After Kliff Kingsbury was hired, it seemed to him forever before he was able to finally coach his players on the field.
That first foray on the grass is over. The Cardinals completed their mandatory minicamp this week, two practices to go with 10 organized team activities and a few weeks of Phase Two work, and Kingsbury has a baseline in which to enter training camp in late July.
The Cardinals are a significantly different team than the one that had the first overall draft pick. There is still much to sort through once the pads come on. But for now, here are some of the things that stood out from the padless part of offseason football.
KYLER MURRAY IS AS DYNAMIC AS ANTICIPATED
There were no pads, no pass rush, no way to get hit. There is still no way to know how Kyler Murray will play for sure on the NFL level until the games actually happen. Still, it’s impossible not to notice up close on the practice field what the Cardinals’ decision-makers loved about the quarterback, and the reason they spent the first overall pick on him and dealt Josh Rosen. Murray’s arm is electric, powerful and accurate. His shiftiness in the pocket – not the times he brings it down and runs, which he can obviously do – allows him to buy himself time to look down the field. His size, at least in practice, does not hinder. By all accounts, he is knowledgeable and comfortable in the offense. That’s important. But it’s the athletic gifts that fuels the optimism, and Murray will be fun to watch once the pads come on.
THE PETERSON SUSPENSION MAKES FOR A WIDE-OPEN CORNERBACK SITUATION
One absolute fact learned in the offseason was that Patrick Peterson was facing a six-game suspension to start the regular season. It was – and is – a brutal blow for the defense. It also makes for a healthy competition for that vacant spot across from newcomer Robert Alford. Perhaps the wide-open nature faded a bit this week, after veteran David Amerson – who was expected to be considered as a Peterson replacement – was released Thursday. There are still multiple possibilities, with veteran Tramaine Brock Sr. having ties to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and a holdover like Chris Jones perhaps making some strides, but it likely speaks mostly to how solid rookie Byron Murphy has looked. Murphy was the best cornerback in the draft, the Cardinals believed. Perhaps he’s the guy that steps in.
D.J. SWEARINGER IS MAKING HIS PRESENCE KNOWN AS A LEADER
Swearinger is a very good safety for how he plays, but one of the benefits he brings is that emotional edge to a locker room. He’s brought that vocal nature back to the Cardinals, and it was apparent in multiple practices. Sometimes it’s in fun, sometimes it’s with a sneer, but the intention is always to spark his team and/or teammates in the right direction.
THERE ARE SOME DARKHORSE CANDIDATES AT WIDE RECEIVER
Drafting a trio of receivers – Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson – was done out of necessity, and while the learning curve hasn’t been conquered, it’s hard to see a scenario where all three aren’t around as part of the room’s renaissance this season. But as they learn behind guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, it’s the other veterans on the depth chart that have earned some attention. The athletic gifts of Kevin White are apparent, and if the Cards can keep him healthy, he will be intriguing to watch in camp. Then there are a couple of players who have been known as return men who have flashed at times – Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd. It’s possible they could ultimately be fighting for a single roster spot, should either make it, but they seem to have made some inroads.
ALL SIGNS POINT TO A GOOD DOSE OF DAVID JOHNSON
Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t give a lot of specifics when it comes to the offense or individual players, but it is hard not to hear his enthusiasm for running back David Johnson. How Johnson’s touches will break down is still hard to tell, although Johnson will be getting the ball. It makes too much sense, in an offense that’ll be about getting guys the ball in space, not to let Johnson’s blend of speed, cutting ability and power do a lot of work.
A.Q. SHIPLEY IS FIGHTING HARD TO STEP BACK IN THE STARTING LINEUP
Kingsbury said the starting center position is open, with veteran A.Q. Shipley (coming off an ACL tear) and Mason Cole (who started all last season) battling it out. The rest of the line seems all but set, with Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, J.R. Sweezy at right guard, Justin Pugh at left guard and D.J. Humphries at left tackle. And if Shipley has his way, center is pretty set too. The veteran has grinded hard to return from his injury, and has left little doubt he thinks he will be the starter. How the reps break down in training camp will be something to watch.
PETERSON’S ABSENCE WON’T CHANGE DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Peterson may be facing suspension, and the absence of a true put-him-on-an-island-against-a-top-wideout cornerback would seem to hinder a defense that wanted to be very aggressive. But defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said that won’t change his thought process, and that the Cardinals want to play the same way while Peterson is gone as well as when he gets back. It will be interesting to see if the Cards can make that work, or if Joseph is forced to make significant adjustments.
THERE ARE STILL A LOT OF UNKNOWNS ABOUT THIS OFFENSE
Kingsbury’s go-to comment the last couple of months when it came to his offensive plans/schemes? “We’ll see.” He acknowledged this week it was genuine, that until the Cardinals get to camp they won’t really know what the offense truly will be about. That’s fair, to a point. Murray has talked about being comfortable in the offense, so given that and Kingsbury’s college history, we can get a sense of what the Cardinals will look like when they have the ball. But I do expect Kingsbury, who loves the scheming and planning of football, to be willing and able to adjust often, week-to-week and even half-to-half in-games. That’s what he was brought to Arizona to do.
WE’RE GOING TO SEE SOME DRAFT PICKS PLAYING, AND MAYBE A LOT
Perhaps it’s obvious, given the fact the team won just three games a season ago. But the Cardinals made 11 draft picks, and while it’s unlikely they all make the 53-man roster, most of them should, and many could end up playing. Murray is your starting quarterback. Murphy is going to play a lot, whether as Peterson replacement or the nickel corner. Andy Isabella should play right away, and both KeeSean Johnson and Hakeem Butler have a chance to have roles. Zach Allen will be in the rotation on the defensive line. Even Deionte Thompson could end up on special teams out of the gate. If you are picking early in every round, you hope those guys can make an immediate impact.
The top images from the Cardinals' on-field work in 2019