for 25 years!"
Thanks Stevie. We will continue to have some Felipe, and my soon-to-be cohort Kevin Parrish Jr. will also bring a younger dynamic. We are aware of our current demographic in our department -- I wish Lisa and Kyle hadn't left, and if Katherine hadn't gone to Buffalo, I would've tried to have her come in place of Kyle -- and this feedback is good to hear. I agree that Felipe did a nice job in his maiden voyage on Underground.
From Simon from China:
"Hi Darren. No question here, just wanted to tell you how excited I am to have Dave Pasch's podcast now in my feed. Absolutely loved the first few episodes and the stories and anecdotes he and his guests share. Can't wait for more. I am also very happy with the addition of 'New Kyle' Felipe, who brings a fresh vibe to the Underground podcast. Really excited to see how the entertaining 'boomer vs millennial' dynamics will grow! Lastly, I wanted also to give a shoutout to the Fight Plan series. I certainly enjoy watching it more than Hard Knocks, which has become over-stylized and dull. One suggestion: it would be cool if the show could focus on a few players on the edge of making the final roster and see their daily struggles and successes. This year, it could have been players like Eno, KeeSean or maybe even Andy Isabella. Big props to the media department!"
No Boomers here. I'm Gen X, and I'm pretty sure Paul is too. Just FYI -- I don't need to be thought of any older than I am. That's an interesting suggestion for Flight Plan. I will pass it along. Thanks for the feedback.
From Josh M:
"Hey Darren. I know you may scream at another Fitz comment/question but seeing how he's handled his transition into retirement irks me a little and I wonder how many other fans it sort of leaves a bad taste in their mouth. OBVIOUSLY he has the right to do as he pleases and has earned the right etc. etc. but I can't help but think this is a little selfish by not just being more straightforward. There are really huge Fitz fans around the world and for him to think a Hall of Famer and a huge community guy can just 'fade' away seems a bit silly and sort of disrespectful. I don't see the harm in just saying 'Hey, I'm probably done with my playing days but there's always a small chance I could get the urge/itch to play this fall. It's been a great ride and thank you.' Not trying to be his speech writer or anything but there are ways to communicate your intentions and still keep it short and not become too big a distraction. Maybe he has a master plan but right now it's just annoying. Okay rant over. I'm hoping as the teams writer you can empathize 🙂."
I mean, he kind of said just that last week, didn't he? I'd love clarity, if only because we want to celebrate his career when it is over with the content he deserves. But ultimately, it is his decision to do it how he pleases. I see some fans getting upset, like yourself, but I don't know why. If it's because you are worried he could still sign elsewhere, OK. But I don't think that would ever happen, and it's not like the Cardinals have stalled their roster building because of this.
From Gary Wang:
"Darren, thank you for all your hard work and answering our questions. I have felt all along that Larry is coming back if we made the playoffs. (I also believe that the Cards have a new Chandler Jones contract worked out to restructure and extend his contract to pay Larry) From Larry's words it sounds like my thoughts could be true. Right now I feel like he doesn't want to grind the training camp, preseason and early games to subject his body and possible serious injury if they are just going to miss the playoffs. But if we are in or looking like we are going to be in he will stay ready, healthy and able to come back. Do you think this could be a possibility?"
I've said this many times -- I think he is done. His recent comments leave the door cracked, but even he said it's not just about chasing a ring but embracing the process of winning a ring, and missing camp and half the regular season most certainly would not be that. Until he says he's done, I know the possibility exists, but I just don't see it happening. Sorry to be so blunt on Fitz's birthday.