Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
In other words—-to make a dream come true—-you first have to envision it—-and then you have to put in the hard work it takes to make your dream a reality.
The Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury because they dream that with his creativity he can transform the Cardinals’ offense into a juggernaut.
Now the hard work begins.
The first challenge is hiring a seasoned veteran to run the defense. In order to give Kingsbury the maximum amount on time to build his offense, he is going to need a defensive coordinator who can in essence be the head coach and primary overseer of the defense—-just like the Rams have done with Wade Phillips.
Of the available veteran coordinators—-I am kind of leaning toward Jack Del Rio. I think Del Rio got shafted by the Raiders, After all, in 2016 he led them to a shocking 12-4 record and could have made quite a splash in the playoffs, if their hot-handed QB Derek Carr hadn’t gotten injured late in the season.
The last time Del Rio was a defensive coordinator was the year 2014 with the Broncos. His defense was 16th in points allowed, but 1st in fewest rushing attempts, 2nd in fewest rushing yards and 1st in fewest yards per passing attempt. In 2013, Del Rio became the Broncos’ interim head coach when John Fox was ill. But the other year he was the full-time DC in 2012, his defense was 4th in points against and 1st in fewest yards per passing attempt.
Typically Del Rio is a 43 guy who likes to plug gaps to stop the run and disguise coverages. The Cardinals have already started to transition into a 43, thus with the prospect of landing the top defensive player in the draft in DE Nick Bosa next to run stuffing DT Corey Peters and having Chandler Jones on the other side, Del Rio would have the makings of a potentially dynamic front 4.
As all Cardinals’ fans know, this off-season one of the team’s top priorities is to fill the holes at linebacker. With $65M in cap space, and with Del Rio’s (or whomever the DC is) input, the Cardinals should have the opportunity to sign and/or draft a couple of upgrades.
The Cardinals like LBC Larry Foote, but he has not gotten good results the past few years. He might be better off in Tampa Bay.
The Cardinals are also finally going to have to address the RCB position this off-season.
Del Rio loves to lean on man-to-man matchups, which should excite Patrick Peterson.
He’s also been known to do what the Patriots do—-put his #1 CB on the second best WR and double team the best WR with the #2 CB and FS.
Current DBC David Merritt is one of the best in the business and should garner strong consideration to remain on the staff.
if not Jack Del Rio, Chuck Pagano, Marvin Lewis and Teryl Austin each have a great deal to bring to the table. It’s great that the Cardinals have acted swiftly to get their head coach hired, because they can beat the other teams to valuable staff additions.
One would imagine that the Cardinals and Kliff Kingsbury would like to stick with Jeff Rodgers as special teams coordinator. Maintaining continuity and familiarity in that important third phase of the game would be a plus.
Now comes the most challenging part—-staffing the offense and upgrading the personnel.
It would seem imperative that the new QB coach and/or OC be well versed in the Air Raid offense. The Air Raid tempo would appear to be a boon for Josh Rosen. What about for Mike Glennon and Chad Kanoff? Will Kingsbury want to add a QB to this mix, one he think might be better suited to run his style of offense? How about Johnny Manziel, who already knows the offense?
Word is that Kingsbury is hiring his former assistant head coach at Texas Tech, Mike Jinks.
That is a key move. It is imperative for Kingsbury to try to hire some coaches who are familiar with his Air Raid offense. Jinks is. In fact, Jinks was the assistant head coach and RB coach for Kingsbury in 2015, the last time Texas Tech had a 1,800 yard all purpose (16 TDs) 1st team All Big 12 rusher in DeAndre Washington (Raiders).
Jinks went on to become the HC at Bowling Green—-and struggled to win there. But, he took a new high school in Texas to the 2010 Class 5A Division II championship. And his bell cow player was RB Malcolm Brown, who went on to star at Texas and who has been Todd Gurley’s main backup with the Rams until late this season when he broke his collarbone.
Brown is a 2019 free agent—-and is the kind of physical, punishing RB the Cardinals currently lack.
The greatest fascination will be what Kingsbury and Jinks will do with David Johnson. One would imagine that Johnson is going to be a feature of the passing attack from a variety of spots on the field.
Chase Edmonds and T.J. Logan are very good fits, in the DeAndre Washington mode.
The most important offensive decision, staff-wise is in deciding on the offensive line coach. The coach that may make the most sense is Clay McGuire, whom Kingsbury lured back to Texas Tech this past season as his co-offensive coordinator after McGuire had spent several years as Mike Leach’s offensive line coach at Washington St.
Having an offensive line coach who knows the Air Raid offense and all of the blocking nuances would be very valuable in helping Kingsbury teach the offense.
One of the pre-requisites of offensive line play in the Air Raid is all fine linemen having the athleticism to make swift, clean blocks downfield.
In terms of the Cardinals’ current personnel it would seem that there are some decent fits: D.J. Humphries (when healthy), Mason Cole, John Wetzel (who excels at downfield blocking) and Korey Cunningham are a good head start.
The question marks are at guard. Justin Pugh, if healthy and in top shape, could thrive in this offense. Colby Gossett has a chance if he can prove he has the feet. As long shots, Zack Golditch, Rees Odhiambo and Coleman Shelton may have the requisite athleticism to make a good impression.
Some free agent guards who fit the Air Raid profile are Andy Levitre (ATL), Ben Garland (ATL), Eric Kush (CHI) and, of course, the plum of this year’s crop, Rodger Saffold (LAR).
Now that BA is in Tampa Bay, maybe the Cardinals can get a conditional draft pick for C A.Q. Shipley, who is a better fit in BA’s offense.
The other very important coaching hire is the WR coach. Fitz has raved about the current WRC Kevin Garver, but Garver has only gotten mixed results the past two years. The Air Raid offense is predicated on precise footwork and timing. Garver can be trained and he’s bright enough to catch on—-but it may be wiser to go with someone who is more familiar with the Air Raid offense.
Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk are highly adaptable and are instant fits in this style of offense. Kingsbury may like what he sees in Trent Sherfield, Jalen Tolliver and Pharoh Cooper. But, adding speed WRs with RAC ability is one of the top priorities. of course, adding David Johnson to the mix is going to make this unit more explosive and electric.
It should be interesting to see which coaches are hired and if any coaches are retained. Kliff Kingsbury is going to have to do a better job than his predecessor of getting the coaches all on the same page, particularly in light of the unique aspects of his offense and whatever commitments are made to this year’s base defense and special teams units.
To reference Thoreau once again—-the Cardinals are going to be “dancing to the beat of a different drummer” in 2019. Tempo, tempo, tempo! Welcome to the Birdgang, Coach Kingsbury and new staff members!