The offseason is over.
And that means Cardinals football is back.
This year’s squad, however, looks bizarrely different from what was trotted out in 2018 and rightfully so after a disaster of a season took place. New coach, new QB and new identity
This can be the time of year when overreactions abound but there’s plenty to glean from in open camp practices. Let’s dig in to what we learned yesterday live on the scene from Cards Camp or “Camp K” as it’s being branded:
#1. Kyler Murray made some jaw-dropping throws
Murray was the top story of the day, and there’s no other story that maybe matter so much. But it’s not even the fact of what Murray’s done in seizing the starting QB job as a rookie but HOW he’s doing it.
He’s showing off that he has all of these traits.
-Rapid reading & quick decisions in his offense.
What a talent. It’s almost too much to ask for, as some have pointed out:
I promised myself I wouldn’t overreact to anything at training camp this year....but it’s gonna be hard to keep that promise after watching Kyler Murray today. Wow.#AZCardinals— Dave Pasch (@DavePasch) July 26, 2019
He didn’t come close to turning the ball over and seemed in total command of the offense like a true 10 year veteran. And, I mean, he has spent almost 8 years in this specific type of offense that Kliff Kingsbury runs but it’s still something to marvel at some of the sheer throws he’s making.
One such bullet when he saw a wide open Christian Kirk went so fast from Murray in the pocket to Kirk’s hands perfectly placed some 40 yards away it was like it was teleported. He’s got a heck of an arm but it’s where the ball ends up that’s most impressive. I do think he’s probably the most talented QB the Cardinals have ever had and that’s not an exaggeration.
Biggest takeaway from #CardsCamp Day 1:— Blake Allen Murf (@blakemurphy7) July 26, 2019
There’s two Quarterbacks the Cards have had since 2010 that have made consistent “WOW” throws that make your jaw drop while watching practice.
It’ll be a story to follow, maybe the top story in the NFL this season should Murray explode offensively in the pros. He’s got legit superstar potential and you can’t say that about just any QB in the NFL.
2. The Cardinals scheme went from the stone age to the future in record time
In the NFL teams have started to embrace bits and pieces of air raid concepts more and more. Well, last year the Arizona Cardinals took the OPPOSITE approach with a very antiquated, complicated system that focused on a power run game with predictable play-calling that went nowhere.
Now? There were no David Johnson runs up the middle into an 8 man box.
From the looks of it, whatever the record for a team using 4+ wide receivers as a personnel grouping before was in the NFL, Arizona stands to shatter it.
They ran the majority of their offense around quick passing concepts straight out of the collegiate playbook with swing passes, run-pass options and spread out the field forcing defenses to cover more ground & not blitz the quarterback.
Which...by having less guys in the center of the field gave David Johnson a lot more room to work with as a result. There were also some creative plays, such as what looked like a 2-TE running play to the left that suddenly morphed into two wide receivers and a tight end going out to catch passes instead...but guess what? It was all a ruse, as the other tight end slipped out to the right-hand side of the formation all by himself. And Kliff’s gotten plenty of ideas in his head for this day and now he’s got full control.
And I do mean FULL control. This is an air raid offense adapted to the NFL. Not a hybrid or a west coast or even with as much power scheme as some had predicted or the Cardinals had said. The offense IS an air raid like you copied it off of the Big 12 and pasted it onto an NFL field with some adjustments. And that’s good as it means Kingsbury isn’t compromising or changing who he is unnecessarily. That alone (plus Kyler) should allow him to have a lot of fun in this role of head coach.
Kliff Kingsbury really out here running 4 wide receivers on an NFL field with Fitz, Kirk, DJ and the QB he tried to get for like 6 years.— Blake Allen Murf (@blakemurphy7) July 26, 2019
It’s like the man found a genie lamp to make all his dreams come true
When people call Kliff Kingsbury an offensive genius, he demonstrated some of that today in how he seemingly understands where the modern NFL game is being played and how to take advantage of it, a far cry from the 2018 “dink and dunk” Cardinals offense that ended up more “doink and donk” overall. Will it lead to more wins?
We can only hope.
3. The wide receiver rotation after Fitz & Kirk seems still a bit up in the air
The consistent 3 skill players involved in every snap were Fitzgerald, Kirk and David Johnson. After that the rookie receivers had a surprising change with Keesean Johnson the lone rookie player to get 1st team reps along with veterans Kevin White and 2nd year man Trent Sherfield.
There were some snaps around for Pharoah Cooper and Damiere Byrd as well but for the most part it even seemed rotational as White occasionally came off the field or Sherfield did and it seems like “WR3 by committee” might be in the cards this year, pun not intended.
I don’t think it’s a negative on Isabella (who was mostly in the slot and caught shorter passes) or Butler (who lined up as an outside X-receiver and had 3-4 deep passes that he was targeted on) but it’s that they have a learning curve. Butler in particular had 2 passes that you could argue were under thrown but he needed to haul in, as well as one interception by Chris Jones he didn’t have a chance to get. It goes without saying, however, that Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t slowed up much, if at all in camp, and given the higher volume of passing plays and the fact that he’ll get a lot of one-on-one matchups in a spread out offense I wouldn’t be shocked with another potential career year for him so long as he can keep being Larry. He’s almost timeless at this point.
4. The Cards might miss Patrick Peterson more than we think
The defense probably has the least amount of mystery as to who will see playing or starting time overall this year. The starting DL, Linebackers, and safeties are set, with Patrick Peterson, Robert Alford and Trumaine Brock the cornerbacks in nickel. With Peterson missing 6 games, it means that either the rookie Byron Murphy mans the slot or Chris Jones (who’s been impressive so far and was again today) have to take over there or outside.
Peterson broke up a pass today and also had tight coverage of Christian Kirk on a deep ball from Murray that showcased just how good he is as a man cover corner, and it’s clear that losing a superstar caliber-talent will hurt. The Cardinals offense seemed well ahead of the defense but if it’s not that the offense is GOOD and more on issues in the secondary....there could be a few shootouts.
It’ll be tough to know until live bullets are happening in a game where we can see how they cover a more traditional offense and are actually able to sack the quarterback.
5. The offensive line looks improved, but not deep after the starters at all
There wasn’t a lot of traffic around Kyler Murray and a strong veteran OL group of Humphries, Pugh, Shipley (with Mason Cole sprinkled in at C) Sweezy and Gilbert seem to be a big upgrade from last year, in which essentially the Cardinals lost all 5 of their starting linemen over the course of the season.
The blocking seemed tight in both pass protection (a quick passing spread offense helped a lot with that as the Cardinals had to rush 4 and cover with 7 on defense most of the time) and disciplined in the run game.
However, it goes without saying that they just cut Desmond Harrison and Max Garcia is still recovering from a torn ACL. As is A.Q. Shipley. Mason Cole can play multiple positions as can draft pick Lamont Galliard but when Brett Hundley was throwing with the 2nd team offensive line it was VERY noticable that there were a lot more bodies flying around close to him and guys were getting beat by their pass-rushers where he didn’t have nearly as much time as Murray did.
All in all, Cards fans need to pray that their offensive line that has had multiple players struggle to stay healthy somehow can to help protect their rookie quarterback. Or maybe...given the mobility and quick decision-making of Murray, they won’t need as much of an O-Line as we think to be successful?
Guess we’ll find out.
6. The practices themselves have changed along with the culture in general
Who doesn’t love snack time?
The Cardinals took a break in practice for some healthy snacks & replenishment for 15 minutes or so and then got back onto the field.
#CampK snack break. New touch this year on the sidelines at #CardsCamp #AZFamily pic.twitter.com/JCzMvWLmx6— Mark McClune (@MarkMcClune) July 25, 2019
It was bizarre and some joked about the team being a Capri Sun away from a little league football practice with the break. It was reminiscent of Chip Kelly having specific protein shakes for players on a specific program to have at practices, although it was much less informal.
Even more interesting...it was timed in the exact middle of practice almost like a mental break. Close to the Kliff Kingsbury “cell phone breaks” he mentioned in the past where players could take a moment off and honestly, it might be good for mental health in a way to have it at that exact time.
Perhaps it doesn’t fit the gruff “you stretch on your own time cause we have work to do” mentality that Bruce Arians had. And while pop, rap and rock music was blasting throughout the entirety of practice like it did under Steve Wilks, there was definitely a different pace and feel to it.
Almost no one was standing around at all during the practice with multiple drills making a lot of reps happen (during Wilks’ practices I remember the 2-3 times where Rosen would stand around & wait his turn) and at the end they even ran plays at 1⁄2 speed with no helmets on.
And maybe different is refreshing.
Kyler had his fun hair tied up with a cool-looking black visor on and while no one will mistake it for any time of clown hour it didn’t have the same sort of intense pressure that seemed to be felt in past practices under Arians or Wilks. There’s a new sheriff in town, after all.
And it certainly felt like it on Day 1. Can’t wait to see what Day 2 holds for the Cardinals and K1, Birdgang?
Neither can I.
You can follow @blakemurphy7 for Cards Camp updates on Twitter.