The Cardinals return: (from left) Safety Tony Jefferson, defensive end Calais Campbell and guard Mike Iupati walk to a post-workout team meeting Monday.
Each NFL season is mentally and physically taxing, so it's no surprise to see players scatter quickly to various retreats once their team is eliminated from Super Bowl contention.
Some go back to their hometowns. Others find a beach. A few travel the world.
While that type of decompression is essential, it never seems to last long. Inevitably, the players' minds trickle back to football. The Cardinals began Phase One of their voluntary offseason workouts on Monday for the strength and conditioning program. In the locker room, it was a boisterous bunch, almost like a group of students on their first day of school.
"We've been around football all our lives," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "For me, I miss the camaraderie being around the
guys. I miss the locker room smell, making fun, having jokes out on the field. There's nothing like it. To be back is definitely a joy."
The regular season is still far away, as the team must first navigate the draft, OTAs, mini-camp, training camp and the preseason, but coach Bruce Arians has always stressed the importance of this time as an important step for the team to grow together, and the players seem to be embracing it.
"It doesn't seem that big, but just seeing each other's faces, continuing that relationship, it's important," safety Deone Bucannon said. "When we're on the field, it's creating that trust. It definitely makes a difference."
It's easy to be optimistic in Arizona, where the Cardinals are coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff berth. Even that doesn't tell the whole story, as a 9-1 start was undercut by key injuries which handicapped the team's chance at making a Super Bowl run. Quarterback Carson Palmer is on the mend from a torn ACL, while players like running back Andre Ellington and guard Jonathan Cooper were back Monday, working out with their teammates after missing the last portion of 2014.
The Cardinals believe last season was another building block to their Super Bowl aspiration.
"We got a taste of the playoffs and we saw what it takes to get there – how to prepare, how to take care of our bodies," running back Stepfan Taylor said. "It's just very exciting because we know we have a good team. That's why we're excited to come back out here."
While they weren't physically in the same place, Peterson said he kept an open line of communication with fellow defensive backs Tony Jefferson, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu over the past few months.
"(We've) been texting the whole offseason just figuring out ways to get better," Peterson said. "Our minds are always moving because we were so close late year. We knew what it took, and now we're going to be that much hungrier to get us to that next step."
The players worked toward that goal individually following the Wild Card playoff loss to the Panthers. Now they're back together, squarely focused on 2015.
"After the season you want to get away for a little bit, but after a while, you're doing the same thing, just training and working out all the time," Taylor said. "You're ready to get back out there and do more football stuff with the team."