Healthy Cardinals begin training camp with urgency amid pandemic
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury admitted the thoughts crossed his mind.
What if he was entering his first year as Arizona Cardinals head coach amid a pandemic, forced to install an offense and win over a locker room without a preseason or any in-person practices before training camp?
“I keep being very thankful it wasn’t the first year,” Kingsbury said on a Zoom call with reporters, who attended practice Wednesday but were whisked to their computer screens for interviews.
“We have a long way to go, we understand that, but at least having familiarity with the processes, with the staff, our scheme being in place, it’s helped kind of that long break we had to pick right back up and get things moving.”
Another what-if: What would have happened in this situation to quarterback Kyler Murray, who used his junior year at Oklahoma to turn a future in pro baseball into a Heisman Trophy-winning season? What if he couldn’t propel himself to become Arizona’s No. 1 overall pick that broke stereotypes about how to scout and draft players at his position?
“That was a real-life scenario,” Kingsbury said. “He wouldn’t have waited around for another football season, I’ll tell you that much. I definitely feel blessed that he was able to play that (junior) year and we were able to get him.”
Instead, the Cardinals began work at State Farm Stadium with relative familiarity. They were on the field for the first time Wednesday worrying about integrating their new players amid a pandemic.
No big deal, right?
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins was on the field, as was first-round pick Isaiah Simmons and his rookie classmates. Free agent additions De’Vondre Campbell, Jordan Phillips and Devon Kennard were getting in work as well.
There weren’t any noticeable absences with padded practices expected to begin Monday, and the Cardinals players who spoke with reporters all showed awareness about their ability to be on the field a day after two power college conferences canceled football through at least the fall.
There is urgency not only to play catchup without OTAs and mini-camps, but also to keep the virus out of the Arizona locker room.
“I think it’s luck to be honest,” Kennard said of his team being coronavirus free so far. “This disease is real, it’s serious, anybody can get it. Our protocols are great and we have to keep it that way.”
The Cardinals installed plexiglass between lockers and left others empty to keep players at least six feet from another. They’ve also split up position groups in order to prevent the virus from wiping out an entire unit.
Players feed themselves in the lunch room and eat by themselves. When they arrive, they undergo temperature checks and daily swab tests, the latter of which will continue through at least Sept. 5.
“I definitely had to get used to the swabs in the nose,” Kennard said.
“It becomes your rhythm of the day. You knock it out and move on.”
Receiver Christian Kirk credited the maturity of the team for the current healthiness inside State Farm Stadium, and Kingsbury added that he continues to treat the Cardinals as adults. They’re here to take care of business, and staying COVID-19-free is part of it.
Through the weirdness of a virtual offseason to this point, rookie fourth-round pick Rashard Lawrence admitted this day hadn’t hit like it normally might.
“That moment will come,” he said.
The players know they’re lucky not only to have a job but have a chance to perform it — and they will keep the uneasiness in mind to stay safe.
“First and foremost, it’s a blessing to be able strap on the cleats and helmet and be able to get out there on the grass with your teammates,” Kirk said. “We were talking about, the last week before we came to Glendale, the last week of Zoom meetings, just how tired and fed up we were about it just because we want to get back and be around the guys in the locker room and have that camaraderie. It’s just been good, everybody’s been buying in to the process.
“The teams that handle this the best are going to be most successful. We want to be one of those teams.”