Cards camp notebook: Intensity rising with focus on physicality
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals are officially a week into training camp, and the overall intensity level is rising considerably. Physicality is obviously a key component for any successful NFL team, and it has been a major point of emphasis for Steve Wilks and his group the last few days.
“There’s nothing more demoralizing to a defense than having an offense just run the ball,” Wilks explained. “Coming off the ball up front being physical, it just really takes the air out of you. We know this is a pass-happy league. All quarterbacks are going to get their yardage, you know, you can’t stop that. But when they have 280, 300-plus passing and then 100-something yards rushing, that just tears a team apart. That physicality starts up front, in stopping the run and, most importantly, being able to run the ball.”
Left tackle D.J. Humphries echoed that line of thinking, noting that he prefers the power game of run blocking more anyway.
“Run blocking’s my favorite,” he said. “Pass is cool, you know, I can do it. I’m athletic enough to get it done against some good guys but run blocking’s fun. All that athleticism stuff goes out the window, you’ve got to meet me now. All that dancing’s gone, you’ve got to see me. So I enjoy that a lot.”
While establishing a strong ground game isn’t exactly a revolutionary strategy that the Cardinals have discovered, it could feasibly help them even more than some other teams. Running the ball and controlling the clock can potentially keep Sam Bradford healthy and upright. And, quite simply, the more David Johnson has the ball in his hands, the better.
Of course, it’s not just the offensive side of the game that thrives on tough, physical play.
“That’s what we were talking about the other day as a defense is just knowing that it’s still a run-first league,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We have a lot of good running backs. Every team, especially in this division, has a great running back. If you don’t stop the run then it’s a long day. You’ve got to be physical to stop the run.”
Mike McCoy has enough on his plate as the Cardinals’ new offensive coordinator trying to sort out how all of his pieces fit together. His starting quarterback has been limited this offseason as he rehabs a surgically repaired knee. His starting running back missed minicamp in a contract holdout, his wide receivers beyond Larry Fitzgerald are a mystery and starting tight end Jermaine Gresham is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Despite those obstacles, McCoy is willingly taking on another role: mentor. With four years of head coaching experience with the San Diego Chargers on his resume, McCoy has been a shoulder to lean on for first-year head coach Steve Wilks.
“You have to really tap into that resource,” Wilks said. “I believe in just being a sponge and trying to take everything in. Every little tidbit that we talk about, I just try to write it down. It may not be something for right now; it could be something for later. All the information is very pertinent.”
While he worked under Ron Rivera with the Carolina Panthers, Wilks said Rivera told him he always wished he had brought in a former head coach on his staff to help shepherd him through his first head coaching gig. McCoy smiled when asked what lessons he had taken from his days with the Chargers that were still relevant.
“There’s plenty of lessons,” he said, almost seeming overwhelmed by the information that came to mind. “When you’re the head coach, there is something that comes across your desk just about every day that you might not have thought of. There’s certain things you have to do with players that are like, ‘are you kidding me?’ Administrative things you’ve got to talk with the owner about. There’s finances, there’s practice fields, there’s travel, there’s the rest of the organization, so there’s always something that comes up.
“Every year, you learn something new about your team regardless of whether you’re with the same team. I was in Carolina for nine years but each year your roster turns over and you have new guys so you’re always looking to improve your football team and try to find ways to do things different.”
-Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb continued to heap praise on tackle Robert Nkemdiche. He acknowledged the 2016 first rounder’s past struggle but stressed the new regime is focused only on the future.
“I’m impressed with him,” Holcomb reiterated. “He had a really good practice today. He’s coming off the ball, he’s aggressive. He’s being disruptive and that’s what we want.”
-Arizona on Thursday signed defensive end Cap Capi, who spent 2016 on the Cardinals’ practice squad and was with the organization during training camp last year.
-The team will hold a closed practice outside again on Friday, much like they did on Tuesday. And while that likely won’t lend itself to the most comfortable weather conditions, that’s by design.
“Hopefully it’s a little hot out there,” Wilks said, “so we can make sure that we’re locked in and focused.”