Camp K notes: Cardinals tough cut decisions could include OLB room
A victim of tumult around him to some degree, Haason Reddick has been jerked from one position to another by the year. He’s also failed to cement himself at one position when given the opportunity.
The Arizona Cardinals in May didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on his contract that was available because he was a 2017 first-round pick, and that sets him into a contract season.
Speculation about his place on the 53-man roster will continue until the 1 p.m. deadline Saturday.
Among tightly contested position groups is Reddick’s outside linebacker room, where after starters Chandler Jones and Devon Kennard, there is little clarity about which players will remain on the roster. Reddick, Kylie Fitts and Dennis Gardeck are possibly going to be the last man left off the 53-man roster, because keeping five outside linebackers may be overkill.
Jones will be hard to take off the field as he chases sack records. Kennard was acquired to play a lot. An even deeper inside linebacker group that includes rookie Isaiah Simmons functionally could give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph some of the same looks.
“We’ve got four or five guys there,” Joseph said of the outside linebacker group this week. “Kylie Fitts has had a great camp along with Haason Reddick and Dennis Gardeck. Obviously, Dennis and Haason, it’s their first year of playing outside backer in this system so they’re not there yet but the effort’s there, the want-to is there, the quickness is there.”
Joseph earlier this summer suggested he was excited to find a role for Reddick behind Jones and Kennard.
Reddick is the most athletic among the backup outside backers, while Gardeck brings special teams pop. Reddick and Gardeck are small for outside linebackers; they’re listed at 235 pounds and 232 pounds, respectively.
On one hand, that could hurt them as pass rushers facing offensive tackle and tight ends. On the other, it gives Joseph the opportunity to disguise a blitz by an inside linebacker while dropping a capable athlete like Reddick into coverage.
Fitts was a midseason pickup a year ago with just 37 defensive snaps in three games for the Cardinals last year, but he garned mention from head coach Kliff Kingsbury at the end of the season.
“We’ve really been impressed by Kylie,” Kingsbury said Thursday. “I think last year he bought in to the system, the scheme, what we asked him to do, whether it was on scout team or when he got his live reps. He’s lost some weight, looks quicker, looks more explosive and has really done a nice job throughout camp.”
Arizona’s decisions come down to a lot of things: Does Reddick want to seek a fresh start now? Teams have enough tape on him to know what type of athlete he is between pass-rushing and playing as an off-ball linebacker.
Could the Cardinals want to open up more cap space even after restructuring offensive tackle D.J. Humphries’ deal earlier in the week?
According to Spotrac, Reddick’s cap hit is $4.29 million this season. The team would have cap savings of $2.3 million if they released him.
Fitts’ deal is $750,000 against the cap, while Gardeck’s is just $2,000 more.
That’s just one position where the decisions look tight, and that speaks to the improved talent of a roster that last year saw the team fill immediate needs in the rotation with waiver pickups after cuts. Offensive tackle Justin Murray, defensive end Jonathan Bullard and corner Kevin Peterson all started at some point last season after being waiver claims in September.
Expect a less busy flurry of moves this year for several reasons.
For one, the added depth will make it harder to push the backend players off the roster. For another, those backend players currently on the team are, in general, mostly familiar with the Cardinals scheme. Continuity is important for Arizona to make a leap.
The pandemic also presents its challenges.
“There may be some more carryover than maybe there would have been in previous years,” Kingsbury said.
“Last year I think it was five or six we picked up prior to Week 1 and with the protocols and things of that nature, it could be a little more challenging this year.”
As of Thursday morning, the last day of training camp before the Cardinals move from State Farm Stadium to their Tempe practice facility, Kingsbury said the 53-man roster was mostly decided upon.
“We feel pretty good about that core group of 53,” he said.
— Kingsbury admitted the Cardinals are aware that as training camp breaks, players who return to their daily lives outside the bubble in Glendale have more opportunity to catch the coronavirus. Asked about it, the head coach let on to his very frequent grooming schedule.
“I mean I know I get a hair cut every week and I’m thinking, ‘Am I putting myself at risk?” he said.
“Our guys have done a tremendous job of not putting themselves at risk … the NFL has made it clear that if you do there will be fines enforced. ”
— Receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Kenyan Drake went through the open portion of practice Thursday, according to reporters. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins remained sidelined.