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Cardinals Kick Off End -- And Beginning -- Of Work

Last minicamp practice means players leave Tempe, but preparation can't stop


Daryl Washington (58) and the Cardinals celebrate after Will Batson -- wearing No. 2 and being hoisted by Jonathan Cooper (61) -- made a field goal at the end of an abbreviated minicamp practice that allowed the players an early beginning to their time off.

The final hours of minicamp hung in the balance, resting on the right foot of a 26-year-old trying to make his first NFL roster.

Before the Cardinals could break for the offseason, coach Bruce Arians called on Will Batson. If he nailed a 48-yard field goal, the players were off until training camp. If he missed it, they'd have to keep grinding under the Thursday morning sun, where temperatures were already creeping into the high 90s.

Batson lined up. The snap was clean. Kick was up, end over end.

And camp was over.

"It felt good," Batson said. "Always does when you're able to make a field goal in this situation."

It was fitting that Batson, who was signed to compete with and help relieve punter Dave Zastudil, sent the team home. In an offseason that

saw 46 new players sign, it was a new face that the offensive line hoisted on their shoulders in celebration.

Arians called the offseason "outstanding" as all three phases learned new schemes while adapting to new teammates and a new coaching staff. But Arians stressed how crucial the next six weeks are for the Cardinals before training camp.

"It's very important for us to progress forward from here to training camp and not go backward or not stay where we're at," Arians said. "That was the message to the players right now. We have to continue to improve and we can't come back and start over. We've got to be able to have everything right where it is or better."

Throughout minicamp -- or soccer practice as Arians referred to it -- the offense has been the center of Arians' dismay more often or not. With a new quarterback, Carson Palmer, piloting the offense, time has been the team's best friend. But with only a limited amount of team-organized time allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends have scheduled their own workouts in San Diego, where Carson is building a new home, and Minnesota, where Larry Fitzgerald holds annual summer work.

While the break is a time to relax and recoup, Arians was clear to his team that it's not about slacking off either.

"We have to get in better condition," he said. "We're not in the best shape and we've got to get in better condition to play as fast as we want to play, especially offensively. But other than that I've been extremely pleased with the effort, the participation.

"I like where our football team is right now."

Patrick Peterson likes where the defense is.

"I think we made great progress as a unit, as a defense," he said. "As coach said, he believes the defense has gotten our hands on a lot of balls and gotten to the quarterback a lot. It's going to be special."

The rookies' transition continues with one more week of conditioning before they get a break, as well. A few, however, have already earned time with the first and second teams.

First-round pick Jonathan Cooper has been playing with the starters since he arrived in Arizona. Linebacker Kevin Minter has been seeing time with the second team, along with safety Tyrann Mathieu.

On top of adjusting to life in the NFL, Mathieu has been learning a new position. He played cornerback at Louisiana State.

"It's been extremely humbling," he said. "It's definitely been a great experience for me.

"I think it's totally mental here. In college, you just go out there and just actually do everything off physicality. Here you have to come to practice with the right mindset and just have to be prepared mentally. You definitely have to know your playbook."

Before he ventured off to Georgia for a few weeks at his lake home, Arians counted his blessings. He got out of his first minicamp as a head coach without any major injuries.

"You cross your fingers every day," Arians said. "You pick up the paper (and read about) this guy blew an ACL, this guy blew an Achilles, and you just hope and pray that that's not going to happen to your football team.

"We were very fortunate, especially with the amount of work that we did."

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