Camp K notes: Cardinals RT battle begins and a 10 personnel check-in
Here’s what stood out from Arizona Cardinals training camp on Wednesday.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — From the perspective of Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, Marcus Gilbert would have become the team’s starting right tackle if his comeback from a season-ending knee injury went flawlessly.
The head man said so just a week before coronavirus led Gilbert to opt out of 2020.
Now Arizona finds itself with a position battle on its hands for the tackle opposite D.J. Humphries on the blindside.
Justin Murray started 12 games and held up well last year, but the Cardinals made a late free agent signing by adding veteran Kelvin Beachum in mid-July.
“We feel very fortunate that we were able to sign Kelvin when we did, obviously,” Kingsbury said as Beachum took the field for practice at State Farm Stadium for the first time on Wednesday. “He’s a very conscientious player, very smart. He’s picked things up quick.”
With 104 NFL games of experience and 99 of those starts, Beachum suddenly could be the favorite to join an offensive line that returns everyone from a season ago except center A.Q. Shipley, who will be replaced by third-year pro Mason Cole.
The only hesitation about Beachum is that he’s spent most of his career at left tackle aside from some action on the right side as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That 2012 season, Beachum played for offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who is now Arizona’s offensive line coach.
That relationship could fast-track his familiarity with Kingsbury’s offense.
Expect there to be a competition between Beachum and Murray, who hadn’t started a game until Week 1 of last year.
The Cardinals also have third-round pick Josh Jones in the room, but Kingsbury admitted the lack of a regular offseason due to coronavirus will lead to “growing pains.” Jones could see time in camp at both tackle spots in case a starter goes down.
“We feel pleasantly surprised, or pleased, I should say, with the depth we have even with Marcus opting out,” Kingsbury said.
Receiver Christian Kirk added that he 1) does keep an eye on battles among other position groups and 2) expects there to be a competition for the right tackle job.
“(Murray) knows the protections, he’s a smart guy and so knowing we have a guy we can depend on in him is very reassuring,” the receiver-turned-analyst said.
“We have Josh, who we drafted, who’s super talented and athletic. He’s obviously going to be learning as a rookie. Having Beachum as well, a guy who’s played in this league and a guy who has a lot of experience and what not, I wouldn’t say there’s much concern. I trust those guys, they’re all great football players. I think it’s just who steps up and shows that they can be relied on and get the job done.”
Obligatory 10 personnel check-in
For refreshers: The Cardinals ran 10 personnel (one back, zero tight ends and four receivers) 36% of the time in 2020, far more than any other NFL team. But as the year went on and the running game exceeded expectations, it became clear that tight end usage was a game-changer for Kingsbury’s Air Raid-born offense.
So the Cardinals went with more 11 personnel (one tight end, one back and three receivers) as the year went on.
Expect that pattern to hold, even after the Cardinals added DeAndre Hopkins to the receiver group that includes Larry Fitzgerald and Kirk.
“Definitely at the end of last year, primarily, our base formation or personnel was 11 personnel,” Kirk said Wednesday. “I could definitely see us rolling into the year with that and sprinkling in some 10 personnel.
“I think definitely picking up where we left off with 11 personnel and even sprinkling in some 12, too.”
The personnel available matters a lot, too.
Tight ends Maxx Williams and Dan Arnold are expected to see a lot of time, and whether any fourth receiver can stand out in camp will dictate how this goes when the Cardinals open the year at San Francisco on Sept. 13.
Kliff picks three
Asked to pick three players or items of strong interest to lead off training camp, Kingsbury surprised by keeping it defense-focused.
He is keeping his eye on cornerback Robert Alford, who is coming off a leg injury that he suffered after a strong 2019 camp.
“I want to see how (Alford’s) moving around,” the head coach said. “We’re pulling for him because he did put in so much work throughout the offseason.”
Kingsbury is also curious to watch the revamped inside linebacker and defensive line groups.
The inside linebacker group added No. 8 pick Isaiah Simmons and sixth-round pick Evan Weaver in the draft. It also signed De’Vondre Campbell to start alongside Jordan Hicks.
On the defensive line, 340-pound tackle addition Jordan Phillips indeed appeared to be a large man in this reporter’s bad eyes. Second-year pro Zach Allen, who played four games as a rookie before a season-ending injury, could have a chance to win a starting role at defensive end.
Rookies Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence also join the fold. Like Jones’ situation, they have an uphill battle with a month to learn the ropes.
Rooting for the playoff ‘Yotes, streaking Suns
Kingsbury on being able to watch the state’s other pro sports teams fight for the postseason: “There’s not a lot else on TV. I think I’ve worn out Netflix. Wanted to wish and congratulate (Suns coach) Monty Williams and then wish (Coyotes coach) Rick Tocchet good luck. Those guys got it rolling and got good mojo for the city and the state.”