To Kliff Kingsbury, rookie wide receivers Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson have "learned a bunch of lessons, had their moments, and had their tough times and should be better for it" after an uneven initial season.
But it doesn't sound like there are plans to ramp up their use in the final two games of the season, and it will make this offseason -- both with the development of the 2019 wide receiver class, and what else the Cardinals might do at the position during free agency and the 2020 draft -- important to watch.
Isabella, a second-round pick, has been targeted only 13 times all season, playing in all but one game. Johnson, the sixth-round pick who emerged from training camp up the depth chart and was targeted 10 times in the season opener, has been targeted 42 times total and has been inactive four games -- including the last three following the bye. Hakeem Butler, the fourth-round pick, has missed the entire season after hurting his hand in preseason and going on injured reserve.
Kingsbury said early on he wanted the young receivers to grow alongside rookie QB Kyler Murray. The coach said that is still happening, but in games, "we're playing those guys that we feel give us the best chance to win these games, and that's who's been out there."
Veteran Damiere Byrd, who had been inactive a few games himself, supplanted Johnson in the lineup and was targeted a team-high six times against the Browns. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald remain the top two wideouts. Even Pharoh Cooper, who was brought back after being cut, moved up the depth chart past Johnson and Isabella.
The morphing of Kingsbury's offense from less four-wide looks and more use of one- and two-tight end sets has also made an impact.
But there is also little question that if the rookies had left more of an impression on the coaches, the opportunities would be different.
That's why what they can do in the historically important jump from first to second season becomes so fascinating, especially with the backdrop of a draft class loaded with playmaking wide receivers and an offense that behind Murray has a chance to become something special.
"Any time you have a rookie quarterback, a new offense and a new staff, you're going to have some growing pains and go through some stuff," Kingsbury said. "I believe it'll make (the rookie receivers) better going into the offseason. They know what they have to work on, and we'll keep at it."