Bruce Arians, the Associated Press’s 2012-13 NFL Coach of the Year, inherited the worst offense in football when he became head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
A week into training camp, the mind behind Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts of a season ago has a measured, but surprisingly optimistic outlook on his offense.
On Friday, the coach addressed several areas of the unit while meeting with reporters.
First, his offense’s biggest question mark headed into the regular season, and perhaps the biggest weakness of last season’s Cardinals offense, the offensive line, is “nowhere near” being concreted, he said.
“We’ve got to see them against other people,” says Arians.
The first look at that — non intra-team competition — will come a week from Friday, on August 9, when the Cardinals square off against the Green Bay Packers in their first preseason.
“I know who the eight (linemen) are, or nine. I don’t know which ones are going to start yet.”
There are also question marks surrounding Arians’ receiving core, which scored an NFC-fewest 11 touchdowns last season.
Beyond Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd, Arians is unsure as to who he’ll use as his fourth and fifth receivers.
Yet, those three — Fitzgerald, Roberts and Floyd — along with tight end Rob Housler, are without a doubt who the Cardinals’ offense will revolve around, pending the play of offseason quarterback acquisition, Carson Palmer.
And although Fitzgerald is the chief playmaker in Glendale, Arians is confident in his other main targets.
“I think Andre and Michael both, and Rob, should create some freedom for Larry,” he said. “Their skills set can’t be overlooked to double Larry all the time. That’s always what you want. You want to have players who are going to make you pay if you single cover them. And all three can do that.”
While the Cardinals’ 2012 first-round pick, Floyd, had an underwhelming rookie season, with just 45 catches and a pair of touchdowns, fellow receiver Roberts managed 759 yards on 64 receptions with five touchdowns, nearly matching Fitzgerald’s offensive production.
“I think they’re all multi-dimensional,” he said. “Right now, they’ve learned every spot, so we can put them anywhere.”
The tight end spot, too, excites Arians headed into the season. Grooming tight ends like Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Coby Fleener of the Colts on his previous teams, the coach foresees potential for his current tight end, Housler.
“Rob has a different speed factor, as a tight end,” he said Friday. “And he’s improved his blocking.”
Despite unmade depth decisions, the receiving game, in general, is coming together.
“They’re getting it,” Arians said. “Carson’s getting a good chemistry with them. And getting a feel for where everybody’s going to be. They’re getting better and better.”
The rushing game, which was also a lowpoint for the Cardinals, finishing with an NFL-worst 1,204 yards, looks to be auxiliary at best for Arians’ 2013-14 offense.
His mantra: “Run the ball well when we want to run it.”
“Statistics in running games, I don’t buy into them. Just run it when we need to run it and run it well.”
Rashard Mendenhall and the injured Ryan Williams, along with a slew of rookies and veteran Alfonso Smith, are expected to split carries, but Arians doesn’t seem to have any sort of rushing quota.
“I never seem to get any points for running the ball 30 times a game,” he said, when asked if he intended to run the ball a certain number of times.
“I’ve won a lot of games running it 15 times a game and still got 100 yards. I’ve run it 33 times and gained 95 yards, but it was enough to win the game, because it was the way we wanted to play the game.”