Cardinals OLB Kennard adapting amid coronavirus, Lions departure
Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Devon Kennard is adapting during these strange, uncertain times.
One of few NFL players who have put official ink to their new contracts a week into free agency, Kennard still doesn’t have a playbook.
He admitted that he hasn’t spoken in depth with Arizona coaches about his role on the team. Coronavirus restrictions have made the NFL workplace, just like any other, turn remote as social distancing practices take place.
But Kennard was able to speak to reporters Monday over a video conference call as an official member of the Cardinals.
“We’re making history here. That’s the way to start things off on the right foot I guess,” the Arizona-grown pass-rusher said from the team facilities.
“It’s definitely a change for everybody. Everyone’s going through it and you kind of just adjust and figure out what’s going to work for you and do the best you can to prepare mentally and physically.”
Thanks to new Cards LB Devon Kennard – our first ever remote press conference done entirely on Zoom pic.twitter.com/PaSRHPSWcl
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) March 23, 2020
Just a week ago, Kennard didn’t expect he’d have to worry about finding a new home this offseason. He was still under contract with the Detroit Lions, but the team reportedly tried to trade him and then released their two-year captain.
“It was a big surprise. I wasn’t expecting it all, it kind of came out of nowhere,” Kennard said. “I wasn’t sure what the interest (elsewhere) was. I wasn’t thinking about any other teams or any circumstances at all. My agent and I kind of just regrouped when that happened and started to see where to go from there.”
Other teams were interested, but the 28-year-old and the Cardinals quickly worked out a deal for him to return to Arizona on a three-year, $20 million deal, according to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro.
It helped Kennard knew the place well. He grew up in the Phoenix area and went to Desert Vista High School before playing in college for the USC Trojans. His father, Derek Kennard, played for the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals from 1986-1990.
“My dad was super excited,” Devon said. “The fact father and son being able to play for the same organization … to have that kind of opportunity and for it to be home, where my family lives, is really cool.”
But Kennard likes the on-field product, too.
He played against Kyler Murray in Week 1 of last season and watched the rookie quarterback nearly lead the Cardinals to a 18-point fourth-quarter comeback rally that ended in an overtime tie. He’s excited to play opposite outside linebacker Chandler Jones and has heard good things about head coach Kliff Kingsbury, too.
“I think what they’re building here is really special. I think it’s a young team with a lot of opportunity,” Kennard said.
From a production standpoint, Kennard expects to fit in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense well.
He recorded 7.0 sacks in each of the past two years with the Lions — Kennard tallied 3.0 sacks in Week 1 against the Cardinals alone — after never surpassing 4.5 in his first four years in the NFL with the New York Giants.
“Playing in Detroit was the first time I got to rush more often and even with that said, I think I was top two or three — I dropped more than any outside linebacker in the league,” Kennard added. “I still dropped a lot more than most guys at my position.”
Joseph’s tendency to blitz in theory should help the 28-year-old Kennard’s opportunities. The Cardinals blitzed 39.7% of the time in 2019, third-most in the NFL. The Lions blitzed at the third-lowest rate of 18%.
And though Kennard doesn’t have a playbook and hasn’t gotten to speak with his coaches beyond “surface-level” stuff, he expects to mostly play as a pure pass-rusher opposite Jones.
“To be honest, man, I got to learn the system,” the linebacker said. “Times are a little weird now: I haven’t got a chance to get a playbook or dive in with the coaches so I can’t sit here and say and act like I know a ton of scheme … and how we’re used.
“I imagine I’ll be rushing and on the line of scrimmage a lot more than man-to-man covering people.”