Arizona Cardinals WR Andy Isabella done beating himself up

Aug 31, 2020, 6:36 AM

Wide receiver Andy Isabella #17 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football during the Red & Wh...

Wide receiver Andy Isabella #17 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football during the Red & White Practice at State Farm Stadium on August 28, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals coached Andy Isabella tough privately but complimented him publicly.

They put too much on his plate and then pulled back.

Isabella’s rookie year in 2019 didn’t go as he dreamed of or how outsiders thought it would. For the latter’s perception, it matters that Arizona traded quarterback Josh Rosen for a draft pick and selected Isabella in the second round before the speedy receiver failed to win a regular rotation spot.

“Playing behind one of the best, if not the best, wide receivers of all time, that’s just a tough spot to be in,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Isabella trying to find time in the slot behind Larry Fitzgerald. “I thought he handled it with grace and with poise. We were hard on him last year and put him through it, trying to prepare him mentally and physically of the rigors he’d face.”

Arizona hopes that pays off.

Even though they found lots of reasons to play with more tight ends and added receiver DeAndre Hopkins to join Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, Isabella has a chance to find playing time.

“I want to win a job. I want to be on the field more,” Isabella said Sunday.

Last year, with nine receptions and 189 yards of production, Isabella was forced onto the field thanks to Kingsbury’s creative mind. He put the jet-fast receiver in uniquely-crafted packages to cause schematic problems. Still, Isabella played 15% of the available offensive snaps for Arizona.

He’s come back in Year 2 more confident, with better technique and even a new number (“I got tired of 89 so let’s switch it up to 17,” he said).

“I think it wasn’t anything — it was myself, beating myself up,” the receiver said of the lumps taken as a rookie. “I think this year I’ll take the coaching but I’m not going to let it get in my head.

“Maybe I was thinking too much last year. Now I’m just going to go out there and play.”

Isabella played slot and outside receiver as a rookie, and in the back-half of the season he moved exclusively to outside as Kingsbury admitted the team wanted to take some off his plate.

Isabella said Sunday he’s mostly playing in the slot during training camp, behind Fitzgerald, and expects that to hold come the regular season.

He’s grown more patient since hitting that wall as a rookie, when the expectations and the learning curve were both high. Beating press coverage is no easy thing to do if it wasn’t necessary playing in college, and for someone who is listed at 188 pounds, there are problems outside against the NFL’s taller, bigger cornerbacks.

“What he’s learned, what he’s learning to do, is be more efficient with his speed and quickness off the line,” receivers coach David Raih said last week. “If you can’t get off the press, you can’t even use your speed. You’re seeing Andy, he’s gone through the pain of learning how to get off the press.”

There’s a blueprint of how Kingsbury will use a more refined Isabella, who Raih said was too mechanical and not as instinctual a year ago. Deep routes, pre-snap jet motions and the like forced opponents to gameplan for the 5-foot-9 receiver out of UMass even during his quiet rookie season.

“I have to do a better job expanding his role and finding ways to get him on the field and get him utilized, because he is very, very fast and that’s a unique trait he possesses,” Kingsbury said.

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