TEMPE, Ariz. – Four days after the release of the schedule and 145 days head of Week 1, the Arizona Cardinals began their offseason strength and conditioning program, marking the unofficial start to the 2016 season.
And further distancing them from the NFC Championship Game.
“We still have that chip on our shoulder because we know how close we got last year,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said, referring to the highly disappointing 49-15 loss at Carolina. “It’s a new year; a new opportunity. Going forward, everybody’s goal is to win the Super Bowl, so this is just the beginning. The first step, right here.”
Call it Phase 1 of the offseason program.
For two weeks Cardinals players will work with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris and his assistant, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Roger Kingdom, in the weight room and out on the practice fields.
Coaches are not allowed to be present.
And it’s voluntary; though it was hard to point out any absences during the 90-minute media availability Monday morning.
“Great, 100 percent,” Morris said of the attendance. “This is by far the best year in three years.”
Having that many players around—especially early on—is important, according to guard Evan Mathis, one of the many new faces signed this offseason.
“It shows that camaraderie, the willingness to all get together and win,” he said. “A lot goes into developing those relationships off the field and in these workouts. Learning how to communicate with each other, hang out with each other, getting to know one another. That really does translate over to the field.”
The workouts are tailor-made to each specific player.
“Everybody gets a different program based on position because there are positional requirements,” Morris said. “Obviously by default the closer you get to the ball, the stronger you need to be; further away from the ball you get, the faster you need to be. That doesn’t mean our big guys don’t run. That doesn’t mean our skill guys, our fast guys don’t lift weights. The programs are written based on position requirements. They’re also based on individuals. I’ve got a 36-year-old quarterback. I can’t train him like a train a 22-year-old. It’s impossible.”
Speaking of Carson Palmer, there he was with fellow quarterbacks Drew Stanton and Matt Barkley working out together.
Palmer called the offseason long, though it hadn’t even been three months since he and the Cardinals walked off the field in Carolina, falling one game short of the Super Bowl.
“The guys that were here last year and being close and the guys that are coming into this team and seeing how good we were last year realize that we have an opportunity and there’s something special going on here,” Palmer said after throwing a medicine ball up against a wall several times.
That desire to get back to the title game and go even further is one of the reasons Mathis decided to join the defending NFC West Division champions.
“For this team, going all the way to the NFC Championship last year…having been that far and falling short and that experience, it does wonders for the team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with a bunch of guys who are hungry to make it happen.”
Several Cardinals players had already been making good use of the facility, but seeing everyone together again Monday brought a big smile to Campbell’s face.
“It’s like that first day of school,” he said, sweat dripping off his nose. “Everybody is saying ‘What’s up?’ to each other, ‘Where you’ve been at?’, ‘How you’ve been?’ The only thing that’s different is nobody has their back-to-school outfits. Everybody is in shorts and t-shirts still. It’s a good time, though.”
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