DAN BICKLEY

Do Kliff Kingsbury’s unorthodox offseasons help or hurt Cardinals?

Sep 6, 2022, 4:24 PM | Updated: 4:25 pm

The Cardinals should excel at kicking the football in 2022. They’ve spent the last few months punting away a good chunk of the offseason.

They were strangely silent in the talent acquisition market. They withheld most key players from meaningless preseason games. They canceled one of two joint practices with the Titans. They rarely practiced together as a full group, even under friendly conditions, a team compromised by injury and illness.

If it works, Kliff Kingsbury will have effectively thumbed his nose at the old guard and the grind-them-into-a-pulp mentality that dominated professional football for decades. He will become the industry leader among player-friendly head coaches in the NFL.

Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach who treats his players as consummate professionals, fully trusting in their ability to prepare themselves for opening day?

Kingsbury clearly believes his unorthodox methodology helps foster fast starts, and the numbers back him up. The Cardinals started 5-2 in 2020 and 7-0 in 2021. A year ago, they shocked the NFL community with a raucous road victory in Nashville, complete with hardhats and nasty attitudes.

But what if the fast starts are an illusion? It’s very possible they are mostly the result of a fresh and twitchy Kyler Murray, who produced seven touchdown passes in the first two weeks of 2021 and rushed for a touchdown in each of the first three games.

There is little doubt Murray will shoulder an immense load in the coming months. He must carry the offense through DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension. Given the shaky state of the Arizona defense, he will have to perform at an MVP level for the Cardinals to reach the playoffs. He must prove he can sustain his ability and availability in the closing laps of a season.

I feel good about his chances.

But what if the Camp Marshmallow atmosphere in Arizona is partially to blame for ghastly collapses in each of the past two seasons, second-half fades that are an undeniable part of Kingsbury’s history dating all the way back to his years at Texas Tech?

Maybe you don’t need grueling training camp and exhibition game reps to start a football season on time and in sync. Maybe you don’t need six weeks of rigorous training to win regular season games in September. But maybe the hard days and the hard bargains of conventional football preparation pay off on the back end of the season, providing a foundation of camaraderie and toughness. Maybe that’s what a team needs to build cinderblock toughness, the stuff they can draw on when facing late-season adversity, the stuff that keeps the bottom from falling out of the tub.

Ultimately, that is what has been missing in Kingsbury’s program.

The Cardinals enter the season with many questions and mysteries. But this much is certain: They face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs Sunday at State Farm Stadium. They face Chandler Jones and the Raiders on the road in Week 2, in a building that will surely test their nerves. They host the Super Bowl champion Rams in Week 3, a division rival that blew their doors off in a January playoff game.

We’re going to find out real soon if the Cardinals are ready to play high-stakes, high-speed football.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6–10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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