Gameday leftovers: Cardinals leaders defend Kingsbury heading into 2021
“Progress” was the word of the day less than 24 hours after the Arizona Cardinals saw their season come to an end without a playoff berth.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury, safety Budda Baker and tackle D.J. Humphries spoke to reporters over a Zoom call on Monday with glasses more rose-tinted than those worn by many fans and media members.
While the Cardinals faltered with a 3-6 finish to follow a 5-2 start and lost their final two games against injury-stricken teams from San Francisco and Los Angeles, they believe the second year of the Kingsbury regime continued the progress. He was, after all, hired to fix a team coming off a three-win campaign in 2018.
There are no arguments about the results that matter most: wins and losses.
Arizona improved to five wins in Kingsbury’s debut season in the NFL and saw that total rise to eight in 2020.
Still, the lack of progress in the window of the final nine games this past season led to fans and media members calling for Kingsbury’s job.
“I have no reaction to those fans,” Humphries said Monday, circling back to the question a few minutes later.
“I should’ve said though, we came light-years from having the No. 1 pick and three wins to being 8-8, so that happened with Kliff as our head coach. Those fans that have those opinions … I don’t want to get enamored with talking to those guys at all, because if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Baker described 2020 as a rollercoaster.
Like the team’s defensive leaders said all year, it was a lack of execution that bit the Cardinals in several games.
“There’s been certain games where, you know, guys have to do their job. Certain games, guys just wasn’t doing their job and we lost early,” he said.
All year long, Arizona struggled to put a finger on specific reasons why the team would show up looking like a playoff team one week and groggy the next.
Baker said the regular offseason roster shuffling will organically change the team dynamics. It won’t be until — coronavirus-willing — the Cardinals huddle for OTAs that they can begin pushing for internal improvement with a new group of players.
“It starts with the offseason,” said Baker, who earned a captainship and a contract extension this past year. “It starts with your OTAs, your things where you can develop those friendships because each and every team is different.
“Definitely have to just find more camaraderie in that once next season comes about. For me personally, of course, talking more (with teammates as a leader) is definitely something of course I’m going to want to do. I’m that guy fifth year in, I’m that guy everybody sees.”
Coronavirus restrictions have kept reporters out of the Cardinals locker room, limiting all that is seen and heard. Zoom calls with the team’s regular players and leaders only lends so much insight.
During the final half-season of the Wilks, you could tell feel a chilliness in the locker room even though players then also wouldn’t speak poorly about their lame duck head coach.
But from what we can tell, Kingsbury has not lost the locker room. At the least, he has the win total improvements to point toward progress — even if 2020 ended with disappointment.
“I mean, I would say this is Kliff’s second year,” Baker said. “You see the progress that we’ve made. He’s a great coach. He’s a guy that listens to his players, and he’s just a great guy. He comes to work each and every day, early in the morning, works his butt off trying to help this organization. That’s what I would say.”
Kyler Murray expected to heal up
Kingsbury said Monday that quarterback Kyler Murray was still limping around the facility, but his ankle injury suffered in the first quarter of Arizona’s 18-7 loss to the Rams on Sunday is not expected to require surgery.
“It doesn’t appear that he’ll need surgery,” the head coach said. “He was limping around today when I saw him in the building. I definitely know it was affecting him yesterday. Hopefully he’ll heal up quickly and feel better soon.”
Too early to know of staff, roster changes
Kingsbury did not commit on retaining his entire coaching staff this season. There is a lot of time for general manager Steve Keim and him to huddle up and determine how to improve the team.
“We’re just 24 hours from that game and we’re still evaluating all things,” Kingsbury said when asked about his staff.
Among other decisions regarding the Cardinals’ own 2021 free agents, Kingsbury touched on a handful of key players:
— WR Larry Fitzgerald: “It’ll be awhile before anybody knows (if the receiver will return). He’s got a lot to think about. We all want him back. He knows that we all know he can still be a force on the field when he’s feeling good and healthy. I’m not sure the exact timetable. He’s one of the best to ever play and can play at an incredibly high level, and we want him back.”
— CB Patrick Peterson: “It’s only been I think 24 hours since the last game. We’re evaluating everything. I love Patrick Peterson, he knows that. We’ll see where that all goes.”
— RB Kenyan Drake: “I think since he’s been here, the past two seasons, he’s done a tremendous job. Has been durable and healthy and brings explosiveness to that position. Have been really impressed with Kenyan, what he’s brought, has been productive, scored a lot of touchdowns. We’ll see kind of where that thing plays out.”
— K Zane Gonzalez: “As far as kicker, we’ve said all along we like Zane, have a lot of faith in Zane and are still evaluating all things moving forward.”