Camp K notes: Cardinals O-line isn’t afraid of big goals; depth is improved
You knew where the answer to the question would go, but it had to be asked: How do the Arizona Cardinals expect to build on a 2019 season in which they set a franchise record by averaging 5.03 yards per carry?
“Obviously we want to be better. So going into the season, we obviously set our goals to surpass where we were at last year,” left guard Justin Pugh said. “It would be foolish not to. It’s not like, let’s get to where we were at last year.”
That 5.03 yards per rush was second in the NFL to the Baltimore Ravens’ 5.53 yards per carry. MVP Lamar Jackson’s electric rushing abilities had a lot to do with that.
The easy answer for why Arizona can improve would be to assume we’ll see a more aggressive second-year quarterback Kyler Murray.
Running back Kenyan Drake is back on a transition tag. He understands the “whys” of the offense, the pre-snap keys that should help him more easily find open spaces to run the ball.
But in offensive line terms, how do they approach that yards-per-carry figure?
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler believes the team has a clear identity and that the depth has improved. He said Monday that he has four or five second-team players that he would feel comfortable throwing into a game.
Kugler, who head coach Kliff Kingsbury has called a run game scheming “savant,” isn’t hiding from the Cardinals’ desires to re-set the yards-per-carry franchise mark.
“I think it’s good to have high goals and I think for guys to really believe that, that’s a positive thing,” Kugler said. “When you have a new staff and you’re implementing a new offense, you have to see what you have first.
“I think about midseason last year we started coming together as an offense and running the ball effectively and I think it opened up a lot of things. We’re hoping to build off that success. We’re going to set high goals as we will every year, and the guys are working to achieve those goals.”
A few tidbits from Kugler about the offensive line:
— The starter at right tackle is not yet decided, as veteran left tackle convert Kelvin Beachum and returnee Justin Murray are still competiting. Murray, however, has been given reps at guard as well.
“We’ve transitioned (Beachum) to right tackle and during this camp he’s responded very well,” said Kugler, who coached Beachum in 2012 when the OT was a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “He’s been competing with Justin Murray and that position and the competition has brought out the best in both of them.”
— Kugler said center Mason Cole’s body has changed with added strength since last season.
— Rookie tackle and third-round pick Josh Jones appears to be out of the running for a starting position at tackle, something the Cardinals probably don’t have a problem with. It doesn’t mean he’s been disappointing in camp.
“Josh Jones has really done a nice job for us. He’s very athletic. He’s a professional already,” Kugler said. “He’s very mature for a rookie as far as work ethic and retaining information and putting in the work studying. He’s taken the right step as a rookie. I’ve been very pleased with him.”
— Tight end Maxx Williams returned to the field after missing the past week-plus nursing an injury.
— Receiver Larry Fitzgerald celebrated his 37th birthday Monday with the day off. But unsurprisingly, that didn’t mean he wasn’t still at State Farm Stadium working with his teammates in some drills. Over the past week, coaches like Kingsbury and receivers coach David Raih have remarked about the anxiety that he plays with — as if he’s worried about making the roster.
“One thing he told me on the sideline is he still wants it more,” quarterback Brett Hundley said Monday. “You see it in his practice, his game play obviously, the way he interacts with people.
“Even at 37, 38, he’s an old man but he’s still ballin’.”
— Last week, Kyler Murray said he didn’t want to speak too much when asked about Dan Arnold, as if he wanted to keep the reputation of the tight end in the shadows. His backup, Hundley, did not hold back when asked about Arnold.
“Dan is the man. That can be a headline if you want it to be,” Hundley said. “He’s going to have a great year for us. He’s an awesome, awesome player. When you got a tight end that big that can run the way he does like a receiver — I mean, this dude literally ran track and he looks everything like it. Just to see him out there, huge mismatch for a lot of these things.”
— Outside linebacker Chandler Jones said videogame playing during the pandemic helped him bond with younger players like running back Chase Edmonds this offseason.
“As far as me and Chase, I feel like a lot of that Call of Duty playing brought us closer,” Jones said. “I took it upon myself to reach out more, doing things they like. Budda (Baker), K1, Chase, all those guys are a lot younger than I am. I still play video games. I’m 30 but I still play video games. It was just a chance to build that camaraderie, not just on your side of the ball but across the team.”
Jones added that he has progressed as a Call of Duty player in a monumental way.
“If you ask Kyler, if you ask Chase, they know what a bot is. You’re not too good,” he said. “I was a bot at first but I’m actually becoming an elite player in this game.”