Crabtree creates WR squeeze, Fitz says he feels it and Hump is a pretty-boy
TEMPE, Ariz. — “We’ll see.”
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury probably would say that if he was asked how Arizona will attack the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in the third week of the NFL preseason. He’s not been one to show his cards.
Instead, Thursday marked an opportunity to talk about something other than preseason football. Many other things, in fact.
Though newly-signed receiver Michael Crabtree was not at practice a day after signing his contract, Kingsbury discussed the veteran’s impact and how it will affect the rest of the receivers when the roster cut comes. Plus, left tackle D.J. Humphries addressed the still-smoldering soundbites that followed Arizona’s loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Fitz fights for a roster spot — seriously
While Crabtree is a known commodity, his acquisition leaves questions in Arizona’s receiver room.
Even if rookie wideout Hakeem Butler ends up on the IR after breaking his hand, it’s a squeeze.
Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Crabtree look like 53-man roster locks. So do rookie draft picks Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson.
That leaves Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and Trent Sherfield likely fighting for two spots if Arizona carries seven wideouts. Byrd and Cooper have value as returners, but Sherfield, who also works on special teams, continues to impress in practices with his ability to play any receiver spot.
Kingsbury named Sherfield and Johnson as two young players who have stepped up. Fitzgerald later glowed about Sherfield, a young player who since going undrafted last year has taken advantage of the future Hall of Famer acting as a mentor.
“Every single day he makes a play in practice — a release or a block or a hustle play on the backside that just lets you know he deserves to be here, he deserves to have a seat at the table,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m really proud of him.”
Arguably, Sherfield has positioned himself as a lock for the roster as well.
Fitzgerald is worried about the receiver squeeze himself. At least, he’s approaching the rest of the preseason like he could be on the chopping block.
Asked about how he views the receiver room following the Crabtree addition, Fitzgerald gave this soundbite: “I just play here. I’m just fighting, scratching to make my roster spot. Those decisions are way above my pay-grade honestly. You get into the number game, and I just try to make sure I’m one of the numbers on the 53.
“First claim is on the waiver-wire. Our team is going to look different come Week 1. I’m just honestly focused on carving out my role.”
The guess here is Fitzgerald will be on the opening-week roster.
The Kliff-Crabtree history
At the least, the 31-year-old Crabtree should bring reliability once he learns the offense and gets into football shape.
“I think he’s been a very productive player in this league — very savvy, mentally-tough player, plays physical. He brings a lot for our young receivers to learn from and be around,” Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury first met Crabtree in 2007, prior to the coach’s last season playing pro football.
The then-quarterback visited his old stomping grounds at Texas Tech before Crabtree’s freshman year and caught wind of the hype around the receiver. It was warranted.
Crabtree recorded 1,962 receiving yards with 22 touchdowns that season, winning the first of two Biletnikoff Awards as the best receiver in the country.
His college experience playing for Air Raid master Mike Leach and the Red Raiders might quicken the pace of learning the Cardinals’ offense, Kingsbury said.
“He’s played in a bunch of different offenses,” the head coach said. “There’ll be some similar concepts to what he ran in college — not a ton — but enough where I think he’s going to pick it up quickly.”
Crabtree has put together a strong NFL career since his Texas Tech days.
He’s missed just two regular season games the past five years with the 49ers, Raiders and Ravens. Last year for Baltimore, he recorded 607 total receiving yards despite his targets and production falling off after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson took over in the final seven games of the year.
Humphries is prettiest
Somehow, Humphries compared his looks to a 1996 Chevy Impala.
It started with a conversation about the Raiders’ well-constructed gameplan to beat Arizona last week. Then it turned to how Humphries felt about Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner calling the Cardinals’ scheme “pretty-boy” football.
“The Raiders were clearly trying to prove a point. Like, cool beans — you guys gameplanned like it was the regular season for us to play a quarter,” Humphries said. “Ran a zero-blitz in the second preseason game, speed package in the second preseason game. Cool beans. You guys are on ‘Hard Knocks.’ Good for y’all.
“Ain’t the first time I’ve been called pretty. I wasn’t surprised when he called us pretty — maybe everybody else was because it was their first time. What do you expect him to call me?” Humphries added. “Some stuff they stopped doing a long time ago. They stopped making that ’96 Impala a long time ago, they stopped making these (himself) in ’93.”