TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals wrapped up OTAs Thursday at their Tempe training facility feeling pretty good about the work they had put in over the 10 optional practices.
“It was outstanding OTAs,” head coach Bruce Arians said Thursday. “We got a lot accomplished as a football team in every phase. Special teams, offense, defense — everybody got better. We’re finding out more and more about the young guys. We’ve got a group of young guys I think that can help us.
“The best thing about it was great competition every single day, and our guys know how to practice and it was evident in the timeframe we were out here and how many reps we got in. It was a really good OTAs.”
Of course, it was just OTAs. The players were not wearing pads and there was no tackling. There was one scuffle Thursday, with D.J. Humphries getting into it a bit with LaMarr Woodley.
“Yeah, two new guys that don’t know the rules,” Arians said. “But they’ll find out real quick.”
Last year during training camp, a scuffle led to the entire team being forced to run wind sprints. There was no such punishment Thursday.
“No punches thrown,” Arians explained. “A lot of jersey pulling. It was WWE.”
If nothing else, it may have been a sign of the kind of intensity with which the players are practicing. Last offseason, the talk was about how the team’s 7-2 finish the season before led to them not just hoping they can win, but knowing they could. This year, the conversation is about how the team’s 9-1 start in 2014 showed that not only can they win, but the Cardinals — when healthy — may be one of the best teams in the entire NFL.
It’s a mentality the team seems to be carrying with it after winning 21 games over the last two seasons.
“They’ve accomplished a lot in two years, the guys that have been here,” Arians said. “They see the young guys and they see the depth that we have so yeah, they’re very excited and very confident.”
Seemingly every member of the organization has little problem talking about not only the team’s goals, but its expectations. For a while last season the Cardinals looked like a Super Bowl contender, and that is supposed to be the case once again.
From 10 wins and no playoffs in 2013 to 11 wins and a Wild Card Round exit in 2014, any kind of progress could mean a special season. Of course, Week 1 is still a few months away.
“I’m very intrigued to see what we can do this year,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “This team is special. Talent’s not the issue, leadership’s not the issue. We have all the pieces in place so we’ve got to go out there and handle business. But we’ll come back ready to go to work, and when the time comes, figure out how good we can be.”
With OTAs now a thing of the past, the Cardinals have three days of minicamp ahead of them before the rest of their offseason. Then, sometime in July or August, training camp will begin, and at that point there will be no more time off until the season comes to a close.
When that will be is anyone’s guess. With a few breaks, maybe the Cardinals make the deep postseason run they seemed destined for last year. Or, maybe things don’t go as well and Arizona misses the playoffs altogether. Maybe the result is something in between.
But perhaps most interesting about their season is that outside of Arizona, expectations don’t seem to be all that high.
“I think so,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “I don’t know if it’s just because we are on the west coast or what not, but I always feel like we’re kind of overlooked a little bit. I think some people still look at it as, I don’t want to say fluke, but they still don’t believe that the Cardinals are as good as their record shows or as good as they’ve been the last two years.
“But if you play good defense and don’t turn the ball over, that’s a lot of teams’ philosophy. You look at Seattle, they play great defense and they just don’t turn the ball over and they win. That’s kind of our philosophy and what we want to get at. As long as we keep winning games, they aren’t going to have to do anything but respect us. We were 9-1 last year and everybody kept talking like, is this the best team in the league. When you’re 9-1 in the NFL, if you’ve got the best record, you’re the best team in the league. That’s just how I look at it. This team has a lot of confidence. We don’t really worry about what the outsiders say, we know what we can do in this room. We know how close we were last year, so we just look forward to getting things going.”
– Arians said Earl Watford had the best OTAs of any offensive lineman.
“He’s playing four positions and playing extremely well. I’m really, really happy with what he did,” the coach said. “He could push — he played right tackle very well, he played left tackle a little bit, which was new for him. He’s a heck of an athlete and it looks like, hopefully, the light’s come on. I’m really anxious to see him in camp.”
– Powers played mostly in the slot last season, but is expected to move back to the outside with the departure of Antonio Cromartie. While he’s comfortable at either spot, the cornerback said he prefers staying inside.
“You kind of like the nickel just because you have more opportunities to make plays, and the defense is kind of suited for the nickel so it’s a lot more fun,” Powers said. “Outside you’re just out there just doing your job, basically, and hopefully making some plays. The nickel is just more fun, but corner is great as well.”