Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in a pass during the first practice of training camp Saturday.
FLAGSTAFF – The fields of Northern Arizona University look the same.
So too do the dorms, and the meeting rooms, and the fans surrounding the practice fields.
Training camp this season is anything but the same, however. An offseason like no other has morphed into the oddest of prep.
"Feels like we have half a team out here," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
Any veteran players signing a contract Friday (or after) are stuck in NFL limbo until Thursday. Those players are required to be at camp and still attend meetings, but when it comes to practice, they must sit out.
Given the circumstances of the offseason it makes for a remarkable dynamic. Sixty percent of the projected starting offensive line – guard Daryn Colledge, center Lyle Sendlein and right tackle Brandon Keith must wait. So does the probable starting quarterback in Kevin Kolb, new receiver Chansi Stuckey, probable starting tight end Jeff King and probable starting inside linebacker Stewart Bradley.
"The best way to say it is everything is in flux right now," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt said the Cards have altered practice times and installations to account for the new rules.
In all, the Cards have 19 players that fall into Aug. 4 category, and that doesn't include anyone who could still sign (like guard Floyd Womack) – and the Cardinals continue to chase free agents. That's five days of practices to wait, and it means after an absent offseason it's less than a week of prep work before the preseason opener the following Thursday in Oakland.
"That's going to be a little bit difficult, watching the other guys practice and wanting to be out there in the heat of the battle," Kolb said. "I know there is a reason for everything. We'll roll with the punches."
Depth charts mean nothing right now, given the amount – and the importance – of players sidelined.
That doesn't even take into account the lost time this offseason, where players would have worked together and learned the playbooks and coaches would have analyzed what they had. Whisenhunt wasn't even joking when he said he looked out over the team meeting Friday night and he didn't even recognize half the faces. For the first time in a long time, players have their names scribbled on a piece of tape on the front of their helmets to keep them straight.
"You have all those things coaches would have love to implement," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "All that stuff in place so they could at least have an idea what yellow brick road they wanted to go up.
"Now, you have to get all that done in a condensed time. There will be some Cliff notes here and there. But it's football . We will start out basic."
Whisenhunt said it was imperative the veterans helped with the younger players in camp. Colledge said the most difficult part of camp would be integrating all the new players. Linebackers O'Brien Schofield and Daryl Washington noted the chemistry lost that normally is built over an offseason.
"We can't get mad when someone makes a mistake because it will be new to everyone," Schofield said.
In some ways, the veteran rule is a benefit, since the players still coming in don't have to feel they have lost anything. For instance, running back Tim Hightower has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender, wanting to shop his services. Since he couldn't practice until Thursday, it's not as big of a deal.
Any time lost can be crucial, however, whether it was over the spring and summer or over the early days of August.
"We have to get our flow, that flow you'd already be comfortable with normally with routes and everything," running back LaRod Stephens-Howling said. "QBs and receivers, usually you are already comfortable into camp. Now we have to get on the same page.
"But you can't worry about it because then it will stay on your mind and add more pressure to it. The lockout is over. Time to make things happen."