The 5: Cardinals practice observations on Day 1 of Camp K
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Here was second-year receiver Christian Kirk, perhaps one player most excited to play in the Arizona Cardinals’ new spread offense, sounding like an old-school football coach Wednesday before the team’s first official scrimmage of training camp.
“I think number one (priority-wise) to me is establishing the run game, getting David going, getting the offensive line going,” Kirk said. “Then it opens up our RPOs, our play-action and it makes Kyler more of a threat with his ability to pull it.”
People may not believe that head coach Kliff Kingsbury will run the ball much even though he does have a proven running back in David Johnson.
That belief didn’t vanish into thin air Thursday if you watched the Cardinals’ first open practice of training camp.
The pads aren’t yet on and Arizona likely wants to keep all of its disguises under wraps throughout the preseason. Because a lot of the disguises and scheming and chess-playing involved the running back when Kingsbury was at Texas Tech, there’s even more reason to stay away from the run game.
Throw in the need for rookie quarterback Kyler Murray to get a feel for the passing game, and there’s a third reason the Cardinals didn’t show a lot of running Thursday. But they did show a bit about how the passing attack will look. And a bit more.
Here are five observations from the first day of camp with the obligatory asterisk — there is a lot of camp left and a lot of tweaking that will surely change how this team looks comes Week 1 of the 2019 season.
Surprises in personnel, not WR packages
The Cardinals sure look like their base offense will include four receivers. And throughout practice Thursday, the four receivers running with the first team offense looked pretty clear.
Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, two givens, were joined mostly by Kevin White, the 2015 first-round draft pick whose career has been hit hard with major injuries, and second-year pro Trent Sherfield, who went from undrafted to starting wideout as a rookie.
Speedster Damiere Byrd and rookie sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson earned a few reps with the 1s as well.
In terms of packages, Kingsbury did throw in a few quirky sets, including dual-back looks with Johnson and his backup, Chase Edmonds, and one empty set look with Johnson and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones split out as receivers, joining Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and KeeSean Johnson.
Kingsbury suggested the receivers that make the roster will need to be able to play from multiple positions. From tight end to running back, it seems that proving versatility is at a premium.
The K1-Fitz connection is real
Gaining trust from Murray is as easy as making big catches and earning more, according to Fitzgerald.
He did that in a big way Thursday, hauling in three heavily-contested catches from the rookie No. 1 pick, including a one-handed grab on the sideline for a catch during a 7-on-7 run.
That and a Murray deep jump-ball that was high-pointed by White earned the biggest cheers from the crowd at State Farm Stadium.
A surprise name in the corner/nickel competition
As it was with rookie receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, the Cardinals appear to be bringing cornerback Byron Murphy along slowly.
Patrick Peterson was splitting reps with second-year undrafted pro Chris Jones, and it was veteran Tramaine Brock earning time as the nickelback.
Kingsbury did admit beforehand that the Cardinals would likely need to play Murphy in some capacity, especially while Peterson is out during his six-game suspension for PED use.
“I think with the need, there’s not going to be much choice there,” Kingsbury said.
It should be pointed out that throughout mini-camp, Arizona moved Murphy all over the field as he learned each position. His absence from first-team reps could very well be about teaching and bringing him along slowly with the entire preseason ahead.
Center remains a two-man competition
A healthy A.Q. Shipley was first up running with the first stringers on Thursday, but that came after Kingsbury said he has two starting centers.
Second-year pro Mason Cole, who started every game in 2018, also earned reps with the 1s.
“They’re trying to get the best guys out there. Just excited about it. There’s not really any other way I’d have it,” Cole said.
“(Shipley has) been a big help to me my first year here. He’s always the first guy I come to when I get off the field: ‘You see anything different? You see anything?’ He’s been good to me.”
Return threat options
Taking special teams reps as return men were Kirk, Cooper, Byrd, Isabella, KeeSean Johnson and running back T.J. Logan.