Wide receivers Christian Kirk and Damiere Byrd have been back at practice this week, albeit limited as they attempt to return from an ankle and a hamstring injury, respectively, and their status for Sunday’s game against the Falcons will impact what the Cardinals will do offensively.
While rushing for 266 yards last week against the Bengals, the Cardinals used tight ends Charles Clay and Maxx Williams more than the first four games, but coach Kliff Kingsbury has been hesitant to declare any kind of sea change with the offense.
“You have to set your plan for the guys you have, and we had two receivers that didn’t play,” passing game coordinator Tom Clements said Thursday. “That kind of limits you, somewhat.”
Where Kirk and Byrd stand in terms of playing also will impact another guy in the wide receiver room – rookie Andy Isabella.
Isabella remains a hot topic. As a second-round pick and seemingly a perfect fit for what Kingsbury wanted to do offensively, Isabella was expected to make a bigger splash at this point. Even with Kirk and Byrd sidelined in Cincinnati, Isabella played just nine offensive snaps. He carried the ball twice on jet sweeps – he has three rushing attempts on the season – but has yet to be thrown a pass.
Kingsbury said Isabella is working hard and the plan is to get him more involved. The Cards already like using him on motions – David Johnson got a 17-yard run when the Bengals linebacker froze at the notion that the speedy Isabella might get the ball running the other way – but Kingsbury also said the Cards might’ve made it harder on the rookie by training him in too many spots.
“I like where he’s heading,” Kingsbury said. “It has nothing to do with us being disappointed. His work ethic is through the roof, and his talent is through the roof. We’ll get him going.”
STILL NO DAVID JOHNSON, AND A LOT OF LINEBACKERS OUT
Running back David Johnson (back) didn't practice again Thursday, and the Cardinals were thin on linebackers – Jordan Hicks was not present (although it was non-injury related) in addition to all the other linebackers who had missed the day before: Haason Reddick (shoulder), Dennis Gardeck (ankle), Terrell Suggs (back) and Ezekiel Turner (hamstring). Reddick was officially limited Thursday.
“We’ll have our guys for Sunday morning,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said of the linebackers. “No concern there.”
Safety Charles Washington (shoulder) also sat out practice, while Kirk, Byrd, punter Andy Lee (hip), defensive end Zach Allen (shoulder) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (shoulder) were limited. Also limited was new cornerback Trevor Williams (hip), who had been claimed off waivers following his stint on the Chargers' injured reserve list.
For the Falcons, wide receiver Julio Jones (hip) was upgraded to limited Thursday. Safety Ricardo Allen (knee), wide receiver Russell Gage (hip) and center Alex Mack (elbow) were all limited. Not practicing were cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe), punter Matt Wile (quad) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (groin).
FALCONS IN TEMPE FOR THE WEEK
The Falcons, who lost in Houston last weekend, decided to stay in Tempe this week to practice prior to their game against the Cardinals rather than go back to Atlanta. The team is practicing inside the bubble at Arizona State University. As much as it might be about cutting down on travel, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said, it can also help with the funk of a 1-4 start.
“We decided way back in the spring, when we had both West Coast trips, but I’ve done it a few times,” Quinn said. “We did it once up in Seattle (when Quinn was an assistant) and some other three- and four-day trips, and it’s always, in my opinion, just a good way to get the team connected. It’s been that way again for us, and we certainly need that to get our football aligned and playing like we’d like. So, it came at a time for us to really regroup and connect, and so far, so good.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan praised the facilities at ASU when talking to reporters Wednesday, and echoed his coach about the idea of focusing on football during their week in Arizona.
“We’re at a point where we have to turn the tide,” Ryan added.