Arizona Cardinals could give the gift of hope this season
Aug 11, 2023, 8:04 PM | Updated: Aug 12, 2023, 12:04 am
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
The crowd was sparse. The new uniforms looked great. The playing field looked torn and tired, like the final days of Wimbledon.
As for our football team?
Not bad for a team expected to flail and fail in the months ahead — a team expected to rank among the worst in the NFL.
Welcome to the gift of low expectations.
Few conclusions can be accurately gleaned from preseason football — especially the first game.
But the Cardinals’ first team gained a couple of first downs on their opening possession, prompting Denver head coach Sean Payton to halt an exhibition game and challenge the spot of the football.
Meanwhile, the defense forced Russell Wilson into a three-and-out on Denver’s first possession, a series in which Zaven Collins generated great pressure on first down and L.J. Collier deflected a pass on third down.
It gets better: After a Clayton Tune interception when the intended target (Rondale More) slipped and fell on a slant route. The defense once again responded, playing with great passion and pressuring Wilson on nearly every pass attempt.
These were the first impressions on Friday, where the defense looked better than the offense — with zero pre-snap or delay of game penalties and the teams played to a scoreless tie after 15 minutes. And that felt like a victory.
There is so much newness surrounding the 2023 Cardinals that former star Kyle Vanden Bosch said it feels more like an expansion team than a regime change. And after the dysfunction that enveloped the organization over the past 18 months, anything new was bound to look and feel better.
This is certainly true with head coach Jonathan Gannon, whose energy and communication skills have been a welcome change from his predecessor. But history will show that many intelligent football types were saying the same thing about Steve Wilks when he took over for Bruce Arians, a honeymoon that ended abruptly after the Cardinals were outscored 58-6 in the first two weeks of the 2018 regular season.
As for Gannon, we will learn nothing of substance until the regular season. Until the results matter. Until decisions must be made under extreme duress. Although, the time he spent in Philadelphia as a frequent target of a rabid fan base might serve him extremely well, like finishing school for an aspiring coach.
The biggest reason for newfound optimism is rookie general manager Monti Ossenfort, who inherited a paper-thin team decimated by years of bungled drafts. And by all accounts, he nailed his first attempt in Arizona.
— He deftly traded down and acquired Paris Johnson Jr., who’s already the team’s starting right tackle.
— Wide receiver Michael Wilson is one of the breakout stars of training camp, bringing much needed size to the position room.
— Jon Gaines has versatility and is currently the backup center, beating out veteran Pat Elflein.
— Tune has an intriguing blend of talent, experience, and confidence.
— And Dante Stills might be an early contributor given the porous nature of Arizona’s defensive line.
The early returns also bode well for next year’s draft, where Ossenfort will likely have a pair of top 10 picks and six of the first 75 selections.
The Cardinals won’t be a playoff team in 2023. But they have the opportunity to win back your heart, just like the 2022 Lions did for football fans in Detroit. And in a best-case scenario, they might mirror the 2022 Seahawks, a team that entered the year with low expectations, allowing them to play and develop a very strong rookie class.
The renewal is underway. With any luck, it will be a short ride back to NFL relevance.
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