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Cardinals Training Camp Journal: Day 1

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Training Camp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Steve Keim watched Kyler Murray on tape, he said he kept writing “wow, wow, wow” and started envisioning “fireworks.”

On day one of the Cardinals’ 2019 training camp, fireworks is exactly what Steve Keim and Cardinals’ fans across the globe saw.

Yes, it’s only day we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, so, as the band Chicago sang amidst resounding percussion, “it’s only the beginning, it’s only just the start.”

I think Dave Pasch summed up what so many of us felt while watching one of the most elaborately choreographed, up-tempo passing display from Kyler Murray and his stable of galloping receivers, led by the Secretariat of Cardinals’ pass catchers, Larry Fitzgerald.

Pasch tweeted: “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

What leaps out at you when you watch Murray throw, is how effortless his motion is and yet how the ball jumps so crisply and cleanly from his hand with a variety of passing angles and lofts. Like the pass he threaded to Larry Fitzgerald up the right sideline to a tiny window where only Fitz could make the catch—-a one-handed gem, at that.

The coverage on that play by #20 CB Tramaine Brock was excellent, but Murray lofted the spiraled fade pass into the one small opening of the window.

Moments later, Murray dropped the ball into an even tighter window on a seam route by Fitz who had a defender draped all over his back.

That seam pass is the very pass that Cardinals’ QBs since Kurt Warner have struggled mightily with. It’s a pass that QB have to drop right in the bucket over the underneath coverage at the precise moment before the free safety can get there.

Now—-as we all know—-completing passes like this under no pass rush in practice is one thing—-but for those of us who watched the majority of Murray’s passes at Oklahoma—-Murray passes in games with the same kind of effortless release, touch and accuracy.

As I watched the footage of the practice, another very encouraging sign jumped out at me. Even though Murray was pinpointing the ball and pilling up completions, the pass overage by the Cardinals’ defense was actually quite impressive. Rarely did you see a wide open passing window, as the defensive backs and linebackers were mirroring the routes and closing on the ball as well as they could, given the circumstances.

Getting tested like this each day in practice may eventually give the Cardinals’ defense quite an advantage in their preparation for other passing attacks.

Much is being made about A.Q. Shipley sharing snaps with Mason Cole at center. Kliff Kingsbury put the situation in perspective when he he said “we have two starting centers.”

The irony, of course, is that Mason Cole was the Cardinals’ only offensive lineman to start all 16 games last season. And Cole has a phenomenal streak going of having started every game in his high school, college (Michigan) and now NFL (Cardinals) career.

Cole’s streak most likely would not have been extended had A.Q. Shipley not injured his knee in training camp last year.

As a sign of good faith and loyalty, after the injury, Steve Keim signed Shipley to a one-year deal and now at age 33 Shipley continues to show his fiercely competitive desire to reclaim his role as the starter.

The other irony is that Steve Keim, while continuing to re-sign Shipley has drafted 3 centers in the last 4 years, using a 4th round pick in 2016 on Evan Boehm (West Virginia—-now with the Colts), a 3rd round pick in 2018 on Mason Cole (Michigan) and most recently a 6th round pick in 2019 on Lamont Gaillard (Georgia).

The biggest question I have about rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury is how well he is going to be able to make tough decisions about the veterans on the roster, like with A.Q. Shipley and Patrick Peterson, knowing that Peterson will be suspended for 6 weeks.

BA made things simple—-he favored the veterans.

But Kingsbury appears to be more eager and amenable to playing and building trust in the younger players.

In my opinion, the Cardinals need to loosen the stranglehold the veterans have had on this team since BA arrived in 2013. The best thing that can happen for the Cardinals is for the coaching staff to create and maintain legitimate competition at each position—-and if younger players win the starting jobs over veterans, that’s a promising sign.

However, Kingsbury and his coaches are going to have to have the guts and the nerve to do what they feel is best for the team, at the risk of pissing off and even possibly alienating some of the veterans.

Rookie head coaches, particularly ones coming from college, tend to get pushed around by the veterans in the battle for control.

Kliff Kingsbury is going to have to stick to his convictions and for him to be be able to do that, he is going to have to show the veterans his mettle.

Part of this requires tact and a bit of game playing with the media. Kingsbury, unlike BA, is not going to call out players to the media, nor is going to criticize them publicly. So at times it may appear like Kingsbury is sugarcoating things and sucking up to some of players the way he has at times to the media with Patrick Peterson.

But, it is what happens behind the cameras that matters most. Kingsbury has reputation for being a “player’s coach” and for sporting a “chill” coaching persona. He is already doing some unorthodox things such as giving players cellphone breaks during meetings and yesterday providing the players with snacks during a break in the practice.

Will players, particularly the veterans, try to take advantage of Kingsbury’s player friendliness? Of course. But, if the players haven’t learned it by now, under Kingsbury’s cool exterior and player-friendly policies, rages an intensely competitive drive.

Kingsbury has been around too many successful coaches (his dad, Tim Kingsbury, Mike Leach, Bill Belichick, Jim Haslett, Mike Shanahan, Dana Holgerson and Kevin Sumlin) to know how important it is to act with conviction is and to hold all of the players equally accountable.

All questions aside, on Day 1, the fireworks were loud and emanating brilliant bursts of red—-while the light from the heavens above was shining down on the Cardinals coaches and players.

“It’s only the beginning of what I want to feel forever...” (Chicago)