From a late start to the omnipresent COVID-19 safety requirements, the Cardinals faced some unprecedented challenges in training camp this year.
The State Farm Stadium practices came to a close on Thursday, and as the operation prepares to shift back to the Dignity Health Training Center in Tempe, coach Kliff Kingsbury couldn't be much happier with how everything went.
The Cardinals did a terrific job of following the coronavirus protocols, as no player on the team was placed on the restricted list. The absence of major upheaval allowed for the standard practice schedule, and Kingsbury noticed smoother execution in his second season as coach.
"Much farther ahead," Kingsbury said. "We didn't have an offseason, but going into last year, I'd never coached in an NFL game. That obviously went a long way when you look at how we didn't operate our offense throughout the preseason and then struggled mightily that first week.
"I think as far as coaches and players, having expectations of what we want to be, what we can be, how to practice and how to prepare for Week 1, we're light years ahead of where we were."
Kingsbury cautioned that the Cardinals still need to show it when the regular season begins, but several weeks' worth of full-speed practices bred confidence.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk said the team hit a speed bump halfway through camp but then turned a corner.
"Every team has that day where you're right in the middle of camp, guys' bodies are starting to get a little sore, you're going against the same guy for the 10th day in a row and you're fighting that little bit of adversity," Kirk said. "But I felt like after that, things were really smooth."
The Cardinals canceled team activities for a day during camp to allow players to mobilize in their quest to combat racism and police brutality. Social justice was a consistent topic during camp, as was the coronavirus.
Kingsbury knew heading in that this would be a camp unlike any other.
"We talked to the guys about controlling what we can control," Kingsbury said. "That was to work hard and get better every day. We feel like that's what they've done. I've been impressed with their attitudes, not letting a lot of things outside the building and outside of football slip in and affect our practice habits or our performance out there on the field.
"That's where we're at heading into Week 1. We've made progress. I feel like we've gotten better throughout camp. You won't know until you line up against another team kind of where you're at, but I couldn't be more impressed with the way guys have handled it, with everything going on. The businesslike attitude has been really good."
The close of camp does bring with it a possible hazard, as the players will now head home at the end of the work day – the type of freedom that could increase the chances of contracting COVID-19.
"Now the big challenge is, we're breaking camp and getting out of our bubble and our life now," outside linebacker Devon Kennard said. "Everybody has to go in their regular life. Can we maintain this across the league? I'm pretty optimistic that we can. I'm hoping everything goes smoothly."
Kingsbury will remind his players of the stakes as the regular season approaches, and he will also be crossing his fingers.
"You definitely touch on it," Kingsbury said. "It's not easy. I know I get a haircut every week, and I'm thinking, 'Am I putting myself at risk?' So there's different things you have to worry about on a daily basis. Our guys have done a tremendous job of not putting themselves at risk, not doing anything crazy, and the understanding is that they won't."
Images from Thursday's practice at State Farm Stadium, presented by Hyundai.