The Cardinals are on vacation.
Once the final minicamp practice ended Thursday, veteran players and the coaches scattered for five weeks. The rookies remain for a couple of weeks for strength training and life skills meetings. But the team won’t begin to regroup until July 22, when rookies and quarterbacks return, leading into training camp’s report day on July 27.
And that’s when the real assessments can happen, when the pads go on and there are at least preseason games for which to prepare. It is more difficult to look at what the Cardinals had on the field the last couple of months and understand in absolutes what 2018 will look like. But that didn’t mean there couldn’t be things gleaned from the offseason:
-- JOSH ROSEN IMPRESSED, BUT IT’S HARD NOT TO SEE SAM BRADFORD AS STARTER: Once the Cardinals drafted Rosen 10th overall, the quarterback was going to be the focal point of the offseason – and that’s even with Bradford coming into his first season with the club. Rosen looked as smart as coach Steve Wilks and teammates said he did, showing accuracy, impressive arm strength, somewhat surprising mobility and, by all accounts, the intelligence needed to be that guy everyone said was the most NFL-ready of the rookie QBs. But Bradford too displayed an arm – in both accuracy and strength – that impressed. He didn’t get to do as much as the Cards stuck to the Bradford “plan,” but it’s still hard to picture anyone but Bradford – assuming health – as opening day starter.
-- THAT NO. 2 RECEIVER ROLE IS WIDE OPEN: There are plenty of options, whether it be returning vets like Chad Williams or J.J. Nelson, new vets like Brice Butler or Greg Little, or rookie Christian Kirk. Kirk was solid in his first NFL work, and there is little doubt he will have an impactful role this season. Whether he is No. 2, well, it’s impossible to know right now. This is the first time in a number of years the spot behind Larry Fitzgerald has been this muddled – perhaps dating all the way back to before Fitz showed up and Anquan Boldin was a rookie.
-- MAYBE A LITTLE MORE IS KNOWN ABOUT NO. 2 CORNERBACK: The trade for Jamar Taylor seemed to settle down the concerns about who would play across from Patrick Peterson. Taylor isn't a lock to start, but he is positioned well to take that role. Brandon Williams has shown improvement, but he still has much to prove. And would it be a surprise to see a "Keim Time" signing at this position? It would not.
-- DEFENSIVE BACKS FIGURE TO BE DEPLOYED DIFFERENTLY – AND THAT INCLUDES P2: For the most part, Peterson was a one-on-one, stick-to-a-certain-receiver cornerback before this year. But Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb want to make it a little more difficult to know what each defensive back will do each play. There are more looks making all DBs interchangeable, there will be more opportunities for cornerbacks to blitz, and there will definitely be more optimism from Peterson that he will get a chance to make some more splash plays he has craved.
-- DAVID JOHNSON SKIPPED MINICAMP, BUT HE WAS MOSTLY AROUND AND LOOKED GOOD WHEN HE WAS: We’ll see exactly how his contract situation plays out, but those last three practices were basically the only ones he missed once players returned in early April. He was in all the meetings and on the field, he looked like the guy who was gaining more than 2,000 scrimmage yards in 2016. Assuming the two sides get the contract thing resolved – and that seems much more likely than not – Johnson looks primed to have a big year.
-- ROSEN AND KIRK WEREN’T THE ONLY ROOKIES THAT MADE AN IMPRESSION: Fourth-round running back Chase Edmonds was getting first-team reps when Johnson was gone, and even in a reserve role when Johnson was around, Edmonds looked like his small-school pedigree wasn’t going to prevent him from bringing his shifty style to success. He could become an under-the-radar contributor. The Cards also liked what they saw from Mason Cole at center, although whether he plays early remains to be seen. Perhaps more importantly, Wilks and his staff seem to view rookies much differently than previous coaches Bruce Arians and Ken Whisenhunt – meaning first-year players could very well make a much greater contribution than had been expected the previous 11 seasons.
-- DEONE BUCANNON IS CONFIDENT IN HIS NEW ROLE: As the season wound down last year, more responsibility was put on Deone Bucannon as a signal-caller on defense, and now, that’s his likely job. Make no mistake, Bucannon is a linebacker all the way now, in a defense in many ways built for a guy like him. He has grabbed the role, become a vocal leader, and has embraced his spot. As he goes into an important contract year, Bucannon will have the chance to make a splash.
-- SPECIAL TEAMS MATTERS: Not that special teams didn’t matter to Arians, but Wilks – as promised – has put an emphasis on it, setting aside a noticeable amount of time each OTA and minicamp practice for the work. It’s a part of the game that will need game action to show exactly how well the Cardinals can perform, but the prep time is significant.
-- WILKS LEFT LITTLE DOUBT HOW HE WANTS HIS TEAM AND CULTURE: Wilks has shown personality, and he has shown compassion – making sure his players gave team employee Leo Longoria a send-off before being deployed, embracing the idea of a Make-A-Wish child running a play at the end of practice, spending the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s practice with the widow and family of late youth football coach Mike Thompson. But with football, Wilks has a very precise way of working. There would be no finishing early in the offseason – the Cards played out all 10 OTAs and all three full minicamp practices. He demanded crisp work and let the team and individual players know it if he didn’t see it. He embraced the heat and believed working in it will make for a tougher team. If the Cardinals got anything out of offseason work, it’s what their new head coach demands.
June Minicamp Day Three
Images from the final day of minicamp -- and the final day of 2018 offseason work