When Kliff Kingsbury was still playing, he returned to alma mater Texas Tech to train and the football program was abuzz with a freshman wide receiver expected to do big things for the Red Raiders.
That year, Michael Crabtree made 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns, and was named the top wide receiver in college football. Twelve years later, Crabtree is playing for Kingsbury, the veteran receiver having finally agreed to a one-year contract with the Cardinals and their first-year coach.
“I’ve known him a long time,” Kingsbury said Thursday. “Super competitive. Still has a real desire to play and play at a high level.”
Crabtree had yet to arrive in Tempe but his place within the wide receiver depth chart was already a topic of conversation.
The money invested -- -- Profootballtalk.com reported that the deal will be worth $3.25 million in salary with incentives potentially worth $2.25 million more – signifies the Cardinals are counting on the 11-year veteran. Crabtree, who turns 32 in three weeks, figures to drop in behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, ahead of rookie KeeSean Johnson, second-year man Trent Sherfield and rookie Andy Isabella.
“You think about young guys in the league still learning and developing and learning how to be a pro,” Kirk said. “Michael has had time with coach (Jerry) Sullivan so there is some familiarity. He doesn’t have to get over those little humps. You come here to play and he’s going to make some plays for us. I can kind of see why (the front office) went that way.”
Crabtree, during his time playing for the 49ers, did work with offensive assistant Jerry Sullivan when Sullivan was the Niners’ receivers coach.
“I know he’ll bring some value to our group,” Fitzgerald said, before declining to get too deep into analysis of the Cardinals’ wide receiving situation.
“I just play here,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just fighting and scratching to get my roster spot. Those decisions are way above my pay grade, honestly. You get into the numbers game, and I just am trying to make sure I’m one of the numbers on the 53(-man roster).”
Kingsbury said he feels good about his receiving corps even before the addition of Crabtree, noting by name Fitzgerald, Kirk, Sherfield and Johnson. “Michael is another piece,” Kingsbury added.
That piece was someone who “from day one was a superstar” back in the Texas Tech days. Now, Crabtree, known for a big personality, comes in to a situation in which he is needed. His numbers dropped as the season went on last year in Baltimore, in no small part because the Ravens went to running rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In Arizona, he’ll get another rookie QB, although Kyler Murray figures to provide a better passing option.
“There will be some similar concepts to what (Crabtree) ran in college,” Kingsbury said. “Not a ton, but enough where I think he’ll pick it up quickly.
“However slowly we have to bring him into the fold, we’ll do that, but I think mentally, just getting things installed with him so he can go out and play freely.”
PUGH SET TO PLAY
Kingsbury said starting left guard Justin Pugh will “get some time” in Minnesota against the Vikings after missing the first two preseason games with a shoulder injury. “He’s looked solid,” Kingsbury said.
Images from the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center heading into the third preseason game