Steve Wilks’ first practice brings adjustments, changes for Cardinals
TEMPE, Ariz. – The difference was noticed immediately.
Music, specifically Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was playing on large portable speakers. A country song followed.
“That wasn’t me. I think that country song right there was A.Q.,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said, smiling, referring to center A.Q. Shipley.
With the music blasting, the players — led by strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris — got loose for practice. That’s right; team stretch is back, something not seen the last five years during Bruce Arians’ tenure.
“Guys got to be able to take care of their body and we’re trying to help them do that and trying to get those guys prepared and ready for practice,” Wilks said.
And the music?
“Some people may see it as a distraction,” Wilks continued, “I think it’s a level of getting guys to concentrate, when you start talking about crowd noise and those kinds of things like that, and it also allows the coaches to be able to let the players play.”
Yes, things are different under Wilks.
Of course, the biggest adjustment for the players is the playbook.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald likened this offseason — which on Tuesday moved to Phase Two with on-field workouts, minus contact — to being back in college. He spent the weekend and the night before studying.
There are some similarities to Wilks’ offense compared to Arians, but the terminology is completely different, according to Fitzgerald.
“They’re some words that are the same but they mean completely different. So that’s really confusing when you run to the line and you think, ‘Flounder’. Oh, no. Shoot. That’s not that route. I got to run this one. Stuff like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to make it be fast recall so I can go out there and play fast and execute.”
Added Shipley, “We got a pretty solid grasp of it, though. We’ve been in it two weeks now. Football is football at the end of the day. I mean there’s only so many plays you can run. It’s just different terminology, different ways to do things, different formations (and) different motions just trying to get the right matchups.”
The NFL allows teams with a new head coach to hold a bonus voluntary mini-camp, and for the Cardinals that is this week. The team will be on the field again Wednesday and Thursday.
Wilks and his staff want to see just how much the players are able to retain and how well they transfer the class work to the on-field work.
“We’re learning every day. We’re learning as coaches, we’re learning as players,” he said. “Most importantly around here, I’m just trying to figure out exactly what gets them in the right position, moving in the right direction. Again, it’s learning each individual. Most importantly, it’s trying to set the tempo and the vision as the head coach and get those guys to continue to buy in, which they are.”
As expected, quarterback Sam Bradford was more spectator than active participant on Day 1. He had his helmet on and joined his teammates for the stretch, but he did not attempt a pass or appear to hand the ball off during the 20-minute media availability.
The Cardinals are being cautious with Bradford, who was limited to just two games last season because of a knee injury.
“He did some things during walk-through, which I thought looked pretty good. He went with the 1s, doing a few things there so we’re going to continue to progress and move forward with his progress,” Wilks said.
Not limited was running back David Johnson. He, too, is coming off an injury but he looked every bit as good as he was two years ago according to his teammates.
“I don’t think you can put into words or put into perspective how good David is and what he means to this offense — what he means to any offense, he’s that good of a player,” Shipley said. “Having him back is going to be huge; having him fresh is going to be even better.”
Fitzgerald mentioned Johnson’s return as well, and also highlighted some of the other talent, the young talent, on offense in running back T.J. Logan and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
“He’s got his burst and he’s working his tail off to get himself in shape and get ready. That was fun to see him,” Fitzgerald said, referring to Logan who missed all of 2017 due to a dislocated wrist. “Ricky Seals is making plays out there. He flashed a lot today, too. We got some young, exciting guys so I’m looking forward to it.”
— A handful of players were spotted working out on the side. Those were tight end Jermaine Gresham (Achilles), defensive end Markus Golden (ACL), left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (unknown).
“I’m not going to be in a position to put a timetable on any of the players,” Wilks said. “I have tremendous respect for Tom (Reed, head athletic trainer) and his crew in there as well as Buddy, and those guys are doing a tremendous job in getting those guys moving forward.”
— Approaching his 15th season in the NFL, Fitzgerald will be 35 when Week 1 arrives. Those are just numbers to him.
“I’m as motivated as I was when I was 20 when I was just cutting my teeth. It doesn’t really turn off—that’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “I’m probably going to struggle when I’m done with it.”
— Asked about the Los Angeles Rams adding Ndamukong Suh to what was already a star-studded defense, Shipley feigned excitement.
“Can’t wait,” he said, drawing laughter. “Their defensive line was good and it just got better.”