The football season is nearly here.
The Cardinals are reporting to training camp next week, with their first practice July 25. With a new coaching staff and a new quarterback, there will be a decidedly new look to 2019. But as always, there are some things under a brighter spotlight heading into the regular season than others. Here’s a look at some of the main questions before the Cards move – temporarily – into State Farm Stadium, with Part Two coming Tuesday.
WHAT WILL KLIFF KINGSBURY’S OFFENSE – AND TRAINING CAMP – LOOK LIKE?
It’s been the mystery of the offseason, just what the Cardinals will do with Kingsbury calling the plays and Kyler Murray at quarterback. It figures to become a little less mysterious over a month that will feature 14 open practices, although there will still be plenty of time to play it close to the vest and work in the post-camp practices heading into the regular season opener Sept. 8. There will be shotgun snaps and plenty of passing, but beyond that, few details. And while the offense is what everyone will be watching, it is Kingsbury’s first camp as an NFL head coach. How he handles the entire operation will also be an important factor in the 2019 Cardinals.
HOW WILL THE START OF THE K1 ERA LOOK?
Kyler Murray is going to be the quarterback. What he showed during the non-contact, fairly non-football offseason was his athleticism, his rocket arm and the kind of potential that made it understandable why the Cardinals would want to make him the No. 1 pick in the draft and their future. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of Murray to what the Cardinals will do and how quickly they will be able to rejuvenate the franchise. Given Murray’s familiarity with the concepts Kingsbury wants to use, the rookie QB is in a unique position given that he hasn’t played in the NFL. There will be a learning curve and inevitable bumps in the road, but the chance to watch it play out from jump is intriguing.
WHO WILL CATCH THE PASSES?
Larry Fitzgerald remains an anchor. Christian Kirk has a chance to build off a solid rookie season. But beyond that, there are no absolutes. That’s one of the issues from the 2018 Cardinals, and one of the things the Cards have worked hard to change this season. Kingsbury’s history says he’ll look everywhere to find receivers. Second-round pick Andy Isabella seems a sure thing to have an initial chance. Fellow draft picks KeeSean Johnson and Hakeem Butler could be in the mix too, although they may have a steeper climb in the short-term. Can Kevin White emerge as a candidate? Running back David Johnson will get his chances too, as should tight end Charles Clay and/or Ricky Seals-Jones. The openings are up for grabs – camp is where those jobs will be won.
HOW WILL DAVID JOHNSON BE USED?
It’s been a long time since Johnson’s dynamic 2016 season and push for a 1,000-1,000 rushing/receiving year ended with a scary knee injury in Los Angeles. His 2017 season was lost to a wrist injury, his 2018 lost to a struggling offense and a struggle knowing how to use his talents. Johnson should fit perfectly into the new Cardinals’ offense, mainly because Johnson remains the team’s best offensive weapon (especially at this point in Murray’s development). The Cards are still going to run the ball and Johnson will be the bellcow. But his receiving skills, all but ignored last season, should come back to the forefront.
WHO WINS THE STARTING CENTER JOB?
Most of the offensive line is set, with D.J. Humphries and Marcus Gilbert slated to be the tackles and Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy playing guard. But center is still TBD. That’s what Kingsbury said during OTAs, with veteran A.Q. Shipley coming back from an ACL tear and second-year man Mason Cole – who started all 16 games as a rookie after Shipley went down – angling for the job. Shipley is confident in his chances, and Cole does have potential of working at guard as well. As the Cardinals try to get their entire offensive line improved over what they’ve had the last couple of seasons, there are a ton of candidates for roster spots. There will be difficult roster decisions to make.