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Finally game week: Cardinals embrace opener after unfathomable offseason

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 12: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during a team training camp at State Farm Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Then-rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals experienced some sputtering when they had four preseason games to put things together last year.

The approach heading into 2020 without mini-camps, OTAs and preseason games isn’t so much about what they did wrong to prepare in his first year as NFL coach. It’s not comparable anyway.

The coronavirus pandemic altered the offseason and will completely twist the feel of game day. But on Monday, the Cardinals went through their first workouts away from State Farm Stadium and at their Tempe practice facility not looking to make excuses.

It is game week. Finally time to find the next gear at a time where that might sound most difficult.

Here’s one motivational tactic: Kingsbury highlighted in team meetings that Arizona has gone 3-12-1 in the first quarter of seasons dating back to 2016. Two of those wins came in overtime.

“We feel like being able to stay out on the grass longer, practice outside longer, practice at a higher level, we’ll be better early on in the season,” Kingsbury said of setting a more intense bar. “We’re going to bump practices up, be on the grass longer and hopefully have better practices. That’s kind of the point to that.”

The head coach, who enters his second season in the NFL after a 5-10-1 debut campaign, is also motivating with lighter touches.

Kingsbury spoke to his team about not taking for granted their football playing while considering what has made their offseason and upcoming regular season so irregular.

“There’s a lot of people who are reeling from this pandemic, just a lot of things that really could be happening to us personally and financially,” running back Kenyan Drake said. “We just want to really obviously put our hearts out there to the people who are really affected by what’s going on in the real world. But we want to definitely make the most of the chance we have to go out there and play the sport we all love.”

Kingsbury, who said he has a tendency to remain optimistic, also wants the Cardinals to embrace playing a Week 1 game on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. That means finding ways to fight pumped in crowd noise and looking within to get wired for the competition without fans in attendance. He believes that making it a challenge for Arizona’s sidelines to try to add “juice” to teammates on the field will help the Cardinals adjust to the lack of normalcy.

“Having a lot of energy on the sideline and creating your own energy and enjoying that scene, this is a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity and I think we need to embrace it and enjoy it,” Kingsbury said.

Even those players who might not have been as optimistic about the possibilities of having a 2020 season can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Safety Budda Baker watched MLB games get canceled due to coronavirus outbreaks. He also saw the NBA succeed, maybe only because they entered a bubble at Disney World to commence their season.

“I was thinking, like, you can’t put NFL players in a bubble, there’s too many people, too many staff. I would just give a good round of applause to the NFL for … all the protocols that everyone made and all that type of stuff,” Baker said.

“It’s game week. It’s really game week. Sunday is our first game, first real game,” he repeated. “Now you take it up a notch.”

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