Young Cardinals already forming bond as rookie minicamp kicks off

May 12, 2023, 5:56 PM

Cardinals Paris Johnson at rookie minicamp...

Arizona Cardinals OL Paris Johnson warms up ahead of rookie minicamp on Friday, May 12, 2023, in Tempe. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals wasted little time putting offensive linemen Paris Johnson and Jon Gaines II together as rookie minicamp got underway Friday morning.

They also really didn’t have a choice.

Unlike previous seasons where the practice fields at the Cardinals facility are packed with draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryouts for the minicamp, Friday’s kickoff was much more condensed.

And it was all by design.

“I’ve been a part of both of those different ways of doing it. Just as a staff, we thought we could maximize the guys that we feel that are going to be here and are going to help us win games moving forward to do it like this,” new head coach Jonathan Gannon said Friday.

“What we decided logistically, it’s a little bit better for the players and I think that they kind of get an introduction of how we do things this weekend and we’ll submerge them with the vets.”

Outside of four try outs, Arizona’s first minicamp of the offseason included nothing but 2023 draft picks and signed rookie free agents.

The thinking behind the decision makes sense. Getting more detailed work in with the coaching staff is never a bad thing, especially fresh out of the gate. There were, however, quite a few position groups looking noticeably thin from a minicamp standpoint.

But for Johnson and Gaines, who were the only rookie offensive linemen on the field with OL coach Klayton Adams, it meant further chemistry building between the new roommates.

“It was just me and him today, so we were able to do the communication without all five guys,” Johnson said Friday. “I think that was awesome. … The communication we had together was great. It was just two guys but it felt all five guys were there in a way.

“We brought a lot of energy to the group periods,” the OL added. “I was telling him, ‘Let’s get juiced. It’s just us two, so let’s have some fun with it.’ I think just having me and him out there again building a connection as two rookies on the line together.”

On top of bunking together, Johnson and Gaines also have a connection through one of their former coaches in Justin Fry. Fry served as an assistant at UCLA (2018-21) and Ohio State (2022) during the duo’s respective college careers.

As for who’s coaching them now, the Cardinals weren’t shy by any means when it came to Gaines and where they can envision him playing along the line of scrimmage.

The rookie, who is also an option at guard, has been among the names in the mix for the center spot since he was drafted last month in the fourth round. And that’s exactly where Arizona lined him up on Friday, with Johnson right there next to him.

“The center position is a thinking position as they all are, but he controls a lot of what the offensive line does. We drafted him for a reason. He’s a multiple spot guy and I think he can handle a bunch of spots, honestly.”

“We’ll fit him in. You’ll see him sometimes play center, sometimes play guard and see what he does best and where he’s comfortable and how he fits into the other guys that he’s playing with.”

Clayton clarifies

Cardinals fifth-round draft pick and quarterback Clayton Tune displayed his confidence shortly after the signal caller was drafted, telling local media via teleconference he felt like he was the best QB in the class.

Some may have taken his comments as cocky. But to Tune, it really just comes down to believing in himself.

“I’m confident in who I am and how I play. My goal is to just come in here and work,” Tune said Friday.

“I’m not that type of guy to try and act like I’m this or that, but I’m very confident in my abilities and now It’s up to me to just come in here and work.”


– Quarterback Kyler Murray and offensive lineman Will Hernandez were seen getting work in on the side on Friday.

“I know (Murray’s) making strides and again, he’s a long way away but we don’t play for a long time, either. So, I feel good where he’s at. I gave him some hard questions yesterday in a team meeting and he was on it.

“We had some bets if he was going to get it right or wrong and he got it right and I took some money from some guys. And he got mad that he heard somebody bet against him. He’s competitive, he’s ultra-competitive. He’s got fire in his gut and that’s what you want in your trigger guy.”

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