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Top Takeaways From The Cardinals' 2020 Offseason

Murray confident even without on-field work; Hopkins changes offense

Kliff Kingsbury, here talking to his players during an OTA in 2019, had to work virtually in 2020.
Kliff Kingsbury, here talking to his players during an OTA in 2019, had to work virtually in 2020.

The biggest takeaway for the Cardinals this offseason? That they didn't learn as much about themselves as they could have, given that they never were able to get on the field.

Judging where a team is after offseason work is never concrete. Minicamp practices and OTAs are conducted in shorts, with no hitting. The perspective can and does change in training camp.

But this year, there is even less that can be deciphered, simply because the canvas was half-blank. Analyzing roster moves is always part of the offseason, but seeing the human beings on the field and in the locker room adds so much to the overall picture.

Still, it isn't impossible to have a few things that stand out:

KYLER MURRAY, EVEN WITHOUT FIELD WORK, REMAINS CONFIDENT IN YEAR TWO

Would Kyler Murray have been better off to have been in Tempe, at the facility, practicing with teammates? Even he acknowledged that's the case. But that doesn't mean he didn't or couldn't take strides forward this offseason. When you're stuck with video breakdowns and the mental game, that's the path to improvement – and both Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury have emphasized Murray has shown great strides in seeing the game where he wasn't previously. Murray has to make that translate on the field, but given the progress he made as a rookie, he sounds certain that will happen.

DEANDRE HOPKINS CHANGES THE DYNAMIC NOT ONLY OF THE WIDE RECEIVERS BUT THE OFFENSE

When it was announced the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins in trade, the news alone was enough to send shockwaves through the offseason and change how the offseason of the Cardinals would be judged. But even if Hopkins never got to work on the field with his quarterback, from afar he has already meshed with his new team, whether it was in the community, breaking bread or just supporting a teammate's optimism for the season. Football-wise, you don't need Hopkins on the field to see how things change. He becomes the true No. 1 receiver that the Cardinals needed, allowing Larry Fitzgerald to fit back more into a role where he doesn't have to do everything, and allow Christian Kirk to flourish as teams focus on Hopkins and Fitz. His arrival also should be a boon to the running game, as teams see a pretty good receiving corps and must decide what to do with them while Kenyan Drake (and Murray) represent scary threats running out of the backfield.

THE ROSTER MAKEUP GIVES COACHES FLEXIBILITY WITH ISAIAH SIMMONS

A year ago, if you would have said the Cardinals were taking an inside linebacker with the No. 8 pick overall, you'd figure they would've plugged him in from Day One. But GM Steve Keim did a nice job filling all the holes on defense – at least on paper – meaning defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can really make Isaiah Simmons whatever he wants. Sure, he can be that inside linebacker, but De'Vondre Campbell is there to free him up if needed. He can rush the passer, maybe, but Devon Kennard and Haason Reddick also can fill that role. Range around in the back? Sure, although Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker have the ability to handle safety. Simmons can do a bunch of things, or a bunch of one thing – whatever Joseph decides – but the Cardinals don't have to lock him in to any one role if they choose.

VIRTUAL MEETINGS WORK

Zoom was an unknown to most everyone back when the coronavirus sent everyone home to shelter. When teams started gearing up for their offseason work – whatever that was going to mean – no one was sure how effective the "virtual" world was going to be. To a man, they've all said it worked. The Cardinals got in what they needed to, at least in the classroom, and as an extra, it provided an important forum for conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps it isn't the same as the players all hanging out in the locker room or cafeteria as in a normal offseason, but at least the contract wasn't absent altogether, like it was in the lockout of 2011.

SOME PLAYERS STILL COULD'VE USED TIME IN FRONT OF COACHES

There are reasons to think the Cardinals did get something out of an abbreviated offseason, but that doesn't mean there weren't some that may have been hurt overall. The first players that come to mind are all the undrafted rookies or free agents like quarterback Chris Streveler, who could've left positive impressions and are now left with an even more thin margin for error in training camp. Then there are the holdovers. There is no question second-year wide receivers Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson needed time with coaches on the field, or that coaches needed to see what progress they have made. Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. could've used on-field time with Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford.

WE SHOULD HAVE REACHED THE TIPPING POINT IN THE ANTI-RACISM FIGHT

The virtual meetings gave the players and coaches a chance to talk about racism in this country and their personal stories. No, it isn't directly about football. But football is played by human beings, and in the NFL, the majority of those human beings are black. And these issues to what Fitzgerald and Kirk and Murray and others have spoken about impact not just black people but all people.

PATRICK PETERSON IS IN A GOOD PLACE

It's been an interesting two years for Patrick Peterson, to say the least, from his frustration and wanting to be traded in 2018 to his suspension last year, subsequent return and struggles until finishing strong, to his optimism for 2020, both with the team and personally. That Peterson doesn't seem that worked up about his contract going into a final season is somewhat of a surprise. But if Peterson plays the way he can and the way he did the last few games of 2019, he'll get his money and the Cardinals will get the cornerback they need.

THE CARDINALS FELT GOOD ABOUT THEIR OFFENSIVE LINE

Yes, the Cardinals drafted Josh Jones and yes, they expect him to eventually start at tackle. Will it be this year? Maybe not – and in a year where the rookies will have a more difficult time given that they haven't been on the field, the runway to get there is short – but they have vets who have played right tackle. Had Jones not been there on draft day, they were ready to go with Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray. Mason Cole had been penciled in to start in 2020 at center and the other three spots remain the same in left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Justin Pugh and right guard J.R. Sweezy. They need to keep trending the right way, but wholesale changes weren't made and they didn't need to be made.

COVID-19 CHANGES EVERYTHING

Obviously, it wasn't only the offseason impacted by COVID-19. The season will be too. To what extent we still do not know. Everything is fluid, week to week, and even day to day. The plan is to have an NFL season, but in many ways it won't look like any other year. Some of that will be front-facing, some of that will be behind the scenes. But the players already understand change is coming.

THE HYPE IS REAL

No one is picking the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl. They aren't a favorite to win the NFC West, not with the 49ers and Seahawks and Rams as their division mates. But the optimism around the team isn't relegated to the words of Patrick Peterson and Kenyan Drake. There are plenty of national analysts talking up the Cardinals, and/or Kliff Kingsbury, and/or Kyler Murray. They love the addition of Hopkins. They see potential. It's about the play on the field, of course. But it's been a few years since they've been seen through this prism heading into a season.

Images of the opponents the Cardinals will face this season

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