During offseason work, coach Bruce Arians pumped the brakes repeatedly when asked for snap judgments of his personnel. With players in shorts playing "soccer," he said the game was too far removed from its physical roots to glean anything substantive.
On Monday, the pads went on for the first time at Cardinals' training camp, finally allowing the evaluations began.
"FIFA is over," Arians said.
The lack of physicality over the past few months naturally made the skill position players look good, and consequently hindered positions like offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and fullback.
"Some guys are outstanding in shorts and you can evaluate them, but when the noise level goes up they disappear," Arians said. "Other guys that look ugly in shorts are football players. The real evaluations start now."
"It's just the nature of the beast," Arians added. "There's always been a couple linebackers I've been around where it's like, 'This guy can't help us.' But then when you put the pads on nobody could block him, he made every play, which you never get to see. Same thing with fullbacks. They traditionally look like (expletive) in shorts."
Left tackle Jared Veldheer called practice without pads "football with an asterisk" and the intensity was noticeably higher on Monday.
The highlight was the return of the 1-on-1 blocking drills, in which running backs and tight ends aimed to slow down pass-rushers. Undrafted free agent running back Paul Lasike, a former rugby player, was impressive, getting sent back in for a second straight repetition at one point because his first collision was so spirited.
"I'm terrible in shorts," Lasike said. "My speed is terrible. But when it comes to contact, I love it. … I'm a meathead of a fullback."
TIGHT ENDS GRESHAM, NIKLAS ACTIVATED BUT STILL SLOWED
Tight ends Jermaine Gresham (back) and Troy Niklas (hamstring) were activated from the physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists, respectively, on Monday, although Arians said it's only so they can participate in walkthroughs at this point.
Neither practiced in the afternoon and Arians expects both to miss another week, although Niklas' goal is to participate in individual drills Wednesday and full work on Friday.
Niklas got hurt while working out on his own in California eight days before the players reported to training camp. He doesn't believe the missed practice time will hinder him too much but said "I just need to get out there and show what I can do."
Niklas said he's still learning how to become a professional athlete and may have fatigued his legs with too much activity, leading to the injury.
"I just wanted to be in really good shape coming in, and I just pushed too hard," he said.
ELLINGTON, JOHNSON SIT, BUT INJURIES MINOR
Running backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson missed practice with hamstring strains of their own, and while the list of injuries is growing, most of them have been minor. Neither running back is expected to be shelved for long. Kerwynn Williams worked with the first-team and Stepfan Taylor saw time with the second unit.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) sat out practice for a second straight day but is expected to return soon. Linebacker Shaq Riddick's MRI showed a Grade 2 hamstring strain, which will make him "miss some time," Arians said. Riddick, a fifth-round pick, also missed the majority of offseason workouts with the injury.
Like in years past, Arians' patience remains thin with players who spend too much time in the training room.
"I can't evaluate you if you ain't practicing, so you'll probably get cut," Arians said.
Images from the third practice of training camp