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Hoping, Wondering Knowing including J.J. Watt's classic story about teammate Jesse Luketa

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 31, 2022

I hope . . .

That kicker Matt Prater will be back with the Cardinals next season, as he does become an unrestricted free agent in March.

I also wish he had been given a chance to try a 69-yard field goal at the end of regulation last Sunday against Tampa Bay.

While coach Kliff Kingsbury said Prater’s maximum spot is 65 yards, what was to be lost by trying? It probably had a better chance of success than a Hail Mary.

When Kingsbury was asked if Prater was pushing to be given the chance, he said, “We were hoping to get a little bit closer, but he was ready. There’s no doubt he would’ve been game for it.”

Prater told the team website, “A 69- or 70-yarder; it’s such a long kick. Could I get it there? Maybe? Maybe not? Everything has to go absolutely perfect, so it’s such a small percentage. I think they made the right decision to throw it.

“But I would’ve been willing to try.”

Prater missed four games earlier this season because of a hip injury and that resulted in Matt Ammendola missing a late, game-tying, 43-yard field-goal attempt in a 20-17 loss to the Eagles and a 19-9 loss to Seattle the next week when three fourth-down plays failed with the line of scrimmage the Seahawks’ 20-, 23- and 27-yard line.

He has made four consecutive 50-yard-plus attempts and has missed only two of his 20 attempts this season.

Kingsbury said “no doubt” this week when asked about the confidence he has now that Prater is healthy again.

“That was a lingering issue probably more than he let on,” the coach said. “He’s one of those guys that hates to sit out. He feels like he’s letting everybody down if he’s not out there, and he pushed through there for a couple games. Then just watching him practice, watching him swing and talking to him about his confidence, he feels really confident right now and he’s hit some big kicks.”

Prater will have new long snapper Hunter Bradley this week after Aaron Brewer had pectoral surgery and that didn’t go well last season when Brewer was injured.

Prater said, “It’s tough when there is a change in it. Brewer is one of my closest friends on and off the field. I’m sad for him, but hopefully after the surgery he’ll come back stronger and ready to go. It sucks. There is no other way to say it. But Hunter has experience, so it’s cool having him.”

Prater, Brewer and punter Andy Lee will be free agents in March and with everything the team will be dealing with in the offseason, it’s difficult to consider them having to also make changes in the kicking operation.

I wonder . . .

What impact wide receiver Greg Dortch will have Sunday now that the Cardinals will be playing with their fourth starting quarterback in four games.

The snaps for Dortch have been like a roller-coaster this season as he got totally comfortable in the offense and navigated playing time, often based on the availability of Rondale Moore.

With Moore sidelined the first three games of the season, he played 91 (59 snaps), 71 (62) and 91 percent (67) in those games, then had his playing time fall to 36 (27 snaps), 3 (2), 6 (4), 53 (35), 26 (20), 8 (5) and 3 percent (2) with Moore playing.

When Moore exited after two snaps against the 49ers, Dortch played 93 percent (66 snaps) in that game, was inactive the following week because of a thumb injury and then played 5 (4 snaps) and 9 percent (6) the next two games.

Last Sunday against Tampa Bay, it was back up to 76 percent on 58 snaps and he led the team with 10 catches for 98 yards on 11 targets with Trace McSorley the quarterback.

For the season, he is fourth on the team with 44 receptions for 422 yards.

“That was by far the most detailed he’s been, alignment, assignment, technique, the route depth, all of those things,” Kingsbury said this week. “I was really proud with how he responded.

“We challenged him: ‘Hey man, these last three weeks, let’s do it like a pro each and every snap.’ We took him off the return duties so he could focus on that. He responded. You can see, we said it all along, when he knows what he’s doing and he’s running routes and catching the ball and in space, he’s done a great job. We just got to build off that, but I like what I saw.”

After the game, Dortch said, “It means a lot, it really shows your faith. Hard work really does pay off if you stay consistent and trust God. It really pays off.”

McSorley said, “Dortch is a competitor. He’s one of those guys that every time he’s out there, he’s going to put it on the line. He’s a guy that you can definitely trust to make plays. Just get the ball in his hands and let him go to work. He’s one of those guys that’s a quarterback’s best friend.

“He’s going to make every catch, so definitely a guy that we — in our locker room, in our quarterback room — got a ton of trust in Dortch. He’s done a great job working his tail off to get himself in this position. So, give him all of the credit for getting ready for that.”

Sunday, he’ll try to be the best friend of David Blough, who will be making the fifth start of his career and the first with the Cardinals after being signed off the Vikings practice squad Dec. 14.

I know . . .

That’s it’s almost been forgotten amid the almost daily changes to the Cardinals roster, but the absence of center Rodney Hudson has had a decidedly negative impact on the offense.

While it’s almost impossible to have enough depth to deal with the number of injuries there have been this season, the most egregious mismanagement was having no fail safe for Hudson’s possible retirement or if his problem knee didn’t hold up.

The Cardinals likely would have drafted Tyler Linderbaum in the first round if they weren’t facing the first six games without wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. That led to the trade of their first-round pick to Baltimore for Marquise Brown.

They had Billy Price in for a look in May, but weren’t willing to guarantee money on a 1-year deal. Thus, when Hudson decided to play, but rarely practiced during training camp, they were counting on Sean Harlow to be the backup. Hudson played the first four games of the season when the Cardinals were 2-2, but that’s been it.

Price was signed off the Raiders practice squad on Oct. 4 and after Harlow started in Weeks 5-6, became the starter 16 days after being signed.

Asked about Hudson earlier this week, Kingsbury said, “It doesn’t look good this week, I know. Maybe the last one, but he just hasn’t progressed as we would’ve hoped.”

No kidding.

Since Week 4, the Cardinals are 2-9 and it’s unlikely Hudson will play another game for the team, making the position one of numerous priorities in the offseason.

Since the beginning of the 2021 season, the Cardinals are 11-5 when Hudson has played and 4-12 when he hasn’t.

I hope . . .

For Colt McCoy’s sake that the return of concussion symptoms is just a brief setback and not something that could be a long-term issue. There’s very few that love being around the game more than the 13-year veteran.

McCoy was cleared from the protocol this week and was expected to start Sunday against Atlanta. He spoke to the media Wednesday, practiced both Wednesday and Thursday and had a short non-football related chat with me after Thursday’s practice.

Then came the startling news Friday that he won’t play Sunday and might be shut down for the season.

When Kingsbury said Blough will be the starter against the Falcons, he said, “We’ll give him a chance, evaluate him, and see how that goes. The last week, we’ll see where we’re at between the two and name a starter then.”

Kingsbury had said of McCoy earlier in the week, “He obviously brings a calmness, and he has a great feel for what we’re trying to do. His leadership of getting people in the right spot, getting the right calls, checking into the right plays, that’s a comfort level that we all have when he’s out there. We want to win the game and whoever can give us the best chance at that point we want to play.

“With Colt, because of our situation early next year, who knows what that’s going to look like with Kyler’s recovery and his rehab going on? It’s an injury that varies I think on who comes back when. He (McCoy) may be the starter going into the year, so we’d love to build some more confidence with him and get him feeling more comfortable going into the offseason.”

I wonder . . .

What’s going through the mind of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, especially after he left practice Friday with what was described as “a little bit of a knee issue” by Kingsbury. The coach said they’ll know more after he’s evaluated Saturday.

Hopkins had only one reception for four yards against Tampa Bay with Trace McSorley at quarterback and if he plays Sunday, it will be with Blough as the quarterback.

Hopkins’ contract calls for a base salary of $19.45 million and a $30.75 million cap charge in 2023. He will be 31 in June.

Until the 2021 season, he had missed only two games in his career, but then missed seven last season with hamstring and knee injuries and the first six this season because of a league suspension. He also had a recent hamstring injury that didn’t keep him from playing, but his snaps were reduced in two games.

Will the Cardinals try to trade Hopkins after the season? Does he want to move on, knowing the questions there are about when Kyler Murray will be ready to play? Who will be making those important decisions for the organization?

After Sunday’s game, he said, “You just move on. I’ve played with plenty of quarterbacks in my lifetime, so you know for me it’s a part of the game. It’s what I signed up for – to come play football no matter who’s throwing me the ball.”

If the Cardinals were to trade Hopkins on or before June 1, that would result in a dead cap hit of $22.6 million. However, that delay would keep his total cap charge on the books until then during the free-agency period. The hit would be $11.3 million in 2023 and 2024 if a move came after June 1.

Just another item to watch in what promises to be a never-ending offseason roller-coaster ride.

I know . . .

That we all should be grateful that we were able to have J.J. Watt in our midst for two seasons. Now, we have two more games to appreciate him.

We are also left with one of the most outstanding memories from a story Watt told Wednesday, the day after he announced his retirement on Twitter.

It started when he was asked about any conversations or messages he had received from teammates that day.

He first said, “I’m actually thankful. There are some people in the building that have known for a long time. Maybe they thought I was joking, but I’ve told people this is my last year for a long time. I’m very thankful that everybody kept it quiet. You guys know I’ve had some issues with leaks in the past so I’m very thankful. Some people tried to convince me to stay.”

Watt then said, “I’ll tell you the best story. This is by far the best, hands down, without a question. I posted the tweet yesterday and then I just kind of put my phone down because I knew it would be crazy. I took my son to his pediatric appointment. We took him to his doctor’s appointment, and I’m coming home and I’m like, ‘Alright. Let me check my phone.’

“Literally, it’s crazy, but I’m scrolling through it and there’s this number that I don’t recognize that FaceTime’s me. I’m like, ‘Alright. I’m not going to answer a FaceTime I don’t know,’ so I just let it go to voicemail. Then I get a text from that number and it’s a voice memo. I’m like, ‘Who is this number?’ I play the voice memo and it’s … I wish I could play it so bad. I wish so bad. I’m going to ask him. I’m going to ask him if I can later. I don’t want to now.

“It is incoherent, complete incoherence, and I’m like, ‘What the hell is this?’ I literally thought it was distorted from the phone. Ten seconds later, a picture comes through and it’s Jesse Luketa, our rookie outside linebacker, and he has cotton balls in mouth. He’d just got his wisdom teeth out. He’s high off his ass. He has no clue what he’s doing, and in the message, it says, ‘J.J., I just heard you’re retiring. All I want is a jersey at the end of the season.’ It is incoherent. Beyond incoherent. I listened to it 10 times to understand what he was saying. Then I laugh my ass off. I’m dying laughing, so I FaceTime him and he answers, and he’s still gone. I mean, just completely gone. I’m like, ‘Jesse, what are you doing?’ He’s like, ‘I just want a jersey.’ He can’t speak whatsoever.

“Then, four hours later, I get a text from Jesse, and he goes, ‘I still want that jersey man, but I’m sorry for the call. They had literally just told me when I woke up from the anesthesia that you’re retiring.’ When I tell you I was dying laughing, it was the funniest. I’ll see if I can get his permission to give me the clip because it’s gold.”

When Watt was asked if he would give Luketa a jersey, he said, “He’s getting the jersey. I told him you got the jersey. You made my day. You won the whole day.”

Watt did get permission and the clip was posted on Twitter Friday. Luketa had previously tweeted a response to Watt’s story, saying it was true.

The rookie then tweeted Friday morning, “Update Got The Jersey! #BlessedFriday.”

There was photo of the jersey, which Watt signed and wrote, “Jesse, Your Story Inspires Me Brother. I Appreciate You! (And Thanks For The Laughs!)”

It’s fair to say, J.J. Watt will be missed by many.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

 

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