The traditional and vanilla roles for RBs and TEs are about to change in dramatic fashion for the Arizona Cardinals.
New head coach and offensive connoisseur Kliff Kingsbury likes to spread out or hide his playmakers in order to create coverage mismatches—-which means that RBs in KK’s system are going to be frequently on the move, via motion or off-set 2 RB shift to one side of the QB in the shotgun—-or shifts into the slot—-or isolating his best receiving RB to one side.
In the spread, if KK goes with a TE, he is typically flexed into the short slot area and has a basic route tree of seam, slant, out, drag, corner and hook.
In the running game KK employs a good deal of misdirection off of motions and shotgun handoffs (RPOs) or flips, dives, off-tackles and counter treys.
The offense is predicated on aggression, a flurry of movement and speed. The RBs are expected to bang through the holes on a dime in order to squeeze through to the second level. Even on the counter treys, which take a second or two more to develop, the RB is expected to explode off his counter step.
The hope is that Kingsbury’s offense will be a timely renaissance for RB David Johnson. Last summer in the aftermath of a season on the IR (broken wrist) and a holdout from the team’s mini-camp, the Cardinals elected to reward Johnson with a 3 year $39M contract extension with $30M in guaranteed money.
For most of the 2018 season, Johnson looked about as lethargic and tentative as the Cardinals’ woeful offense. He was egregiously misused—-there is no getting around that. But, Johnson didn’t help his own cause as much as he could have and it wasn’t until Week 17 that he showed one of his patented jump cuts.
The thing with Johnson that remains frustrating is his propensity to make mental errors—-which took on epic proportions when early in the season with a winnable game on the line, Johnson was getting lectured on the sidelines by his RB coach, while Chase Edmonds was getting blown up on a critical 4th and 1.
Kingsbury’s offense is going to present a significant challenge for Johnson. Kingsbury is precise in everything he teaches—-not only in the assignments, but in the execution of them vis-a-vis down to the exact number of steps the RBs and WRs take on the runs and patterns.
Kingsbury has made it a priority to move Johnson around in order to get him the ball in space and to exploit him in coverage mismatches.
Johnson is going to have to master the details, get his head away from the Jumbotron and run with greater speed and aggression.
Kingsbury likes to rep the plays so often in practice that his players shouldn’t have to think about anything but playing fast and free. Hopefully, practice makes perfect for Johnson, because in many ways he could be the catalyst to the Cardinals’ offensive resurgence.
Johnson is also going to be asked to block more than he ever has before—-in pass pro—-and when he isn’t on the receiving end of RB and WR screens, he is going to be asked to block downfield on tunnel screen combinations and reverses.
2018 4th round pick, Chase Edmonds is going to have the opportunity to prove his value as a versatile runner, blocker and receiver. Edmonds was a little too deliberate at times as a rookie, but started to play with more aggression and authority late in the season. Edmonds’ speed and elusiveness need to show up if he is going to become a major factor in the offense.
The RB who brings instant speed and RAC ability to the offense is T.J. Logan. Why he wasn’t used more last year was mystifying—-but Logan will certainly capture Kingsbury’s attention and imagination.
New RB coach, James Saxon, is a 20 year NFL veteran, having served as the Steelers’ RB coach the past 5 years with superb success in light of the production the Steelers got from Le’Veon Bell, James Connor and Jaylen Samuels. Saxon will have to adjust to a whole different style of play in Arizona, but should have a major impact on the success of the group.
In the draft, it would be hard to imagine the Cardinals using their 1st or 2nd picks on a RB. However, because of how vital Kingsbury’s RBs are as versatile playmakers, it wouldn’t be too surprising of the Cardinals draft a playmaking RB in Round 3, 4 or 5. That being the case, there are four RBs who would appear to be perfect fits in Kingsbury’s Air Raid: David Montgomery, Iowa St.; Devin Singletary, FAU; Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma and Darrell Henderson, Memphis.
Kingsbury got to know Montgomery and Anderson up close and personal, coaching against them in the Big 12.
if the Cardinals make a trade with the Raiders at some point in the draft, it wouldn’t be surprising if former Red Raider RB De’Andre Washington is included in the package. He is a nifty RB fit in the Air Raid. (NFL career numbers rushing/receiving to date: 174/735/4.2/4td ...52/321/6.2/1td)
At TE, the Cardinals need to put up a “Help Wanted” sign.
It’s likely time for the team to release underachieving and overpaid Jermaine Gresham. They would have to eat $5.75M in dead money, but would save $2.47M in cap space. For that money they could sign UFA Tyler Croft (Bengals) or UFA Jesse James (Steelers), both of whom are better fits in the Air Raid.
Exclusive rights FA Ricky Seals-Jones should be licking his chops in that he knows the Air Raid (Texas A&M) and how high powered it is and can envision the ball coming his way with greater regularity this season. Seals-Jones has to prove once and for all, he is a legitimate receiver who can get separation and catch the ball with authority.
The 2019 draft pool at TE is relatively deep. While the Cardinals may wait until day 3 to draft a TE, at pick #33, there could be some enticing TE options, such as Noah Fant (Iowa), T.J. Hockenson (Iowa) or Irv Smith, Jr. (Alabama).
However, due to more imminent needs at WR, DL and OL, most likely the Cardinals will wait for Day 3 and the three prospects that they might be drawing their attention are Isaaac Nauta (Georgia), Kaden Smith (Stanford) and super sleeper Dawson Knox (Mississippi).
What we need to bear in mind is the probability that Kingsbury may only keep 2 TEs on his roster, because he is apt to keep 3-4 RBs and 6 WRs.
Thus, if the Cardinals sign a TE in free agency and pair him with Ricky Seals-Jones, then they can draft a TE in Round 6 or 7 to develop on the practice squad.
It’s time to bring the romance of playmakers back to Arizona.