Why you should be optimistic about the 2020 Arizona Cardinals
Kliff Kingsbury is no longer a rookie NFL head coach. He looks different. A stylish beard consumes much of his face. He sounds comfortable. He seems more relaxed, out of the woods.
“I think on a personal level, definitely,” Kingsbury said during a video press conference earlier in the week. “For the first eight months, I was in a hotel, basically. And I’ve been able to kind of get settled in and understand where this thing is going, and what it takes to get where you want to go.”
There are many reasons for optimism when/if the Cardinals take the field in 2020. In order:
1. Kyler Murray will have real experience under his belt. His speed devastated college football. Now he understands its value in the NFL, along with its restrictions.
“I expect him to take a big step,” Kingsbury said.
2. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins does more than fill a glaring need. It gives the Cardinals the third-best wide receiver in football, behind New Orleans’ Michael Thomas and Atlanta’s Julio Jones.
3. The signings of De’Vondre Campbell, Devon Kennard and Jordan Phillips fill distinct defensive needs, namely a linebacker who can cover tight ends; an edge rusher opposite Chandler Jones; and much-needed help on the defensive line.
4. The signings of D.J. Humphries and Marcus Gilbert give the Cardinals depth at offensive line. Mason Cole is ready to become a full-time starter. Contrary to most mock drafters across the country, offensive line is not an area of need in Arizona.
5. David Johnson has been traded, freeing up money and eliminating all distractions.
6. Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds will consume most of the carries, giving the Cardinals a formidable running game from the jump.
“We’re really excited about those two guys, two explosive backs who played at a very high level when they had their opportunity,” Kingsbury said.
7. Unless he does something really stupid, Patrick Peterson will not be suspended for six games. He will also be tested and sharpened on a daily basis, forced to defend the dynamic Hopkins during practice.
8. Aside from the addition of Hopkins, there is great familiarity on offense. The unit is stocked with returning players well-versed with Kingsbury’s system.
“They understand it,” he said. “They understand our culture. To hit the ground running is exciting … It’ll be fun to kind of run it back with that group and see where we’re at.”
9. General manager Steve Keim might shine with less faces, less noise and less clutter around him during the upcoming NFL Draft.
10. Keim might even give a present to his two prized acquisitions: a new wide receiver for Kingsbury, allowing the coach to integrate more elements of his beloved Air Raid offense; and a former college teammate for Murray, who is lobbying hard for Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
Bottom line: The Cardinals are dramatically improved on paper. They have passed the Rams. They are equal to Seattle, a team they beat on the road in late December. They are only chasing San Francisco in the NFC West. And none of it means a thing until they get between the lines.
But Kingsbury’s comfort level is an undisputed asset, a head coaching hire so unconventional that even he worried about getting fired in the opening month of his rookie season.
The eye-rolling and petty backstabbing have stopped. Kingsbury will build on what worked in 2019 and discard what didn’t. He’s spending much of his alone time doing a “deeper dive” on offensive innovation in the collegiate game. He’s no longer having to validate his employment, selling himself to the Valley and locker room full of hardcore football players.
The difference in his job and his approach is like “night and day.”
He is also extremely adaptable. He’s from a generation that will embrace tele-coaching and Zoom meetings. Those traits will pay dividends during tumultuous, unfamiliar times.
“We have great coaches on the staff that have really helped me kind of see where we need to take this thing,” Kingsbury said. “So from an overall prospect, I just feel a lot more settled than last year.”
That makes Kingsbury dangerous. Just like his football team.
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