Darnell Dockett gets ready to bench some dumbbells during the first day of the offseason program Monday. For a photo gallery, click here.
The players streamed in all day, and John Lott couldn't have been happier. This was his Christmas after all.
"I know he probably didn't sleep the last two nights," guard Daryn Colledge said of the Cards' strength and conditioning coach. "He's been pumped up all weekend."
Itching every year to get players work in the offseason, Lott stewed all last year when the lockout prevented him from training players and then had to wait longer this year because the new collective bargaining agreement forced a later start by three weeks.
Monday, however, the players finally came around en masse despite the program's voluntary designation. Of the 62 players on the roster – including the currently unsigned franchise tagged defensive end Calais Campbell – 58 appeared at the team's Tempe facility to begin work, continue workouts they had started on their own or get in more injury rehabilitation.
"The biggest thing now is trying to build chemistry in the offseason," defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. "Football is going to come, regardless."
The Cardinals will have two weeks of strength and conditioning work in the first phase of the new offseason rules. Quarterbacks can throw to receivers on their own and that will start this week as well. The three weeks after that, coaches can now come on the field and instruction is permitted. The final four weeks of the offseason work includes the organized team activities and minicamp.
With three weeks shaved off the front, Lott has less with which to work. "He made us run four 300s today," tackle Levi Brown said, shaking his head. "Horrible."
But Brown understood, too. "He has a shorter time frame, so he's got to get us in shape and get us ready for the coaches."
Players have been working out on their own somewhere. It's not surprising that the veterans embrace the new, shorter offseason, "under the one condition that when you are away from here, you work," tight end Jeff King said.
"Guys that don't work for those three months, it's going to hurt those guys," King added. "It might hurt a younger player. If you are five years, six, seven (into the league), you have a routine you usually do, I think it's awesome."
The turnout was impressive, however, and given how many of the players had been coming into NFL facilities earlier in previous offseasons, their professional bodyclocks were probably leaning toward a return by now.
"Most football players, we're kind of like sheep," Colledge said. "You enjoy those first few weeks of the offseason and the rest of the time it's 'What do I need to be doing?' "
Lott was busy the entire day – the smaller third group, with Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, James Sanders, Greg Toler and Dan Williams, didn't finish up until mid-afternoon – but when asked about it being like Christmas for him, he just smiled and nodded his head.
"He had a grin from ear-to-ear on his face," quarterback John Skelton said. "Everyone has seen him at the combine and that's genuine, so for us to be back for the first day of the offseason, we kind of expect it from him."
Players cannot participate in the offseason work unless they have signed contracts. So the last two restricted free agents that were unsigned – safety Rashad Johnson and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling – signed their one-year tenders, putting all the tendered RFAs and exclusive rights free agents under contract.