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Cardinals Trending Up, But Questions Await In Key Offseason

First season under Kliff Kingsbury success on multiple levels

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with quarterback Kyler Murray during the season finale in Los Angeles Sunday.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with quarterback Kyler Murray during the season finale in Los Angeles Sunday.

Kliff Kingsbury enjoys watching his video, and especially his own team, so he will be sure to analyze the Cardinals' season finale against the Rams at some point.

But Monday, that had yet to happen. Understandably so.

"I'll get to it at some point," Kingsbury said at his season-ending press conference. "But (there are) a lot of other things going on."

That was true of Monday itself, as players went through exit interviews, final physicals and a last team meeting. It will be true beyond. The Cardinals for the first time since after the 2016 season won't be going through a head coaching change, know they have their long-term quarterback in Kyler Murray and feel energized with some of the improvements, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

But they still went 5-10-1, still have roster holes to fill and still have significant questions that must be answered over the next few months.

"We're not in the playoffs right now, we're going home, and you can build off of the good things we did this year but we didn't do enough," guard Justin Pugh said. "It's going to be a big offseason, just like every NFL offseason. Changes are going to be made, new faces are going to be in this locker room. It's an exciting time and it's a sad time."

The one thing Kingsbury was concrete about: Vance Joseph will return as defensive coordinator next season.

Other topics that need to be determined:

-- The potential return of Larry Fitzgerald – which could potentially impact how the Cards look at the wide receiver position. Kingsbury said his pitch to Fitz would be simple. "Please come back." The coach said Murray twice missed Fitz for big plays Sunday, and that Fitzgerald is "playing as good as anybody" when figuring in the total package. Kingsbury, though, only smiled when he was asked if he would fall back on his college recruiting skills to try and woo Fitz into a return.

"He's pretty wise to the game," Kingsbury said. "He's been pitched about everything on this planet. I think he'd see through my B.S. probably."

-- Along those lines, Kingsbury said "I'm not sure" when asked if the Cardinals need a No. 1 wide receiver and if the No. 8 overall pick could be used on that position, noting it's on the Cardinals to take the best player there that "makes us better immediately."

-- The running back room that must be sorted out. Running back David Johnson was active but held out of Sunday's finale, and discussions about his future are to come. (If the Cardinals wanted to try and trade him, the trade window doesn't open again until March 18.) Kingsbury said it "remains to be seen" if he could make three viable running backs work in his offense.

Kingsbury wouldn't commit to Kenyan Drake as the No. 1 running back either, although that's likely in large part because of Drake's impending free agency.

"That's another discussion we'll have," Kingsbury said. "I thought he made big steps and with an entire offseason in our system he has a chance to really take off. We have to sit down with personnel and see where we are at with those guys."

-- Kingsbury wasn't prepared to announce any changes to his coaching staff Monday, although a report came out that the Cards were going to move on from defensive line coach Chris Achuff and special teams assistant Randall McCray.

-- On what positions might be the priority in free agency, "we'll have those discussions in the next couple of weeks."

The enthusiasm, however, hasn't been dampened even with so many significant questions. That particularly begins with Murray. The rookie left an impression on teammates with his willingness to play with a hamstring injury Sunday. He became only the sixth player in NFL history with 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards.

He also has shown the right perspective in viewing a season filled with more losses than he had ever experienced.

"I've won my whole life but I understood what I was getting into at the beginning of the year," Murray said. "I understand that I'm young and it's a new coach, new system. You're going to have ups and downs and we understood that.

"I think we came a long way from the beginning of the season and that's what matters. Carrying that on to next season, I think we'll get better and better."

It helps when there is not significant coaching turnover. Given all of Kingsbury's comments about working with Steve Keim, the general manager also figures to remain in place.

"That instability and not knowing, who your (head) coach is going to be, who your position coach is going to be, it definitely puts you a little more at ease," linebacker and special teamer Ezekiel Turner said. "It's, 'OK, I can pick up where I left off at' instead of 'I have to learn a whole new scheme.' "

Kingsbury gets a little stability too, having been through one offseason already with the Cardinals having a better understanding what the offseason NFL world is like.

"I hope we can take a big step," Kingsbury said. "Last year you get here and try and keep your head above water and get all your processes in place. Now you have a chance to fine tune some of those processes and hopefully figure out what you did well, what you want to change (and) not spending so much time just getting it in.

"That's an exciting time in terms of how much improvement we can make."

A chronological look at the Cardinals' 16th regular season game against the Rams.

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