NFL Training Camps have plenty of narratives. Some of them feature around players holding out, or from injuries or surprise players who seem set to take the NFL by storm.
But in the last 10 years, what have been the biggest ones for the Arizona Cardinals?
We’ll count them down now, focusing only on training camp, and not preseason game, storylines.
Honorable Mention: David Johnson’s hamstring injury in 2015
Few had guessed that Johnson would become a superstar in his own right, which means that his injury in training camp which held him out until he exploded for 81 yards and looked prime to take on a lot of the workload for a 2015 team that went to the NFC Championship game was overlooked.
However, with how good Johnson had looked in camp pre-injury, it’s worth mentioning that he seemed to have a ton of progress before getting hurt. Fortunately, that didn’t slow him down as he set a rookie touchdown record just a few months later.
#10. Jermaine Gresham Signs Mid-Camp
One of the “Keim Time Signs” of the organization, Jermaine Gresham was coming off of back surgery, making him maybe one of the later signings that the team has ever had for a free agent impact addition (minus one Dwight Freeney) and he’s since become the top tight end and a leader on the offense.
He filled a major need right in the middle of camp and the storyline about his health and availability was a big part of camp coverage that year, due to his previous relationship with Carson Palmer on the Bengals.
#9. The Brandon Williams Hype Train
Let’s not forget this moment, folks:
Saw enough of CB Brandon Williams at Cards camp to predict he'll be biggest rookie surprise in 2016. Ex-RB has speed, size, athleticism.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 10, 2016
Cardinals have hit it big in Round 3 of last 4 drafts:— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 10, 2016
2016: Brandon Williams
2015: David Johnson
2014: John Brown
In all fairness, when being asked to simply be a cover man corner in camp, Brandon Williams looked like a huge steal. Then came the game against the Patriots and, well, he’s struggled to find his way back to a starting role. Williams as a former running back turned cornerback was a top storyline of the 2016 season only to fall short of expectations, just like the rest of the team that season.
He still has a shot to make the roster and be a contributor, but it will sadly be tough for him to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him.
#8. Michael Floyd breaks his hand
Floyd was the team’s clear #2 receiver and was coming off of a career year in 2014. Then in camp he broke three fingers on his left hand in practice and had to get them surgically repaired. With Carson Palmer coming off of an ACL, there was a lot of concern about Floyd missing time. He ended up starting Week 1, missing no time all the way through the NFC Championship game.
#7. Stephen Williams: The Next Big Thing?
“That guy might end up replacing me one day.”—Larry Fitzgerald.
Few might remember this moment from 2010 training camp under Ken Whisenhunt, but at one point Stephen Williams was the talk of the team. A 6-5 receiver, he made play after play in practice and looked like the real deal, with star players even wondering how he hadn’t gott
Some of it might have been injuries. Some of it might have been that his athleticism wasn’t able to carry him into a regular game against top defenses and getting off of press coverage. But he went gently into that good night as did his story.
It resurfaced again a few years later for the rival Seahawks when Williams, again, was the talk of training camp.
Sometimes that’s the way the NFL turns. But when the lights were shining, it was a fun story to follow while it lasted.
#6. Josh Rosen’s first NFL training camp
You thought this would be higher, didn’t you?
Well surprisingly, Josh Rosen’s arrival in Arizona, while getting a ton of publicity, has been dwarfed by the continued impression that Sam Bradford is making on the team as the expected starter.
While Bradford doesn’t make the list (as the story hasn’t been nearly as strong given that he’s a one-year starter at the position) it has left Rosen as a part of the story of this year’s training camp, rather than the complete picture.
A new head coach, a suspended GM, a new defense and questions on offense all factor into 2018. Yet Rosen’s development stands above all of that as this year’s top training camp storyline. After all, it’s the first time in 12 years the team has taken a quarterback in the third round or higher, and Matt Leinart’s drafting was more than the 10 year window, so it’s still a huge storyline.
Then what beat it out over the last 10 years?
#5. Darnell Dockett’s ACL
Dockett was the heart and soul of the Cardinals heading into the 2014 season. The team surprised with a 10-6 record the year before, and then suddenly the turf monster ended his season with no ready replacement behind him on the roster.
Dockett was still a large part of the team, yelling at Raider fans on the sideline, but the quest to replace Dockett and find a defensive lineman who could step up in camp became a huge storyline for Arizona, and it was such a tragedy to lose such a great player in camp of all things. Dockett, ultimately, never played another down for Arizona.
He’s still perhaps one of the most beloved Cardinals of all-time, especially for a new generation of fans that grew up after the 2008 Super Bowl.
#4. Kolb. Skelton. THE “BATTLE”.
This was basically the top story of camp for the entirety of 2012. From my best recollection (and of many fans), it was less a battle and more a competition of who didn’t look as bad as the other guy.
With how disappointing the Cardinals 2012 season turned out despite having a ton of talent on defense, the quarterback battle proved to be one of the biggest camp storylines of the past decade.
#3. Matt Leinart vs. Derek Anderson
Okay, so maybe true quarterback competitions become big storylines for training camps (and maybe that’s why Rosen’s isn’t ranked higher) but this was a huge storyline back in 2010 when Ken Whisenhunt announced an open competition for the starting spot after signing Derek Anderson to a contract to compete with the person many believed would be the heir apparent following Kurt Warner’s retirement in Matt Leinart.
Ultimately, Leinart couldn’t prove himself and he and Whiz didn’t mesh, and he was released heading into the season. What most people then won’t tell you or remind you was that as far as effort and practice play, Derek Anderson seemed to take the competition a lot more seriously and that was part of the defining factor as to why Leinart couldn’t succeed in the NFL. Or win a quarterback competition to save his life.
#2. Matt Leinart vs. Kurt Warner
The beginning of the magical 2008 season started with a huge positive quarterback controversy. Matt Leinart had come off of a good season, before Kurt Warner took over due to injury and shined with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
So entering camp, when Ken Whisenhunt made it an open competition, all eyes and ears were drawn to see who would win: the upstart young gunslinger taken in the top 10? Or the aging former Super Bowl MVP?
In the end, Warner won and Whisenhunt began to have Todd Haley tailor the playbook around his skillset, which changed the Cardinals as an organization forever on the way to a miraculous Super Bowl run.
#1: The First Cards Camp away from Flagstaff
Call it what you will, there’s only one story that year in and year out seems to get brought up once every single year when it comes to Cards Camp, no matter the coaches, roster, injuries, etc.
It’s that there are still people who miss having the camp outdoors at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
It’s easy to see why, with the cooler weather, close contact with the players and the ability to take a day trip a few hours north as a fun little adventure was such a hit for so long. But, with how ill-equipped the facilities were for an NFL team and how President Michael Bidwill felt that a closer practice could win over more fans who didn’t want to make the long drive up, the contract was not renewed and the team moved down into practicing at University of Phoenix Stadium.
While giving an open, air-conditioned and solid fan experience inside one of the best stadiums in the NFL, the intimacy and closeness of Flagstaff is something that fans and beat writers still talk about, and it was also a defining moment as it clearly separates the Arians organization from Whisenhunt and all that came before it. And the move was, ultimately, huge as it changed the entire training camp for the team as they knew it.
No more dorms or segways to practice but rather staying in hotels and practicing on the very field they would be playing on. Since the team moved indoors, they’ve experienced their greatest run of success in franchise history. And perhaps by moving closer to the fans, they’ve allowed a few more people who might not have made the trip to passionately embrace the Cardinals as their team.
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