Time used to speed up for Christian Kirk as the ball would float down from the sky, a chance to haul in a deep bomb making the wide receiver "a little anxious."
Now when that ball is falling into his hands, the Cardinals wide receiver feels like time has slowed. His confidence is up. One of his long-time good friends is throwing him the ball. He knows when he's open he's going to get the ball.
Kirk knows that for all the questions – about his health, about his speed – he has become a significant threat in the passing game, teaming with buddy Kyler Murray to become a potential one-play touchdown drive on every possession.
"I was texting with one of my friends and I said, 'I'm just hoping they keep underestimating my speed and keep letting me run behind them,' " Kirk said with a smile.
"It's been good in the sort of groove I have been in. But it's important for me to be consistent and keep showing I can help and be a major contributor to this team."
Kirk is only fourth on the team in receptions this season, his 23 trailing DeAndre Hopkins (60), Larry Fitzgerald (33) and running back Chase Edmonds (29). But his 400 yards has given him a gaudy 17.4 yards per catch average, and his six touchdown catches double the next closest teammate (Hopkins 3). His highlights this season include a 56-yard TD catch against the Dolphins last week, and a spectacular 80-yard score in Dallas.
Since 2018, when Kirk arrived in the NFL, he has five touchdown catches of 50 yards or more, more than anyone in the NFL not named Tyreek Hill.
It's the kind of production, Murray said, that "was going to happen eventually." Murray saw the possibility all the way back in high school, when the two met each other during summer camps and 7-on-7 tournaments, connecting through their talent and their eventual school (Texas A&M) and frequently FaceTiming and texting prior to their respective prep games on Friday nights.
"Forming that bond was cool," Kirk said, adding, "it's like we were best friends off the jump."
The relationship between Murray and Kirk has made a difference in Kirk's production, Kirk acknowledged. But it helps too that the addition of Hopkins has drawn eyes away from the second-round pick, as does Murray's own development.
"It wasn't that (Christian) wasn't open last season," Murray said. "It took me to mature and be more comfortable, understanding what my reads were, reading defenses, going through progressions, everything that comes with Year 2 for me. I think he was open last year. Obviously he didn't get as much love last year as he is getting now, but he's always been a great receiver."
It also helps that Kirk is now healthy, after battling a broken foot as a rookie and a lingering ankle problem last season. (He missed one game this year because of a groin injury.)
"He and Kyler obviously have a good rapport, and he's made some big plays," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "But it's kind of what we've seen coming over the past couple of seasons. If he could stay healthy, we knew he could be a dynamic presence for us."
Kirk understands the health questions, fighting such adversity and those who questioned if he would live up to his draft status.
"It was keeping blinders on and knowing what my end goal is, knowing the hard work will pay off," Kirk said. "This offseason is probably the hardest I've ever worked.
"It's nice to see it paying off, but when I go back and look at it all, whether I am scoring a touchdown or not, it's more motivation. If I have a big game, I come out of it so much more motivated that there is more out there."
Images from the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.