Accountability tops biggest takeaways from Arizona Cardinals minicamp

Jun 16, 2023, 6:57 AM | Updated: 10:05 am

Zaven Collins...

Arizona Cardinals LB Zaven Collins runs through drills during minicamp on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Tempe. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — Let’s get right down to it: offseason workouts in the NFL hold little weight compared to training camp and beyond.

Not everyone is in attendance, pads aren’t a thing and there’s little football to actually report on.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon even referred to the offseason programs as “pajama ball” on Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t things to accomplish, especially for a new Cardinals regime tasked with building the franchise back up from the ground floor.

And if there was anything to walk away with from Arizona’s offseason work so far, it’s the tone that’s been set throughout the organization.

Accountability has very much been the theme since the brain trust of Gannon and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort formed in 2023. That thinking has clearly bled into not only the rest of the coaching staff, but also the players, who have clearly bought into what the duo is selling.

“Accountability’s definitely been ratcheted up and it’s uncomfortable at first but it’s reassuring because you know everybody’s taking their job seriously,” linebacker Dennis Gardeck said Tuesday.

“There’s clear and direct communication on, ‘Hey, this is what’s not going to happen,'” the linebacker added. “We know how to operate, so it’s good.”

Accountability can take many forms, from making sure you’re versed in the playbook to arriving to the training facility on time and ready to work.

It’s as simple as finishing breakfast before a meeting — something linebacker Zaven Collins knows all too well — to committing tempo violations during workouts.

“The vision and the culture start from the top and they are establishing exactly what they want,” quarterback David Blough told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Wednesday. “I remember seeing the headlines and things when Monti and JG were hired and there has been accountability. Like they said when they came in that there was going to be accountability, there has been.

“I feel that every day when I walk into the meeting rooms that I have to be prepared and I have to be ready to execute what my job is and then help other guys on the field. JG has done an awesome job of I think challenging us in that way.”

Pressure can be a good thing for a young football team and it’s clear the training facility in Tempe is already feeling it.

A look at some of the other takeaways coming out of minicamp this week:

Budda’s minicamp accomplishments

Budda Baker

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

It seems there are still a few hurdles to jump when it comes to safety Budda Baker and his contract dispute with the Cardinals.

While he was back at the training facility for the week of offseason work, the safety did not take the field with his teammates. A few social media posts of Baker physically on the practice field was extent of what we saw out of the three-time All-Pro.

But the safety did accomplish a few things this week.

One, he showed his teammates and new coaching staff he was still that leader they’ve come to know and trust. He may not have gotten practice reps in, but still was present inside the building asking questions to coaches and rubbing elbows with fellow players.

Two, he maintained his stance on wanting to get paid. Gannon spoke on his absence from on-the-field work, clarifying the move was business-related.

And three, he avoided any fines for not attending altogether! If you’re looking to cash in, losing money due to minicamp participation seems counterproductive.

Now, all eyes turn to the multi-week break before training camp and whether or not a deal can be reached before practices begin at State Farm Stadium in late July.

Rookie trends

Cardinals Paris Johnson at rookie minicamp

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

I may sound like a broken record, but rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson has really caught on early.

He looks confident in his role as he continues to see more responsibilities thrown his way.

But while the wide receiver was consistently mentioned by Gannon and players alike this minicamp and throughout offseason programs, he wasn’t the only rookie to stand out.

Offensive linemen Paris Johnson and Jon Gaines II continue to look right at home at the NFL level and are already fitting well among their new teammates.

“Just from a personality standpoint, right off the bat I really liked them. As players, too. They’re gritty,” offensive lineman Will Hernandez said Thursday. “They came here to play. They are very savvy as far as their role as rookies and rookie duties and all that.

“They do really well with all that stuff. I think they’re going to be very good players for us and definitely help this team.”

Clark brings the energy

Kei'Trel Clark

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Speaking of rookies that stood out, Wilson added another name to the list this minicamp in cornerback Kei’Trel Clark and the way he carries himself on the regular.

“We had some good battles back and forth and I think he’s going to be a guy that plays for a while because he controls all the controllables,” Wilson said Wednesday. “He’s a (high-energy guy) no matter what. I have a lot of respect with how he prepares himself on a day-to-day basis.

“He told me (Wednesday) … he had a whole two pages of notes on me. I love going against guys that truly love the game and Kei’Trel is one of those guys. I think he’s going to be really, really special.”

Ready to run

James Conner during OTAs

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

We still don’t know how exactly the Cardinals’ new offensive scheme is going to operate in 2023.

What we do know is that there is going to be a concerted effort to run the football, something the offensive line couldn’t be happier about.

“From what I’ve seen so far and what we’ve ran so far, I think we’re going to run the ball and we’re excited about that,” Hernandez said. “At the end of the day, it’s versatility, we’re going to do everything, but just the fact that we are emphasizing the run game gets me excited.”

Collins’ smarts on display

Zaven Collins works on pass-rushing

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

One of the big moves this offseason has been sliding Zaven Collins to outside linebacker in an effort to add another pass-rushing option to the room.

So far, Collins has shown the physical attributes to produce as an OLB. But it’s the mental aspect of his game that has Gardeck and others raving about the third-year pro.

“First and foremost, (Collins adds intelligence to the room),” Gardeck said Wednesday. “He’s got to be one of the smartest outside linebackers there’s ever been. Coming from the inside, he knows how everything’s tied together so well. He’s incredibly smart.

“And he’s actually huge if you haven’t noticed. I saw a picture of me next to him and I looked like his kid brother. He’s a monster. … He’s going to be taking off for sure.”

The little things matter

Kyler McMichael

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Yes, Gannon called minicamp and the workouts around it pajama ball, but it’s still a good time to nail down some of the finer details that goes into the daily grind of an NFL team.

“From the technique to the fundamentals to schematics and situational ball and educating our players on a day-to-day basis on what winning behavior looks like, on what non-winning behavior looks like. I think we set a good foundation,” Gannon said Wednesday.

What’s next?

Dante Stills

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

With about six weeks of down time before training camp rolls around, players, coaches and front office members have some freedom before ramping things back up in late July.

For Wilson, it’s all about diving into the playbook and mastering the different receiving roles in the offense. For cornerback Antonio Hamilton, it’s all about training and spending time with his family.

Others like Ossenfort are heading back to their old stomping grounds to kick back before camp. Others like Gannon are heading across the pond to celebrate a milestone while tightening up the dad hat for the next handful of weeks.

“My crew hasn’t been here this offseason,” Gannon said. “My wife knows she’s kind of been a single mom for the season and then just with the transition coming here, we really didn’t have an offseason, so she’s been a single mom here now for a while. But they’re here now. I’ll do some things with all of them.

“Then we’re going across the water for a couple weeks. It’s our 10-year anniversary so we’re going to Italy. I’m looking forward to that but then I’ll be back in here and we’ll get back to it before we start up.”

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