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Cardinals of a Different Feather

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Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

One of the most notable aspects of Steve Wilks’ introductory press conference as the Cardinals’ new head coach was his vow that he and and his staff would do everything they could to embrace and develop the players on the roster who possess “different personalities.”

This directive to Steve Wilks and his staff obviously came from Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim—-and understandably so. Any Cardinals’ fan who has been closely following the team knew exactly which players Steve Wilks was referring to——the Cardinals of a different feather.

Now that the Cardinals are in the 4th quarter of the 2018 season, let’s take a look at how the “different personalities” are doing under the tutelage of the coaching staff.

T D.J. Humphries

Big, talented, affable, fun loving and a bit goofy.

Almost within days after being selected in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the young 19 year old tackle found himself in Bruce Arians’ and Harold Goodwin’s dog house....so much so that Arians publicly revealed the coaches’ nickname for him: “Knee Deep.”

Humphries was deemed soft-bodied, out of shape, lazy and immature.

He started 0 games as a rookie, then 13 games in 2016, 5 games in 2017 (dislocated kneecap) and only 9 games in 2018 (knee injury).

That amounts to 27 starts in 4 seasons (7.8 a year).

When Humphries was recently placed on the IR, the club said it was to prevent major surgery and to start getting him ready for next year.

Steve Keim said on the radio last week that he sat Humphries down and talked to him about “availability.” Keim, who had already elected to pick up Humphries’ 2019 5th year option at $9.625M reiterated that Humphries would be back in 2019—-but the question is—-how can the Cardinals at this point justify a near $10M salary for a player who has under-achieved and has missed 18 games the past two seasons due to knee injuries?

RB David Johnson

Humble, multi-talented, self-critical, highly dedicated.

The Cardinals, per Terry McDonough’s suggestion, hit a home run with David Johnson in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Johnson’s epic performance in 2016 has all the NFL buzzing.

Then came the season-ending wrist injury in week one of last year.

After holding out during the team’s mini-camp and then reporting to training camp early, Steve Keim elected to re-sign Johnson this off-season to a contract that pays him $13M a year. This contract is akin to the reward contract Keim gave to Tyrann Mathieu—-a year before their current contracts were up.

This season has not gone the way David Johnson and the Cardinals have hoped. Johnson has been the workhorse of a highly unimaginative, conservative offense. As a result, he has been taking a pounding, as time after time he is being asked to hammer into the middle of a defensive wall. Johnson looks tentative. He is not running with his usual burst and uncanny flexibility and while he has remained humble and has been saying all the right things, on the field, he looks mostly demoralized.

The question is: will the Cardinals be able to use an coach Johnson in such a way that he will revert back to his 2016 form?

DT Robert Nkemdiche

Eccentric, explosive, tightly wound, soft spoken and introverted.

The Cardinals gambled that in Robert Nkemdiche they were getting a top 10 talent in the bottom portion of the 1st round in the 2016 NFL Draft. This pick came at a time when the Cardinals were anticipating the loss of DE Calais Campbell in 2017 to free agency.

it was a controversial pick. Nkemdiche literally and figuratively “fell out of favor” at Ole Miss when, in a drunken fit, he fell off a hotel balcony in Atlanta. After meeting with Nkemdiche a couple of times prior to the draft, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim gave the player their stamp of approval.

As was the case with D.J. Humphries, Nkemdiche was almost immediate castigated by Bruce Arians and the coaches. Arians said repeatedly that Nkemdiche needed to “learn how to become a pro.” Then the injuries started sidelining him and by the end of his rookie season Nkemdiche played in only 5 games as a rotational DT.

This week Nkemdiche was placed on the IR with an undisclosed knee injury that requires surgery. This means that in 3 years Nkemdiche has played in only 27 games. Up until this year, Nkemdiche only had produced 12 tackles and 0 sacks. This year he collected a career high 32 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

Three weeks ago in Los Angeles, Nkemdiche put an elite performance on tape versus the Chargers. He was a one man wrecking crew. He amassed 7 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a big time tackle for loss that knocked RB Melvin Gordon out of the game.

But—-over the past two games Nkemdiche put up a rather quiet 2 tackles and 1 tackle for loss versus Green Bay and zeros across the board in 21 snaps versus Detroit.

The questions with Nkemdiche as he heads into his 4th season: (a) Is he the kind of high strung, quick-twitch athlete who will always incur injuries? (b) Will his production always be inconsistent?

CB Brandon Williams

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Brandon Williams remains one of Steve Keim’s most controversial picks.

The fact that he started and struggled mightily as a rookie opposite Patrick Peterson can be attributed to the reality that he only had played one year of CB in college.

Blessed with ideal size and speed one would think that Steve Wilks and DB coach David Merritt could finally bring out the best in Williams—-except that despite the revolving door at RCB this season, Williams has been relegated strictly to special teams where he struggled to get past the 20 on kickoff returns and has made progress as one of the team’s gunners.

In 42 career games, Williams has produced 33 tackles (21 his rookie year), 0 interceptions and 3 pass breakups (his rookie year).

The question is—-how long can the Cardinals afford to keep Williams on the roster as strictly a gunner if he cannot contribute to the defense? He only has 5 ST tackles this season, while rookie Zeke Turner leads the team and the NFL with 16 special teams’ tackles.

WR Chad Williams

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Chad Williams of Grambling suffered through a miserable rookie season. Strangely, during a pre-draft interview Williams said that he had worked so hard to get to where he was, that he wondered whether he would do it all over again.

He promptly came into camp out of shape—-got gassed so badly during special teams drills at the beginning of practices that he was didn't have the legs to be a consistent participant in the offense. Bruce Arians said at the beginning the 2017 season that it likely wouldn't be until after Thanksgiving before Williams would be ready to take snaps on offense.

This year, Williams came to camp in much better shape—-he earned a starting job—-and while he has occasionally shown some positive flashes as a receiver and a good blocker, he has been inactive for the past 5 weeks because of ankle and hamstring injuries. To date his receiving numbers are 11/113/10.3/1 TD.

The questions are: (a) Can Williams have a break out game and season? (b) Can he stay healthy and in tip top shape?

QB Josh Rosen

One of the main reasons why Josh Rosen slipped to pick #10 in the 2018 NFL Draft was his reputation for being pompous, petulant (at times) and aloof.

The fact is that Rosen has been nothing of the sort with the Cardinals. Thus far, he has been an exemplar of humbleness, poise and attentiveness. His work with the media has been outstanding.

The coaches turned to Rosen earlier than they had wished—-and Rosen has held up pretty well despite the changes in coordinators and along the injury-riddled offensive line.

With three games remaining, Rosen has passed at 55.4% for 1,910 yards, 10 TDs, 12 ints, a 68.3 QBR. He has 3 wins under his belt—-the most notable coming in the upset win over the Packers.

The question is: Wouldn’t the Cardinals be wise to hire an offensive guru in order to put Josh Rosen, David Johnson and the offense in the best possible hands for the next four years? Rosen has now had 5 offensive coordinators in the past 4 years. And one could argue that he has never played behind a good, solid offensive line.

Shouldn't the Cardinals’ top priority be to surround Rosen and Johnson with the best possible coaches and offensive linemen?

Cardinals of a feather who got away:

  • DE Calais Campbell—-drew public criticism from Bruce Arians during the 2015 season. Became a captain and 1st Team All-Pro with the Jaguars in 2017 (67 tackles, 14 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 30 QB hits). This year to date: 55 tackles, 15 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 14 QB hits.
  • S Tony Jefferson—-following a superb 2015 season which culminated in his 15 tackle performance in the NFLCG, Steve Keim low-balled him with a $1.4M tender and a year later after an excellent year let him go in free agency in 2017—-which prompted Bruce Arians to question, “ Will Tony play as well now that he has the money.” 2017: 79 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, 2 PD. 2018 today (11 games, recently out with ankle injury): 61 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 QB hits, 1 sack, 5 PD. Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh has consistently praised Jefferson for his leadership.
  • S D.J. Swearinger—-was immediately elected defensive captain by his Redskin teammates. 2017: 79 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 10 PD, 4 ints.; 2018 (13 games): 50 tackles, 1 sack, 10 PD, 4 ints.). The coaches have embraced his out-spoken nature and tenacious, hard-hitting style of play.
  • WR John Brown—-took exception to Bruce Arians’ and the coaches’ treatment of him and his sickle-cell limitations last pre-season (2017: 21/299/14.2/3 TD) and is having an impressive bounce back year with the Ravens (38/672/17.7/5 TD), who have raved about him from the get-go.
  • S Tyrann Mathieu—-he played like his spirit was broken the past two years in Arizona and has now been rejuvenated as a captain with the 9-4 Texans: 78 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 PD, 2 ints.
  • Of all of these defections, Mathieu’s was perhaps the most damaging to the Cardinals’ public relations and national image. It may be no odd coincidence that when Mathieu was balling big-time and at his best, so were the Cardinals. The Honey Badger was an icon among Cardinals’ fans.