I was convinced I had seen last of FB/RB/ST standout Elijhaa Penny when I wrote my “A Penny Wasted” column yesterday. Much to my relief and elation, I was wrong. The Cardinals re-signed Penny to the practice squad.
MedBird chimed in to yesterday’s discussion and wrote “you’re taking it too personally.” He was and is correct. As a Cardinals’ fan since November 24, 1963, whenever one of my favorite players gets cut, I take it personally, especially when it makes such little sense given what my head coach has laid out as the criteria for making the football team.
Some of you commented that I was off-base for comparing a #2 FB to a #5CB and that no team should keep 2 FBs. My argument is that when it comes to the last couple spots on an NFL roster, the most important consideration should be special teams. Elijhaa Penny was 2nd on the team last year in ST tackles with 11. Brandon Williams had 2. Penny’s 11 ST tackles, ranked him 21st in the NFL.
Not only did I feel that Penny was the better blocker than Derrick Coleman in the games and in the practices that I was able to view tapes of, I have always believed that he would be the perfect lower-the-shoulder RB to give the ball to late in games when you want to milk the clock.
The one time Penny was given consistent carries last year, he rushed for 10/45/4.5/1 TD versus the Redskins and along the way steamrolled FS D.J. Swearinger twice. The added bonus is that Penny is outstanding at protecting the ball; he has never fumbled in a pre-season or regular season game as an Arizona Cardinal. In these ways, I believe that Penny possessed the “physicality” and “DNA” that Steve Wilks has prescribed for his Cardinals.
I wish I could be watching him again this week versus the Redskins. But, for now, I just hope he’s back on the 53 man asap.
This gets me to another point, one I have been meaning to make since Steve Wilks was hired. The biggest hope Wilks brings to the organization is the toughness that Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks instilled in the Carolina Panthers. Let’s face it—-the last few times the Cardinals have played the Panthers, it was like boys versus men.
This pre-season there have been some very auspicious signs of Wilks’ influence—-most notably the tackle and forced fumble CB Patrick Peterson made versus the Chargers. That is a play Peterson would not have made in regular games the past few years, let alone in a pre-season game. And it was textbook—-he broke down, squared up, led with his shoulder and wrapped his arms. Congrats, Pat P. for just being named to PFF’s All-Pre-Season Team with a grade of 93.4.
I have always felt that if Pat P. started tackling, the defense would go en fuego. When Steve Wilks was hired—-my very first thought was wow this is the best possible hire for PP#21.
All of the 17 turnovers that Wilks’ “Desert Swarm” made this pre-season is evidence of the Cardinals’ new kind of aggressiveness and “see the ball” awareness.
And Steve Wilks would be the first to tell us, his defense is not even close to what he expects it to be just yet.
Head coach Steve Wilks always says “it all starts up front.” Well, look at the on-line banking the Cardinals did yesterday when they added T Blaine Clausell (6-6, 330), G Jeremy Vujnovich (6-5, 300), DT Garrison Smith (6-1, 295) and DE Zach Moore (6-6, 275). In order to make these big boys feel right at home, let’s give them their nicknames right up front: “Santa Clausell,” “Deja Vuj,” “ Garrison Wheeler Dealer,” and “Moore Beef” (Dinty Moore style baby!).
Don’t worry about Steve Keim and drafting offensive linemen, henceforth. Big “Sweet Baby” Ray will lead the way. Like Bill Parcells once said, “If I am going to cook the dinner, they’d better let me buy the groceries.” Overt the past six years, Steve Keim and his scouts have tried like crazy to stock the o-line with draft picks, and it wasn’t so much that the picks were poor, it was a combination of bad luck (injuries), bad mouthing, moving them out of their natural positions and trying to make most of them utility, swing players.
As a sign of how things are changing with Steve Wilks and Ray Brown on board—-one of the smartest things they did from the get-go was playing rookie 3rd round pick Mason Cole exclusively at center.
Steve Wilks said this week that he wants to build a practice squad so that they are the first ones to promote and step up when needed. This is a talented group:
QB Chad Kanoff—-keeping him in the mix will allow the Cardinals to listen to trade offers for Mike Glennon before the trading deadline. Even if Glennon stays, having Kanoff on the team moving forward helps fortify the long-term depth at QB.
FB/RB Elijhaa Penny—-should be ready to step up when called on.
WR Jaylen Tolliver—-already seems to be generating chemistry with the QBs—-and this is a talented kid with size and catch radius who commands the football.
G Will House—-he’s a brick house, he’s mighty mighty, letting it all hang out. You just know Ray Brown wants to turn him into the next Andrew Norwell.
TE Andrew Vollert—-reminds me a little of Jay Novicek, nice length, slippery speed and strong hands.
DT Pasoni Tasini*—-he’s a gap splitter who thrives in the goaline defense.
DE Alec James—-give him a year in Wilks’ system and he could be a gem—-plus Markus Golden, Benson Mayowa, Jacquies Smith and Zach Moore are all eligible for free agency next year.
LB B.J. Bello—-is a potential STs ace—-has similar body-type and aggressive style as Zeke Turner.
CB Chris Jones—-Nebraska CBs are physical and always well coached.
S Demetrious Cox—-ran a 4.48 and put up 26 reps at his Michigan St. pro day—-played for Wilks last year (as a waiver claim) until he had ankle injury in October last year. At one time was thought of as a potential first or second round pick. He could be another Tony Jefferson type of player.
Notice—-5 offensive players, 5 defensive players, all at different positions.
Impressive too is Wilks’ and his staff’s early development and assimilation of the 5 draft picks (Rosen, Kirk, Cole, Edmonds, Cunningham) and the 8 UDFAs (Sherfield, Turner, Gardeck, Nichols, Kanoff, Tolliver, House, James). Steve Keim and his scouts deserve a great deal of credit for assembling this year’s draft and UDFA class. It must be very exciting for the GM and the scouts to see the fruits of their labor ripening earlier than ever before their eyes.
As for one of the star UDFAs of the pre-season who was released—-Matt McCrane has a tryout in New York with Todd Bowles and the Jets on Wednesday.