The Cardinals break down after practice for the final time in Flagstaff Thursday.
FLAGSTAFF – It started with a whirlwind, with new players arriving daily and a third of the squad unable to do anything but watch, making 2011's training camp unlike any other.
But just about a month later, as the Cards wrapped up their time at Northern Arizona University with a final practice Thursday morning, the end came much like any other season.
"At the end, it feels regular," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We have gotten into the swing, played a couple of (preseason) games and know the season is on the horizon – it's close. You're ready for it to be over and to the games that really count."
The camp was anything but normal, of course. Integrating so many new key players in such a short time period played havoc with what coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff normally do in camp. The lack of offseason work because of the lockout meant that camp wasn't about installing the offense or defense for a third time but instead the first, a process that continued all the way up to the camp's final day.
New starting quarterback Kevin Kolb didn't get to pull on a helmet until Aug. 4, along with 21 of his teammates, because of the delay in the collective bargaining agreement. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton was trying to teach his scheme cold to a unit that didn't even know their coaches.
"No, it does not feel like a normal camp," Whisenhunt said. "The routine has been different. We were putting things in on the field (Tuesday) that we hadn't worked on yet, that we could potentially use in a game. By now, we would have all that stuff done. There are a lot of things with this camp that we hadn't experienced before and we worked our way through them.
"It's been a fun camp, a camp with not a lot of rest, that's for sure. It's been a meet-and-greet camp, an opportunity to meet a lot of young guys in a short amount of time. I can't say I would look forward to doing it again, but I have enjoyed it."
With the new CBA, camp changed. No longer can teams practice twice in one day with helmets. Whisenhunt was never a big proponent of having a lot of two-a-day instances, but now, the morning work on those days was literally a walkthrough in baseball caps, a nod to the mental but not physical part of the game.
Even with the shortcomings of the offseason, center Lyle Sendlein said the coaches didn't tone down the playbook.
"That's what camp is for," veteran tight end Jeff King said. "Football 24 hours a day."
One casualty of the rocky way the offseason unfolded was the rookies. No undrafted rookie was able to make an impact like wide receiver Stephen Williams did a year ago; any undrafted player who sticks around into next month will likely end up on the practice squad. It doesn't seem like any have had the time to impress enough to get to the 53-man roster.
Once camp began and the veterans could practice, reps had to go to the vets who didn't know the system and had to learn – quickly.
The draft class has looked good, and the way things have played out it wouldn't be surprising to see all eight picks make the roster (only linebacker Quan Sturdivant seems to be on the bubble at this point). But that doesn't mean they are fully prepared either.
"As a rookie, I don't think I have had enough of the NFL experience," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "It's a business and you have to move on, and (the season) is up on us right now."
The effects of camp figure to last for a little while in that regard, and Whisenhunt acknowledged "the great unknown is something that is very difficult. Everyone is faced with it to some degree."
The Cards have two preseason games left and 17 days before the first game that counts, against Carolina Sept. 11. Given the circumstances, the days left to prepare may be just a little more important than seasons past.
"I feel like we do a lot of positives things on the field but there are also mistakes," Kolb said. "There were some things on the field (earlier this week), two or three plays where it was 'Oh, I didn't know you were going to do that.' There are going to be some hiccups.
"Is there ever enough time to get all the work in? I don't know. That's always the question."