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Cardinals, Gannon Creating Own Expectations For Season

'Culture shock' aims to provide successful foundation despite outside perception

Coach Jonathan Gannon (center) talks to wide receivers Greg Dortch (83) and Rondale Moore at a recent training camp practice.
Coach Jonathan Gannon (center) talks to wide receivers Greg Dortch (83) and Rondale Moore at a recent training camp practice.

From the day James Conner arrived back in Tempe after the Cardinals changed coaches, he has had a smile and expressed nothing but positives.

The running back is a leader in the locker room. But he insists his reaction is natural, even with the work the team has in front of them.

"Circumstances in life, especially my life, you have to be optimistic," Conner said. "That's what it is. That's the truth, that's what I feel. I really respect everyone here who is working, I really respect coach (Jonathan) Gannon, coach Drew (Petzing), all those guys for accepting the challenge. We weren't that good of a football team last year. But you can see the changes being made, and the energy. The tone is being set for sure."

Expectations can be a loaded word for any team. The Cardinals know their own perceptions of what 2023 should be.

"Every team has expectations to win," linebacker Zaven Collins said. "We are coming off a rough last season. We are coming off the situation we are in. But no one really cares. When you go and tell someone your problems, they are going to say, 'I really don't care.'

"You have to prove it yourself. A lot of people doubt us and that's OK. Whether you are the best team or the worst team, people are going to doubt you."

That has happened, including some offseason predictions that the Cardinals would end up with the top two picks in the 2024 draft, portending a poor season for both the Cardinals and the Texans, from whom the Cardinals own their first-round selection.

Gannon said he doesn't know what goes on outside of the Cardinals' building, or what others' expectations of the Cardinals might be. He does have specific thoughts of what his expectations are.

"We define expectations of what is winning behavior and what is non-winning behavior and we operate under that set of standards," Gannon said. "(Players) know for us to have a chance to compete on Sundays in football games, you have to consistently display winning behavior."

Such behavior has already been put in place, noted by multiple players. Team gear must be worn at work. No one better be late to a meeting or skip a lifting session. There are prices to pay if that happens.

Accountability is king, and that is something everyone involved expects.

"It's been a culture shock," tackle D.J. Humphries said. "It's been no gradual shift. It's a shock. Get with it or get gone."

The players will clarify there is freedom – "It's not lockdown," Collins said. "It's not Pelican Bay (prison)" – but it is a structure that has been welcomed. It's within that framework the Cardinals go into Gannon's first season, with player buy-in that has led to confidence.

"We don't give a (expletive) about outside perceptions of the team," Humphries said. "That's never been my personality."

The ultimate judgment comes on the field, built on wins and losses. What the Cardinals expect this season is to be a different team than they have been.

"I don't pay attention to people's projections because at the end of the day, they are people's opinions," safety Budda Baker said. "They're not in the building, they're not working with us each and every day. They don't know.

"You saw me say on the Cardinals Instagram, 'I heard the disrespect and that's OK.' What matters is who is in the building, the players around us and the grind we put in every week. I'm not counting us out for anything."

Images from Back Together Saturday during 2023 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium

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