Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer will have every skill player from 2015 at his disposal again this season.
New faces bring optimism to NFL training camps this time of year, but the Cardinals are just fine looking at the same old mugs.
The offense pulled off a rare feat this offseason, returning every skill player who gained a yard in 2015. It seemed an unlikely outcome heading into free agency, but running back Chris Johnson and tight end Jermaine Gresham both turned down more money to stay, keeping the cupboard stocked with the same ingredients.
The benefit is two-fold: the players get another year of continuity in the system, and Bruce Arians gets the weapons back that accumulated the most total yards in the NFL – and second-most points – in 2015.
When the Cardinals open the preseason against the Raiders on Friday night at 7 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium, there will be plenty of new variables to dissect, but the top skill guys won't be one of them.
"It's really nice when you're able to go to bed at training camp knowing you have a decent grasp on what you have," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It takes a lot of the anxiety of not knowing what you're doing out of it. You can just go out there and play fast and play to your ability. I think that is a huge advantage."
The Cardinals' top two running backs, David Johnson and Chris Johnson, are in their second years with the team. Chris Johnson wasn't added until early in training camp last season, and although he was lauded for being a quick study, he said this year has been much smoother. David Johnson had the whole 2015 offseason with the Cardinals, but he was a rookie just getting his feet wet.
"My head was spinning," David Johnson said. "It was like a roller-coaster. This year I'm so much more comfortable."
Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown are all entering at least their third seasons within Arians' offensive scheme. Brown said there are subtle improvements that can make a big difference, like route timing and unspoken chemistry with quarterback Carson Palmer.
"It's great because everyone trusts each other," Brown said.
If the skill players were in school, they'd be in an advanced class, but instead of piling on new material, Arians is focused on perfecting an already-fat playbook.
"You have to watch as a coach to try to put too much stuff in," Arians said. "Just fine-tune your stuff. We've identified things we did very well last year and things we did very poorly. We started targeting them in the spring and we'll continue to target those."
One major emphasis has been on short-yardage plays, a situation that heavily involves the offensive line. That unit features the only new starters on offense, with center A.Q. Shipley, right guard Evan Mathis and right tackle D.J. Humphries projected to take over for Lyle Sendlein, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie.
Shipley and Humphries are in their second year with the Cardinals while Mathis is a savvy veteran, so the transition is manageable.
Palmer has spoken glowingly of the offensive progression throughout the offseason workouts and early in training camp. While it's not a given this year's team out-produces the 2015 version – Palmer set career-highs in several statistical categories -- everything is aligned for that possibility.
The machine seems to be humming beautifully, and it will get its first test drive – albeit for only 10-to-12 plays – in the preseason opener against the Raiders.
"I think we can do something special," Fitzgerald said. "I think we can put a lot of points up and really improve on the areas that we were deficient in last season."