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Can Steve Wilks Coach the Cardinals to Jump?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals OTA Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Now that Steve Wilks is firmly ensconced in all aspects of his head coaching duties, it should be very interesting to see if he can get the team to live up to his own mantras.

By all accounts, Steve Wilks is a man of his word. It’s one thing for an NFL head coach to speak in clichés and platitudes, but as Cardinals fans, we have seen over the decades how challenging it is for coaches to live up to the very words they preach.

The main question is, with Steve Wilks---will the words and the music match?

Recently, Wilks created a symbol for the three tenets of his coaching philosophy when he placed a hurdle in the middle of the locker room.

Credit Wilks for providing the team with an apt metaphor---for one, Wilks is constantly preaching about tempo-tempo-tempo and practicing at top speed. It makes perfect sense, because after all, the games are played at top speed-. If you’ve watched clips from Wilks’ practices---the tempo is tangibly crisp and lively, so much so that the first practice in OTAs was concluded 22 minutes early.

Secondly, the Cardinals as an organization find themselves sitting below the proverbial hump, particularly now that the Rams and 49ers are the darlings of the NFC West and nobody ever seems to count out the Seahawks---but recently the Las Vegas odds-makers and national NFL media pundits at ESPN predicted that the Cardinals will have the worst record in the NFC. Ugh.

Thus, the immediate hurdles to leap are the ones in their own division, the NFC West. Just two years ago the Cardinals were considered Super Bowl favorites.

Upon close inspection of the hurdle in the Cardinals’ locker room, Wilks has written his three philosophical pillars on the crossbar: TAC---Trust, Accountability and Commitment.

Trust

One of Wilks’ main selling points to the players is: “the best 11 players are going to play.” The past coaching staff catered to playing and sticking with the veterans. Will Steve Wilks be gutsy enough to live up to his word here?

If he does, then the players will understand that he means what he says. If he doesn’t, the groundwork for building trust will remain muddy.

Wilks says, “We want every player to compete for a starting position.” To Cardinals’ fans who are thirsty for an infusion of youth, Wilks’ insistence that all positions are up for grabs is manna to our ears. But, will Steve Wilks be able to make this philosophy a reality, or is it just coach speak?

Accountability

Will Steve Wilks’ approach to accountability be significantly different than his predecessor’s?

For one, the previous coach rarely if ever offered his own mea culpa…and on the rare occasions he did, within a day or two he had a tendency of recanting such admissions for the sake of publicly pointing fingers back at the players.

Wilks’ recent handling of the disturbing news that 2nd round draft pick, WR Christian Kirk was arrested in February for throwing rocks at cars at the Phoenix Open while seemingly under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, was questionable. Not only did Wilks profess that he and the Cardinals knew about the arrest and that they had closely vetted the situation. Wilks’ subsequent conclusion that Christian Kirk is a person of “the highest character” could be perceived as a non sequitur.

Sure, there is a possibility that Kirk acted this one time completely out of character---but how can one possibly justify how and why a young player on the verge of being selected as a high pick in the NFL Draft could be so recklessly irresponsible as to jeopardize his draft stock through criminal and egregiously juvenile actions?

This incident cannot be simply dismissed as “boys will be boys.”

Shouldn’t Wilks’ tone with regard to Kirk’s situation have been more cautionary instead of so clearly dismissive?

The last season that the Cardinals as a team actually showed up to play the vast majority of the games was the year they had TV cameras following their every move.

Last year, the team’s effort was night and day from one week to the next, to the point where one could easily tell within the first 10 minutes of the game whether the players had come to play, or not. It was infuriating.

This is where Wilks’ resolve and sense of accountability will be tested most assiduously. Will Wilks hold the players and especially the star players more accountable than his predecessor did?

If the Cardinals are ever going to be perennial contenders, the organization’s ability to command and achieve player accountability is the major hurdle the franchise has to finally find a way transcend.

Commitment

Already this vital pillar of Wilks’ philosophy appears to be very much on track. Wilks himself is highly dedicated and driven leader. He checks into the team facility each morning before dawn to get in his personal workout. He manifests exemplary diligence when it comes to preparation and making sure that he is reaching out to each and every person in the organization to do what he believes is they key to winning championships:“winning the day.”

In terms of commitment---Wilks talks the talk---and Wilks walks the walk.

If Wilks’ brand of commitment rubs off on the players---we are apt to see a week to week passion for the game of football that Cardinals’ fans have rarely relished.

Barometers:

Some of the scenarios that may teach us a great deal about Steve Wilks’ ability to follow through on the tenets of his philosophy are:

  • While Wilks has insisted that all starting jobs are up for grabs, he has deemed Sam Bradford as the starting QB. Therefore, what are Josh Rosen’s early chances of competing for the job and would Wilks turn to Mike Glennon as Bradford’s first replacement, if need be?
  • Will David Johnson get his head out of fantasy football land and realize that the only stat that matters is wins?
  • Does Mason Cole have a legitimate shot to win the starting center job? A.Q. Shipley was highly favored by the previous coaching staff---will that remain the case with Wilks in charge?
  • Will John Wetzel have a chance to win the right tackle spot over Andre Smith? Will the team’s pass protection (with added safeguards) be vastly improved?
  • Will the unde-achieving past first rounders such as Deone Bucannon, D.J. Humphries, Robert Nkemdiche and Haason Reddick thrive under Wilks’ leadership?
  • Will Patrick Peterson embrace Wilks’ brand of defensive aggression?
  • Will newly acquired CB Jamar Taylor be the answer at RCB?
  • Will Wilks’ commitment to improving the Cardinals’ special team come to fruition?
  • Will Wilks’ team in all three phases manifest improved fundamentals, football IQ, command of detail and finishing power?

Each of these scenarios presents a number of hurdles. As Van Halen would say, “Ah, might as well jump”…”you don’t know until you begin.”