As Steve Wilks and the Cardinals’ new staff continue to evaluate the current roster, three of the more unsung young Cardinals may very well be garnering attention. They are T John Wetzel (6-7, 315, Boston College, 26, ERFA), RB Elijhaa Penny (6-2, 234, Idaho, 24, ERFA) and DT Xavier Williams (6-4, 311, Northern Iowa, RFA).
73 John Wetzel
For the past two season, because of a host of injuries along the offensive line, John Wetzel has started 19 games. That is two fewer than Jared Veldheer (21). Most of Wentzel’s starts have been at tackle, but he also has started 3 games at guard.
When D.J. Humphries was injured in Detroit in game 1, Wetzel was called on to play LT. All week Wetzel had been getting reps at guard because of Mike Iupati’s on-going injuries, and by Wentzel’s own admission his play at LT versus the Lions suffered because of his lack of reps at tackle that week. As a result, he gave up a couple of sacks to the Lions’ good edge rushers.
The next week at Indianapolis, after having worked all the reps at LT in practice, Wetzel bounced back with a laudable performance, earning one of the Cardinals top 5 grades from PFF at 83.2.
Two weeks later at Philadelphia Wetzel was one of the bright spots in what was a dismal game for the Cardinals. He gave up 0 sacks in 46 attempts.
When Humphries returned and was injured for a second time, Jared Veldheer was switched back to LT and Wetzel moved over to RT, which is Wetzel’s most natural position.
Wetzel is most impressive in the running and screen games. He played with strong leverage and consistently moves defenders off their spot and sustains his blocks through the whistle. On screens, he is very effective at lining up the LB or CB and taking him out of the play. Many offensive linemen struggle in landing blocks in the open field. Not Wetzel. He’s got excellent aim---then he sets up and times his blocks extremely well.
In pass protection, Wetzel has been inconsistent...more so from the left side than from the right. The Cardinals’ new OLC Ray Brown worked wonders last year with Daryl Williams, Mike Remmer’s replacement at RT. The rap on Williams was inconsistent pass pro. However, under Brown’s tutelage, Williams show vast improvement and graded out as the #3 T (per PFF) at 86.2.
If Wetzel could focus on one position and settle in, under the guidance of Ray Brown they could be a key component for the power running game.
Obviously, a key decision has to be made about Jared Veldheer’s contract, which puts his cap number near $10M next season. While Veldheer turned around what began as a miserable season for him, he wound up on the IR for the second season in a row. He has missed 11 games the past two seasons. If Veldheer is unwilling to take a pay cut or do a restructure on his deal, then John Wetzel may get the chance he’s been waiting for. The Cardinals also have 2nd year T Will Holden in the fold. Holden filled in respectably at LT (all things considered) when Veldheer was injured.
The Cardinals’ OL should benefit this year from more conservative pass protection schemes, vis-a-vis chips on DEs when needed and keeping a RB in the backfield for added help.
35 Elijhaa Penny
When Penny, who wasn’t drafted, received his phone call from the Cardinals for a tryout, he wept following the call. His mother assumed that her son had received a contract offer from the Cardinals, thus Penny decided to assure his mom that he had. Following his tryout, it was a triumphant day for him when he was called upstairs and offered a contract and then congratulated by fellow idaho Vandal Mike Iupati.
Penny burst onto the scene his rookie season versus the Broncos in the pre-season where he pounded the rock for over 100 yards and earned himself a spot on the practice squad.
Last year Penny made the roster and made an immediate impact on STs. Later in the season, due to all the RB injuries, he started getting carries and wound up rushing 31 times for 124 yards and a 4.0 average. His best performance came versus Washington where he rushed for 10/45 and his 1st TD.
The thing that sticks out about Penny is his rushing style. He is a power RB who hits the hole hard and then lowers his shoulder on contact to initiate the contact rather than absorb it. In his rookie season FS D.J. Swearinger used to complain (in a good way) about having to take on Penny in practice. Bringing Penny down is no easy task. He’s one of those power RBs who gets stronger with each carry.
Now that the Cardinals are switching to a power running game, Elijhaa Penny has a chance to move up the RB ladder.
94 Xavier Williams
Following 36 starts and being named a 1st team All-Star of the Missouri Valley Conference, Xavier Williams went undrafted. Having studied a number of the Northern Iowa tapes when scouting RB David Johnson, Steve Keim and the scouts were excited to offer Williams a contract. Williams has responded well and has been getting stronger each year.
This past season, Williams, as a rotation player, recorded 20 tackles, 1/2 sack and 1 forced fumble. What was very noticeable about his game this year was the penetration he was getting, not only in the running game but in his pass rush. For such a big, strong player, he has good feet.
Williams received an above average grade for PFF of 80.8 and they lauded him for having the highest run stop percentage in the NFL for DTs with 14.5%.
It would be wise for Steve Keim to sign Williams to a multi-year deal before he can hit the FA market, where he will, no doubt, receive a good deal of interest.
* Wetzel, Penny and Williams were all undrafted free agents.* They bring the kind of “physicality” to their games that Steve Wilks and his coaches covet.* All three have garnered valuable experience and are heading into their prime.* They are on the list of the Cardinals’ successful undrafted college players such as Tony Jefferson, Jaron Brown and Olsen Pierre.
And speaking of undrafted free agents---here is a tribute to Edwin Jackson:
In 2015, does anyone remember the hamburger drill that BA and the coaches ran the first day of pads in camp in 2015? The coaches had RB Paul Lasike (BYU), who was a load, take a handoff and go one on one with Jackson. The collisions were ear-popping. The Cardinal players were going nuts. It was so epic---that they had Lasike and Jackson go at it a couple more times, and on all three occasions neither guy backed down---it was like the classic showdown of battering rams. One could make a good argument that this display of popping the pads set the tone for the Cardinals’ sensational 13-3 season. Thank you always. May you rest in eternal bliss, Edwin Jackson.