Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hunt-ing season

Poor Matt Hall. He must have known right off that Bengals left end Margus Hunt would spend much of Thursday night throwing him around the yard like some candy wrapper caught in the Paul Brown Stadium breeze as Hunt racked up three sacks.

The 6-9, 325-pound Hall is one of the few human beings bigger than the 6-8, 290-pound Hunt. But on the second play of the game Hunt whizzed by him to stack up former Bengals running back Boom Herron for a one-yard loss in the run game.  They don’t make them like that in the NAIA at Belhaven University, where Hall came out as undrafted free agent back in May.

“He should dominate in a game like this, and he did,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “That’s what you want to see. You want to see him dominate. That’s the confidence he needs. It gives him the opportunity to critique himself. It’s real life snaps and he gets to finish the rushes. A lot of guys can do good things in practice, but you have to go out and finish the rush. That’s how you build your repertoire of moves.”

The Bengals draft board came to life on Thursday night. Running back Jeremy Hill, taken with the 55th pick in May, dominated on offense.  Hunt, taken with the 53rd pick in 2013, dominated on defense and has spent this preseason showing why the Bengals were patient with him last year. Hunt didn’t bother going around Hall. He went through him with uncomplicated bull rushes. He could have been awarded another half sack and he just missed a couple of others.

“You can bull rush all you want,” Hunt said. “But if you can’t finish the play, then there’s no sack. I was really working trying to finish the play and get to the quarterback.”

Hunt finished with four sacks this preseason. He had one last summer and that will tell you how far he’s come. From the moment he put on the pads in this training camp it’s clear he’s a different player.

“I’ve been in the system for a year. I know where to line up and all the responsibilities that come with that. Now I can really unleash and play,” Hunt said. “Practices, the OTAs and camp, everything has helped me get the level of confidence that was missing last year. I can play more freely and faster. It got to the point I could have, should have, had the sack. I just didn’t finish the plays.”

Hunt spent Thursday night going to finishing school. The three ends that Hunt is going to rotate with on Sundays, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, and Wallace Gilberry, didn’t play and it makes you wonder how good this line will be. He’s just glad he wasn’t listening to Lewis talking about dominating games like this.

“I never heard him say that, so thank God for that,” Hunt said.

SLANTS AND SCREENS: It’s unclear if wide receiver Cobi Hamilton’s good game has come too late for a spot in Cincinnati. But his three catches for 74 yards came just in time for everybody watching film.

His 50-yard TD really woke up the echoes, considering his quarterback on the play was Tyler Wilson, the man that threw 90 balls to him at Arkansas two years ago.

“I was his guy at Arkansas, so he has that confidence to throw the ball to me,” Hamilton said. “Whether he completes it or not, he still has that confidence. I think it’s something that carried over from Arkansas.” …

: Veteran safety Danieal Manning finds himself in the tightest roster fight of his nine seasons. Even playing in a preseason finale was a new experience. But this is what he expected.

“My mindset was never to have come in thinking I wasn’t going to play,” said Manning on a night he had a 33-yard interception return for a TD.

“I look at week six last year,” said Manning of his broken leg when he was with the Texans.  “So you have rust on top of rust. I had to get in shape, find a team, had to get acclimated to a different playbook. I had a little more against me.”

Manning doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

“I can only do what I can do,” he said.

Observation Deck: Seattle Seahawks

In the most meaningless of four meaningless games, the Seattle Seahawks gave up five touchdowns in an ugly first half, including four TD passes, to end the preseason with a 41-31 loss to the Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum.

Mental mistakes and sloppy play characterized a game where many of the players on the field won’t be in a NFL uniform next week. The Seahawks played better in the second half, but it’s still not the way they wanted to head into the regular season against Green Bay on Sept. 4.

Here are some other thoughts on the Seahawks’ final preseason game of the year.

Wilson a preseason wizard: Russell Wilson was the clear bright spot on a rough night for Seattle. He was 3-for-3 on the opening drive, including a 44-yard deep sideline completion to Jermaine Kearse and a 25-yard TD throw to tight end Luke Willson over the middle. In the first half of the final three preseason games, Wilson completed 27 of 33 passes for 372 yards and three TDs, along with three rushing TDs.

Pryor and Daniels state their case: Picking a possible third quarterback didn’t get any easier with Terrelle Pryor and B.J. Daniels both having a decent showing. Pryor led the team on an 87-yard, 10-play drive in the final two minutes of the first half, including a perfectly thrown 33-yard pass to Phil Bates in the end zone for the TD. It also was a meaningful play for Bates, who is trying to earn one of the final spots at wide receiver. Pryor also led the offense on a 10-play, 57-yard drive for a field goal in the second half. He was 11-of-17 passing for 134 yards and a 108.5 passer rating. But Daniels also shined, leading the team on a 91-yard, 8-play drive in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard run and a 7-yard TD pass. He was 5-of-9 passing for 71 yards and a 118.3 QB rating. The only QB who didn’t play well was backup Tarvaris Jackson, who was 2-for-4 for 19 yards and was sacked once.

Big night for Walters: It started horribly for receiver Bryan Walters, who fumbled on a kickoff return. But he more than made up for it the rest of the night. Walters, who is on the bubble for making the team, had a nifty run for a 7-yard TD on a bubble screen. He had five kickoff returns for 137 yards and a great catch on a 33-yard pass from Pryor to keep a drive alive.

Mixed bag for Adams: Veteran cornerback Phillip Adams, playing against his former Oakland teammates, gave up two touchdown passes in the first quarter, but Adams also had six tackles and a pass deflection in the second quarter that DeShawn Shead intercepted and turned into a 54-yard pick-six.

Sloppy play: It’s typical for a final preseason game with so many backups on the field, but still disappointing for the Seahawks, who had 12 penalties for 95 yards. Many were careless mistakes, like being offsides on back-to-back kickoff attempts and having 12 men on the field on defense in the second quarter. Cornerback Akeem Auguste was flagged for unnecessary roughness with a late hit in the end zone after a TD catch. Rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson frustrated Jackson when Richardson didn’t know where to line up on one play.

With Burfict in, Bengals now just over cap

CINCINNATI — Now that Vontaze Burfict’s contract extension is official, the Cincinnati Bengals project to be slightly over the salary-cap limit for this season.

With the approximate $5.5 million cap hit the Bengals will take in 2014 on Burfict’s newly completed deal, the club now anticipates spending a little more than the $133 million the NFL will allow teams to dole out this season.

The $133 million figure the Bengals believe they are at is not an official one since none of that money has to be paid until the end of the season. It includes what the team projects practice-squad and injured-reserve spending will end up being. If you take the roughly $6 million or so the Bengals likely will dole on their practice squad and injured reserve group, they have just enough money under the cap as of now to pay player salaries.

Of course, with some cuts still to take place before this weekend and other personnel changes sure to come between now and the end of the season, the current cap figure most certainly will change. That’s one reason why determining a team’s exact salary-cap figure on any given day is far from an exact science.

If you were to take a look at the NFL Players Association’s latest cap numbers, you would see where the Bengals had $125.6 million devoted to cap spending before Burfict’s deal went through. You also would see where the NFLPA reported that the Bengals had a little more than $16 million left in cap space. What you wouldn’t see is that the $16 million takes into account the $8.7 million or so of carryover money the Bengals don’t factor into their spending for now. A good chunk of that money likely will end up going toward paying the practice-squad and injured-reserve debts outlined above.

So that means, using the NFLPA numbers — which don’t take into account practice-squad and injured-reserve spending — the Bengals actually had closer to $7 million to spend just before Burfict’s deal. That would have been enough to put them just shy of the cap limit. According to the Bengals’ projections, ones that include the other spending, this deal now puts them slightly over.

The bottom line is this: Regardless which numbers you use, just know that the team is right at the salary cap.

How does that affect the rest of the team? It means that barring any departures of major players who aren’t owed guaranteed money in 2014, the Bengals are probably done for now with their extensions and free-agent deals. A.J. Green already has been expected to finish his initial four-year rookie deal this year and make his $10 million next season as part of the fifth-year option he was granted. Any preexisting plans to restructure his deal in a way that will lock him up for long term with big bucks may have to be put on ice temporarily.

Don’t worry about that too much, though. The Bengals have proven in recent years that when they feel the time is right, they’ll make the right move to keep their big-money man. That time for Green probably won’t be next March.

But it could be next summer. The Bengals’ last four mega deals were all executed in June (Carlos Dunlap, 2013), early September (Geno Atkins, 2013) and August (Andy Dalton and Burfict, 2014).

Time to cut bait, trade Stephen Hill

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Stephen Hill could be in his final days with the New York Jets.

The disappointing wide receiver is expected to play Thursday night in the final preseason game, a clear indication his roster spot is in jeopardy. Starters and key reserves don’t play in the annual Backup Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hill was granted that status is his first two years, when he was a big-shot, second-round pick with a bright future. Now he’ll be grinding with the other marginal players, trying to convince the Jets — or another team — he still can be a legit player in the league.

The Jets should trade him. Yep, that’s what they should do. Put him on the block and see what he can fetch. Maybe they’ll get lucky and deal him for an experienced cornerback with a pulse. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they try to move Hill, who, despite his lack of production, has some value because of his draft pedigree. He’s big and fast, and the NFL likes big and fast even if he doesn’t have the stats to show for it.

“I think there would be some interest,” an AFC personnel executive said. “There aren’t a lot of free-agent wide receivers out there, so it’s supply and demand.”

You’d be stunned to know how much the Jets wanted Hill in the 2012 draft. They wound up picking him 43rd overall, after trading up, but he was rated so highly on their draft board that he would’ve been a consideration with the 16th pick if Quinton Coples wasn’t available.

Clearly, their scouts goofed, thinking an unpolished receiver with only 28 catches in his final season was one of the top 16 players in the draft. At the time, the Jets’ top scout, Joey Clinkscales, said Hill’s size-speed combination reminded him of another former Georgia Tech wideout, Calvin Johnson. Yes, that Calvin Johnson — aka MegaTron. Talk about a kiss-of-death comparison.

Clinkscales is now an executive with the Oakland Raiders, and he should be the first person the Jets call after putting Hill on the trading block. The two teams play on opening day, but do you really think the Jets are worried about Hill coming back to haunt them?

The Jets have some tough decisions to make at receiver. Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson, none of whom will play against the Eagles, are locks. Now that he’s healthy, rookie Jalen Saunders, a fourth-round pick, is a virtual lock. Saalim Hakim has emerged as the leading kickoff returner, so he has the inside track on a roster spot. That leaves Hill, Greg Salas and Clyde Gates for the sixth spot, assuming there is a sixth spot.

“They’re still battling for roster spots, and it’s not a slam dunk to say it’s going to be this player or that player,” Rex Ryan said. “It’s probably close in a couple of situations.”

Asked if Hill’s spot is up in the air, Ryan said, “Again, there is still competition, and there is still competition for roster spots.”

If the decision comes down to Hill versus Salas, it should be a no-brainer. Clearly, Salas has outperformed Hill. John Idzik’s meritocracy would take a big hit if the underachieving high draft pick makes it over the deserving journeyman.

After two years, the Jets know what they have in Hill. He’s a one-trick pony, a vertical threat who may or may not catch the ball. He’ll block, but he won’t fight for contested balls. He doesn’t play special teams, which means there’s no point in dressing him on game day unless he’s a regular in the receiver rotation. The fans are on to him. The crowds in Cortland, New York, and Florham Park gave him a hard time when he dropped the ball. It’s time for a change of scenery.

By the way, Hill has missed two days of practice due to an illness. On Monday, he was sent home after vomiting. Foreshadowing? Perhaps.

Bengals slammed by injuries late Sunday

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Injuries marred the final minutes of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 19-13 preseason win over the Cardinals on Sunday night as three Bengals were carted off University of Phoenix Stadium’s field in the fourth quarter alone.

Coach Marvin Lewis didn’t have any updates on the injured in the locker room after the game, but he did acknowledge that having to deal with the injuries was “the only negative part” of the night. His defensive starters played well and for the third straight preseason game didn’t allow a touchdown. His offense played turnover-free football, and his reserves held their own and played well enough to preserve the win.

Throughout the physical game several Bengals needed medical attention, but it was the injuries to James Wright, T.J. Johnson and Trey Hopkins that caused a series of stoppages and had fans hushed. All three were on the ground for several minutes and needed assistance getting off the field after getting banged up late in the ballgame.

All three also find themselves on the bubble, needing every opportunity they can to make the team.

First, it was Hopkins, the undrafted rookie free agent from Texas. He went down with 12:35 remaining in the game after a couple of players rolled on top of his leg. For some time, trainers evaluated his right leg before a cart came onto the field and he was loaded on it. The Bengals later announced that he had a right shin injury. Hopkins was spotted immediately after the game walking through the locker room with his leg already inside a boot.

As if that moment wasn’t enough for the Bengals, two plays later, seventh-round draft pick James Wright required a cart when he went down awkwardly at the end of an attempted touchdown reception. While trying to make the 15-yard catch in the back of the end zone, he took what appeared to be a blow to the head from safety Curtis Taylor’s forearm before going down hard to the turf. Instantly after his head hit the ground, Wright’s body locked up.

A few minutes went by before medical personnel got him to sit up before helping him onto the cart. He was not strapped onto a stretcher.

On the next drive, running back Cedric Peerman received what appeared to be a serious leg injury but walked off on his own power after getting some treatment on the field. On the drive after that, Johnson went down with an undisclosed issue. Like Hopkins and Wright, a cart eased the offensive lineman into the locker room.

In addition to those injuries, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Devon Still went down in the first half with hamstring injuries.

When asked if Burfict would be available for the season opener in two weeks, Lewis simply said, “Yes.”

The Bengals won’t have much time to rest the injured before their preseason finale. With days off Monday and Wednesday, they will only practice Tuesday before Thursday’s game at home against the Colts.

Marlon Brown Getting Bigger Taste Of Special Teams

The second-year wide receiver wants to build off his impressive rookie season wherever he’s needed.

 

Marlon Brown showed last season that he’s a valuable weapon to have in the red zone.

He also showed in last week’s preseason victory over the Cowboys that he’s not afraid to stick his nose in the pile and make a tackle on special teams. As a gunner on punt coverage, Brown broke free from blockers and delivered a perfect form tackle on returner B.W. Webb.

“Marlon has done a great job on special teams, and he did have a big tackle,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

NOTE: Brown will be mic’d up for this weekend’s game against the Redskins, and we will feature that Wired segment next week.

Brown caught people by surprise last year with an impressive rookie campaign as an undrafted prospect, snagging a franchise-record seven touchdown passes. He will likely be an important piece of the offense again this season, but his contributions could be tougher to come by considering the increased depth at receiver.

The addition of veteran Steve Smith Sr. and return of tight end Dennis Pitta gives the Ravens a crowded lineup of pass catchers, and Brown is showing the coaching staff that he can also contribute on special teams if his offensive snaps get trimmed.

“I’m very coachable,” Brown said. “I don’t mind it. That’s my job. At the end of the day if the coach tells me to go out there, then I’m going to go out there and do it. Whether it’s blocking or defending a punt. I’m just going to be really coachable and do what I’m told.”

Playing special teams is relatively new for Brown.

He worked on various special-teams units during last year’s training camp and preseason, but then wide receiver Jacoby Jones went down with an injury in Week 1. Suddenly Brown was the team’s No. 2 receiver and he wasn’t used much on special teams anymore.

He ended up starting 12 games, catching 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Last year is over and all the things I did last year don’t really matter. I’m just trying to focus on today and getting better today,” Brown said. “I have the same mindset as I did last year, but I’m just trying to go in and every time a ball is thrown my way I’m trying to make a big play.”

In addition to seeing time on special teams, Brown is also expected to share snaps with Jones as the team’s third wideout between Torrey Smith and Steve Smith. Brown has proven himself as a playmaker, and his focus this year is to be reliable wherever the team needs him.

“It’s all about being consistent,” he said. “That’s the thing with me. I’m trying to be as consistent as possible because I love playing football and I love making plays for my team.”

QB Smith Expects Offense to Execute

Each NFL team uses the preseason in their own way regarding play calls and how they best want to evaluate players fighting for spots on their roster.

With play calling, all teams will tell you that everything is pretty vanilla in the preseason. They aren’t going to give away too much and they also don’t want to put too much on the younger players still understanding the concepts of the playbook.

They want young players to play fast and to do as little thinking as possible when they’re on the field. This goes for both teams.

Also, once a play is ran in a game during the preseason, it’s on film for every other team in the NFL to dissect and plan accordingly for when they play against your team.

After practice on Wednesday in an exclusive interview, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith talked about play calling and how to evaluate the offense as a whole, including the first team, when the entire playbook isn’t being used during the preseason.

“It’s never fun to go out there and kind of hamstring yourself by not being able to run all your stuff,” Smith said. “But at the same point, I’ve played long enough. You’d love to throw a ton of touchdowns every time you’re out there—but in two weeks, they wipe the slate clean and no one really cares how many touchdowns you throw or how many games you win in the preseason.

“So, there is some gamesmanship there and I definitely understand that and don’t mind it. It’s not bad to save some stuff and have it ready for the season and not show some things. You kind of have to make do. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword a little bit when you are going out there and you got to execute with what you’re working with and sometimes it’s not everything.”

Knowing defenses aren’t showing their hands either, Smith doesn’t believe that a shortened playbook should keep the offense from finding success from the plays that are called.

“It’s no excuse,” Smith explained. “When we’re in the film room, we still take it very seriously that no matter what we’re running, we should still be able to execute it.”

As they prepare like it’s the regular season this week for the their “dress rehearsal” with the Minnesota Vikings, Smith and the Chiefs offense will open the playbook a little more this week and game plan like it’s a regular season game.

“We’ve had our hands on the game plan a little longer than normally for these preseason games,” Smith said. “Certainly, you would expect a little better control of the game plan.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said a lot of the play calls they’ve been making through the first two games have been about evaluation.

They weren’t trying to take advantage of what they saw from the defense, which can be said for defenses again, as well, in regards to how they attack the offense.

But if they use a certain personnel group or certain play call and it’s successful, they wouldn’t necessarily hammer that throughout a preseason game to find success.

“That’s our experimentation in training camp,” Pederson said. “We put those packages and personnel groups together so when we get into this type of week where we can see it in live action, whatever we do. We don’t need to see a ton of that particular group.

“We’re still trying to see what guys can do. But then as we get closer to the regular season, now, and this is part of that week where you now focus in on a certain aspect of the game, or we’re going to be call specific in certain areas. We’re going to try and put our guys in the best possible situation.”

One of the areas where they might try and put guys in the best situation would be on third down and in the red zone—two areas where the Chiefs haven’t been as successful as they would like through the first two preseason games.

Overall, the Chiefs first-team offense has gone just 3 for 10 on third down, including 0 for 3 on third-and-5 or shorter.

The Chiefs have been to the red zone five times overall in the preseason, walking away with just one touchdown.

Smith hopes that treating this week like the regular season, including game plans and like Pederson said, “call-specific in certain areas,” the offense can be more successful than they’ve been in the first two preseason games.

“You don’t have any specific red zone stuff in,” Smith explained of the first two games. “Third down is the same thing, pretty vanilla. But you’re not going to win with X’s and O’s all the time and that’s our mentality. No matter what we got in the game plan and what gets called, we should be able to go out there and execute it and make it work.

“You’ll be able to game plan and get more in depth into those situations because they are so important and we do spend more time on them during the season so, they’re more familiar and hopefully, you convert more.”

As far as what specifically he wants to see from the offense on Saturday, Smith kept it simple.

“Score some touchdowns, win the game,” Smith said. “You’d love to go out there and you’d love to have success every play and that’s our goal. That’s what we’re striving for. Our job as an offense is to move the ball, put some points on the board and last week, you know, we struggled in the red zone for a lot of different reasons. This week it would be nice to capitalize on some of those drives.”

Tyrann Mathieu returns with ‘MNF’ in sight

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It wasn’t much of a practice but that didn’t matter.

It was enough for Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu that he was wearing shoulder pads and a helmet while running and cutting in drills less than 8.5 months after he tore his ACL and LCL in a gruesome hit in Week 14. It’s what he’s been waiting for. It was the first step to his second comeback.

His return will be methodical. Wednesday, he went through individual defensive back drills and did some running on a side field, but he mostly stood and watched. This is how it’ll be for the next couple of days. Then, slowly, Mathieu will be incorporated into contact drills and then team drills.

Not rushed yet not too slow.

“Obviously, I want to work my way back in,” Mathieu said. “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. I want to earn my right on this field. I just don’t want anybody to give it to me. I’m just going to go out there and work as hard as I can.

“Hopefully, my progression goes well.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will keep a close eye on how many plays Mathieu makes when he returns to full contact team drills. But it’ll be hard for him to keep Mathieu off the field. He’s too valuable, too talented, too impactful.

And Arians knows that.

“Well, you don’t have to substitute because he has corner ability. He’s a safety that can cover. He can play in the slot. He can go out wide,” Arians said. “You can stay in your base package and really you still have three corners out there with him and [he has] great range in the deep end of the field. He allows us to do a lot of different things.

“Not that we can’t do them with [safety] Rashad [Johnson] and [safety] Tony [Jefferson] but they don’t have quite the coverage skills that he has as a corner.”

While Arians won’t be surprised if Mathieu plays Sunday night against the Bengals, Mathieu all but ruled it out. He has his eyes on a bigger prize: “Monday Night Football.” The Week 1 game against the San Diego Chargers been his goal since he began rehab but his return to practice Wednesday made it realistic for the first time.

Before first Arians wants to make sure the Honey Badger can keep up with the speed of the game. To do that, Mathieu must be healthy. No limping allowed, Arians said.

“Practice speed is one thing,” Arians said. “Game speed is [another] thing.”

There are only two more chances for Mathieu to get reacclimated to the pace of a game. If he doesn’t play Sunday, his last chance is Aug. 28 in San Diego. He’ll need that moment every injured athlete has during a comeback when he realizes he’s the player of old.

Mathieu thinks that’ll come on his first play.

“I think I’ll be comfortable with it,” he said, then correcting himself. “I’ll be comfortable with it. I’m just waiting for that moment when I really get tested. Then I’ll know for sure whether I’m the same player or whether I’ll have to pick it up a little bit.”

Mathieu will be wearing a red brace on his left knee for the rest of the season but not by his choice. He’d rather roam without it but he’s just following trainers’ orders. He’s practiced with it on for the past two months and said it’s not restrictive.

As the week progresses, Mathieu’s knee will continue to be tested. He understands there’ll be good and bad days, but he won’t let the minor setbacks affect his confidence. Maybe most importantly, he won’t feel sorry for himself.

“I’m sure in the middle of the game in this upcoming season I’ll get sore, I’ll get tight and I’ll have to push through it,” he said. “I think it’s all about what I tell myself. I just try to keep positive thoughts in my mind.”

Especially during the last months, Mathieu has turned to his teammates as a sounding board and for their insight. Recently signed linebacker Desmond Bishop told Mathieu he had a similar injury and that once that moment comes, it’ll change how he plays.

Wide receiver Michael Floyd, who practiced with Mathieu on an outside field during the past week, told Mathieu he looked “pretty good.”

“So, that goes along way,” Mathieu said.

On Wednesday, Calais Campbell said Mathieu hasn’t lost a step.

“That guy’s special,” Campbell said. “You can see it in his eyes. He was just excited to be back. You can see the confidence in his look.”

That look, the one Mathieu has perfected, started to come back Wednesday.

“It’s always good,” Arians said. “to have that smile back on the field.”

Vollmer misses second straight practice

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (unknown) has now been absent for two straight practices, after playing sparingly in the second preseason game versus Philadelphia.

Vollmer did not seem to suffer any sort of injury during the game, but apparently he did. However, NFL teams are not obligated to submit injury/practice participation reports until Week 1 of the regular season.

Joining Vollmer on the absentee list on Tuesday were a half-dozen other Patriots: D-linemen Chris Jones (left ankle) and DL Sealver Siliga (left hand); tight end D.J. Williams (right leg); rookie running back Tyler Gaffney (left knee); rookie linebacker Cameron Gordon (unknown); rookie OL Chris Martin (NFI/unknown).

On a positive note, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (leg) was back in pads for the second consecutive day, although after team stretching period, he retreated to the lower practice field with several other rehabbing players to work on extra conditioning.

Mayo may or may not play

Linebacker Jerod Mayo also suited up for the second day in a row after missing a handful of practices and the Eagles game. Earlier in the locker room, Mayo only hinted that he sustained an injury and wouldn’t say whether or not he’d be available for Friday’s preseason tilt against Carolina.

“I’m not sure. It’ll be a step by step thing. It’ll be like riding a bike. Once I get a couple of plays under my belt, I’ll be OK.

“Feel good,” Mayo added. “Out there yesterday, ran around a little bit. I feel pretty good.”

LaFell to face old Panthers teammates for first time

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, meantime, spoke to a large group of media about his emotions as he prepares to face his former team this week.

“It’s going to be a little weird, just going out there and seeing some of my old teammates, looking at those jerseys knowing I was just in those jerseys last year,” admitted LaFell. “But I got to do my job.”

LaFell has looked better in recent days after a slow start to camp, in which he dropped several catchable passes and didn’t seem quite comfortable in his new offense. He agreed that his learning curve has been much steeper of late and that his connection with QB Tom Brady is growing stronger each day.

“From OTA to now, if I had to put it on a scale from zero to 10, I would say like an 8 now,” LaFell said Tuesday. “OTAs I was shell-shocked, didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me.

“The more and more reps I get with this guy [Brady], getting our timing better and also he’s trying to find me more. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be when running a route. Not a yard off, not a yard too deep, not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.

“I’ve learned in this game that when you go out there and force, force, force every time, something bad happens,” LaFell remarked. “When you go out there and do your job, be patient, things are going to happen for you.”

Revis getting “butterflies”

It’s often said that the third preseason game is most like a regular season contest, in part because most of the starters play most of the game. The preparation for the game is also more like a regular season week, as opposed to the training camp schedule that just concluded yesterday.

“This week is more emphasis on more of a game week, like the regular season. Guys are just getting into that mode,” cornerback Darrelle Revis pointed out. “More emphasis on game plan scenarios, in all three phases, and preparing like this is Week 1 or Week 2.”

It’s also the time of year that veterans like Revis are most excited about, because camp is drawing to a close and the start of meaningful games is so close.

“Yeah,” he laughed, “the butterflies, they’re coming back. You get anxious, real excited just to start the season back up. This is a great game we play. Guys are ready to go. They’re excited about this year and we have to go out and prove [ourselves] every week.”

Losing Dockett puts pressure on offense

For the Arizona Cardinals, it started with linebacker Karlos Dansby chasing the money to Cleveland during free agency in March.

Then Daryl Washington, the other half of Arizona’s formidable inside linebacker duo, was suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

And on Monday, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was lost for the season with a torn right ACL, the team confirmed.

With each loss, the foundation built by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians cracked a little more. Arizona will rely on an unlikely source, however, to fill in the gaps.

Arizona still has most of the tools it needs to play the type of smash-mouth, press-coverage defense it won 10 games with last season. It just might not start playing that way in Week 1 without Dockett and with John Abraham and Tyrann Mathieu slowly getting back into form. That means the offense, which grew into itself during the offseason by adding speed at receiver, bulk at tackle and brawn at tight end, will have to pick up the slack.

Led by quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals’ offense will have to put up numbers that’ll make Arians giddy with delight. It’ll have to outscore everyone. It’ll have to look like a high-scoring college offense trying to impress the pollsters. It’ll have to start winning games for Arizona.

That shouldn’t be a problem for the Cardinals, who are coached by one of the game’s best offensive minds. Then there’s Palmer, who threw for a career-high 4,274 yards last season while truly grasping the offense for only half a season, which led to 22 interceptions. As an offense, the Cardinals looked like an entirely different team from the first eight weeks to the final nine of the 2013 season.

Palmer’s QBR went from 25th in the NFL to sixth. In total yards per game, Arizona improved from 26th to seventh; in passing yards per game the Cards jumped from 18th to fourth, Palmer’s yards per attempt average skyrocketed from 23rd to third, and the offense went from 24th in points per game to seventh.

And Larry Fitzgerald needs to prove he’s worthy of being a Cardinal for another season after almost cracking 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, because of the financials behind his contract. Michael Floyd finished with 1,041 yards in his second season. Andre Ellington takes over a running game that’s deep, powerful and speedy after leading the NFL in yards per carry. And the tight ends, all 6-foot-5 or taller, are cut from the mold Arians has won with throughout his career.

They say defenses win championships, but defenses can’t win if the other team scores more.

This was supposed to be a team that was primed to clear the next hurdle by overtaking either San Francisco or Seattle for second place in the NFC West, or possibly more, because of its defense. The idea of Arizona winning the division was scoffed at along the West Coast, but the Cardinals believed they had the pieces on both offense and defense, even without Dansby and Washington, to surprise everybody. And on paper they did. As of Monday, they did.

But that all changed when Dockett went down about an hour into Monday’s practice and started grabbing his right knee. With each step he gingerly took toward the cart that whisked him away to the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, the playoffs, the ones that Arizona could practically touch in December, started fading like a sunset on the desert horizon.

With Dockett, who was entering his 11th season, Arizona had the pieces on defense to mask its deficiencies. The defensive line, which finished last season ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run, was back in full. The secondary was improved, with cornerback Antonio Cromartie signed to play opposite Patrick Peterson.

The outer layer, for the most part, was intact.

But this wasn’t a perfect defense, regardless of how high its expectations were. Abraham didn’t report to camp until Thursday. None of the inside linebackers charged with replacing Dansby and Washington were playing comparable football — combined. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered late last season, leaving Dan Williams without a backup. And Mathieu was out while recovering from a torn ACL and LCL, although he’s expected to be taken off the physically unable to perform list Tuesday.

This was a defense that had its flaws, but as long as Dockett was in the lineup, it knew it stood a chance.

But now, this is a defense in trouble, and it’s up to the offense to save it.

Filling Dockett’s void will be a combination of veteran defensive end Frostee Rucker and rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, both of whom were drafted for this exact scenario. But the pressure to replace Dockett won’t fall on their shoulders.

Like it did with the losses of Dansby and Washington, the defense as a whole will be responsible for masking its deficiencies, including the glaring one on the defensive line.