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Kenyan Drake Understands Why This Season Could Be Better

Offseason meeting and full training camp can only help running back

Running back Kenyan Drake carries the ball during the first padded practice of training camp Monday.
Running back Kenyan Drake carries the ball during the first padded practice of training camp Monday.

Kenyan Drake pulled it off – to that, there was no argument, when he became a Cardinal on a Monday and started and starred against the eventual NFC champion 49ers on a Thursday.

The well-chronicled indoctrination whirlwind for the running back into Kliff Kingsbury's system made for a cool story. But getting an offseason with meetings, a full training camp, that's the nuance the running back prefers with the playbook.

"I was able to start from scratch," Drake said. "I got the meat and potatoes of the 'why' behind a lot of different plays, and it gave me a better outlook."

Drake was pretty good last season even without that deep knowledge of the system. It's that added wealth of mental prep – as well as the superb fit Drake is with quarterback Kyler Murray – that raises expectations for the back this season.

Kingsbury always appreciated Drake from afar as a playmaker. There was a reason the Cards were already considering making a run at him in 2020 free agency if they had not pulled off the trade for him in 2019.

What Kingsbury didn't anticipate was Drake's size – 6-foot-1, 211 pounds – or his receiving skills. And it's that part of the game that may be aided the most with Drake's growing familiarity with the playbook.

The learning-on-the-fly still allowed Drake to pull in 28 catches in his eight games, and overall Drake had 50 catches last season after 53 in 2018.

"Any way we can get him the ball in space is what we're doing to try to do," said Kingsbury, who added that the passing game was an aspect within which Drake focused his training in the offseason. "He's hard to tackle one-on-one in space. So that's an area we'd like to get him more involved in."

With the Cards, Drake averaged only 6.1 yards a reception, a number that is certain the rise with a better grasp of the playbook. Drake averaged 9.0 yards a reception in 2018.

Noting specifically the threat Carolina's Christian McCaffrey has become after notching both 1,000 yards receiving as well as rushing last season, "that's what the game is coming to nowadays," Drake said.

"I feel like, not that that specific stat will become more known, but players that have that ability to be versatile will be more common in this game," he added. "I've always felt like my game was that type of game."

Drake, who is playing on the transition tag and is scheduled to become a free agent after the season once again, is now unquestionably atop the depth chart. His play basically made that certain last season (643 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in half a season for Arizona), but became concrete once David Johnson was dealt to Houston in the DeAndre Hopkins trade.

He was playing on instinct last year, Kingsbury said. There will be so much more that can be part of the equation now. How will that manifest itself on the field. Drake isn't saying. For one, for a guy who had lost a lot with the Dolphins, he's looking for wins first.

Besides, he never used what he knew – or didn't know – as a crutch.

"My expectations haven't changed from the first time I got here," Drake said.

Images from Monday's practice at State Farm Stadium, presented by Hyundai.