With Kingsbury ‘used to playing 8’ WRs, Cardinals rookies could get time

Jul 25, 2019, 6:28 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2019, 8:21 am
Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, right, talks with rookie wide receiver Hakeem Bu...
Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, right, talks with rookie wide receiver Hakeem Butler (17) as players stretch at the team's NFL football training facility Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — An ideal Kliff Kingsbury offense has several wide receivers doing several different things.

Eight receivers, to be exact.

“I’m used to playing eight in a game,” the first-year Arizona Cardinals head coach said during the first day of training camp Thursday.

Realistically, he’d like to roster six or seven. Not all would be active each week, but having the depth and options is important to the up-tempo game plan he is instilling.

That’s good news for a group of Arizona Cardinals draft picks vying for a spot in the rotation.

KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler are in a similar position Christian Kirk was last season. Kirk was drafted in the second round by Arizona and looked to be in immediate contention to play a productive role. He ended the year with 43 receptions and 590 yards in 12 games, both second among receivers behind Larry Fitzgerald.

Kirk said the most important thing to do to get your name noticed during training camp is to be consistent.

“You can’t waver too much; you can’t stack two bad days in a row,” Kirk said. “You gotta be able to come in and at least just be consistent and gain the coaches’ trust.”

To get Kingsbury to fully trust you, you better be able to do multiple things.

For the Cardinals to roster as many receivers as he envisions, “it’ll take multiple guys knowing every position across the board,” Kingsbury said.

“They’re moving us around a lot on the line, but we’re just slowly picking things up and just keep building on what we built in the spring,” Isabella said. “…The more I’m versatile, the more chances I’ll have to get on the field.”

Butler remained mum when asked about playing around the field – gotta keep this new offense a secret — but with his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and offseason work with Calvin Johnson (also 6-foot-5), it looks like he plans to use his size to his advantage.

“(I’ve) never really had a coach that was my height,” he said, referring to Johnson. “That was really helpful to me.”

The second-round draft pick has to be more than just the fastest guy on the team. Butler will have to be more than just a physical presence. Johnson, a sixth-rounder, will have to be more than a good route runner, which general manager Steve Keim was impressed with during the draft process.

“The more you can do at that position, the better off you’re going to be as far as making this team,” Kingsbury said.

The guys need to prove they can be not just productive in one spot, but a versatile athlete on the field.

During the open period of the first day of training camp, Fitzgerald, Kirk, Trent Sherfield and Kevin White earned the majority of first-team snaps, and Damiere Byrd and Johnson got some time with that unit.

Training camp goes beyond earning the coaches’ trust. Wide receivers must gain the belief of the quarterback.

“I remember developing that with Josh McCown, and Kurt Warner, and Carson Palmer, all the guys that I played with — it’s just about getting out there on the practice field, them trusting you to make a play, you make the play, and then they say ‘OK, I can fit this ball to him in tight windows.’ And that’s how it develops,” Fitzgerald said.

Rookie minicamp gave the group time to get to know first overall draft pick and quarterback Kyler Murray on and off the field. 

“That was a great bonding time for us, just because we were with each other all day, from sun up to sun down,” Murray said.

Kirk was close with last year’s quarterback, rookie Josh Rosen, prior to the minicamp. The receiver said the summer work paid off once Rosen got the starting job.

“It wasn’t too hard to pick up where we left off when he took over the starting role,” Kirk said.

Butler said the group is already close after the offseason.

“I see those guys as my brothers already, A.J. (Richardson), Andy and KeeSean,” Butler said. “Staying at the same hotel, working together every day, I mean, it brought us all together, we’re really close.”

Will it help them prepare for the season?

Last year, Fitzgerald and Kirk were the only receivers that had more than 20 receptions. The player with the third-most was then-rookie Sherfield, who had 19.

With another group of rookies aiming for a roster spot, offseason work with Murray could give them a leg up in a depth chart crowded with unproven athletes.

“Hopefully, I’m willing to take any advantage I can get,” Butler said.

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