Cardinals’ 2013 draft class decimated by injuries
TEMPE, Ariz. — The loss of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to season-ending ACL and LCL tears this week means the Cardinals have lost four of their nine 2013 draft picks to season-ending injuries.
Top pick Jonathan Cooper broke a leg in the preseason, sixth-round pick Ryan Swope, a receiver from Texas A&M, retired before training camp due to multiple concussions, and fourth-round pick Alex Okafor suffered a torn triceps before the team’s game in Tampa on Sept. 29.
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Coach Bruce Arians even admitted that when sixth-round pick Andre Ellington injured his knee a couple weeks ago he was concerned that the running back had suffered an ACL injury as well.
“We got lucky with Andre Ellington,” Arians said, “but yeah, with Swope and Coop and the rest of them, it’s a shame, because we really needed them.”
Ellington missed the team’s game at Philadelphia on Dec. 1 but has since returned; linebacker Kevin Minter missed time with hamstring and shoulder injuries as well as a concussion; and fourth-round pick Earl Watford, an offensive lineman, missed some time earlier this season after being in a car accident.
In addition to the four players out for the season, the Cardinals released seventh-round pick D.C. Jefferson, a tight end, in early November after he was arrested in Scottsdale on DUI charges — although the team insists the two were not related.
That means just four of the team’s nine picks — Watford, fifth-round pick Stepfan Taylor, Ellington and Minter — are still available.
“I feel like we’re the lone survivors,” Minter said. “It’s kind of weird.”
Taylor is the only 2013 draft pick who hasn’t been sidelined by injury this season. He said he has never suffered a serious injury in his career, but this trend has at least made him think twice.
“Knock on wood,” he said before doing just that inside his locker-room stall. “We feel for our fellow rookies going down. It can be tough, especially when you’ve never had an injury like that before.
“But I just try not to talk about it — stay away from that conversation. I don’t want to jinx it.”
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?
Tennessee third-year coach Mike Munchak is on the hot seat with the Titans at 5-8 and likely to miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
Munchak replaced Jeff Fisher (now with the Rams) in 2011 and went 9-7 in his first season. But Tennessee slipped to 6-10 last year and has lost seven of its last nine games after starting 2013 at 3-1.
It hasn’t helped that Munchak lost starting quarterback Jake Locker to two separate injuries this season (the latter a season-ending foot injury). Locker played just 11 games last season.
“When we got started we were 3-1 and we had not turned the football over,” Munchak said. “Jake was probably playing, because of his decision making, with a lot of confidence and playing better each weekend.
“Once he got hurt, it just kicked the wind out of us. We’re right there in games each week … but when you don’t have that quarterback that can kind of pick up the slack and make up a for a bad play here and there, those are the things that are killing us now.”
Before Sunday’s blowout in Denver, Tennessee’s previous three losses all were by one possession (two, three and eight points). Munchak believes that a lot of the pieces are in place for future success, including top pick Chance Warmack (right guard) to anchor one of the league’s better lines. But Munchak might not get the opportunity to oversee that success.
“There is no such thing as building for the future any more, where you need to get 10, 15 draft choices and the days of ‘hey, we’re going to build this thing in three years,'” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You’ll be gone in three weeks — especially coordinators.
“It’s changed dramatically. You have to win now, and there’s no two ways about it.”
FITZPATRICK’S IMPROBABLE RUN
With Locker out for the season, the Titans’ quarterback situation has a decidedly Arizona flavor. Former Gilbert Highland standout Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter; former Cardinal John Skelton is the third-string QB behind Rusty Smith.
The Titans signed Skelton on Nov. 18. They signed Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal in the offseason after the Bills cut him.
Buffalo cut Fitzpatrick in March, a day before he was due a $3 million bonus. He was in the midst of a six-year, $59 million contract extension signed in October, 2011, part of which will still count against the Bills’ cap.
The Bills had held out hope that Fitzpatrick would be open to restructuring his contract and free up space under the salary cap to allow the team to pursue free agents and re-sign its own players. But Fitzpatrick said the sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
In 81 career games, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 16,041 yards with 101 TDs and 89 interceptions. It’s a remarkable achievement for a kid who didn’t get any big-time college offers and “settled” for Harvard.
“Not getting interest from Arizona State, Arizona or NAU even coming out of high school, to make it as far as I have, it’s cool,” said Fitzpatrick, who grew up an ASU and Jake Plummer fan.
Now he’s played for four NFL teams in a nine-year career that included a two-year stop (2007-08) in Cincinnati while Carson Palmer was the starter. Fitzpatrick said the things he remembered most about Palmer were his dry sense of humor and his practical jokes.
“I’ve got plenty of embarrassing stories on him, but I know that he’s probably got as many on me, so I’m not going to leak any out unless he leaks some on me,” Fitzpatrick said.
When apprised of Fitzpatrick’s comments on a conference call Wednesday, Palmer feigned concern.
“Uh-oh. Did he tell you any stories?” Palmer asked. “He’d better be careful, because I have a lot about him.”
“I loved playing with Ryan. The Amish Rifle is what they call him. He’s got that neck beard, chin beard. He’s a great dude.”
Cardinals outside linebacker John Abraham was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the fifth time in his career after his three-sack performance in last Sunday’s 30-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Abraham has 133 career sacks, moving him past Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor (132.5) and linebacker Leslie O’Neal (132.5) into ninth place on the NFL all-time sacks list. It was the 10th time in Abraham’s career he had at least three sacks in a game. In NFL history, only Taylor (12) and Reggie White (12) had more. He also became just the second player in franchise history with at least three sacks in multiple games in a season, joining Curtis Greer (1983).
Abraham has a team-leading 11 sacks this season, becoming the first Cardinals player since Bertrand Berry in 2004 to record double-digit sacks in a season. Abraham is tied for sixth in the NFL and third in the NFC in sacks.
Receiver Michael Floyd missed Wednesday’s practice while nursing the same ankle injury that limited him in Sunday’s win over the Rams. Tight end Rob Housler (groin) also missed practice.
QB Carson Palmer (right elbow), running back Andre Ellington (knee) and right guard Paul Fanaika (back) were limited.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals officially placed Mathieu (ACL, LCL tears) on injured reserve and elevated safety Curtis Taylor from the practice squad to the 53-man active roster.
On Wednesday, the team signed safety Orhian Johnson to the practice squad. Johnson spent the preseason with the Texans after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent from Ohio State.
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