New era notes: Cardinals-Vikings joint practices carry more weight than you think

Aug 22, 2023, 7:02 AM | Updated: 7:34 am

Jonathan Gannon during practice...

Head coach Jonathan Gannon of the Arizona Cardinals participates in a team practice ahead of the NFL season at State Farm Stadium on July 31, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE — It’s on to Minnesota for the Arizona Cardinals with the preseason finale on the horizon.

But first, we got to talk about practice.

Following a travel day Tuesday, the Cardinals and Vikings will meet for a pair of joint practices before wrapping up their exhibition slate with Saturday morning tilt.

It’s a busy stretch for a Cardinals team with a lot to learn from in Saturday’s 38-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

And just because the word “practice” is thrown in, doesn’t mean the juices won’t be flowing when the two sides throughout the week. Consider it the void filler for the now-extinct fourth preseason game.

“Going against different schemes and people, their nervous system interprets that as a game even though it’s practice,” Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said last Monday. “With that being said, you got to be smart about that, too. Two days in a row. I’ve done that on most teams I’ve been on and they’ve been really helpful for the evaluation and the learning and the development of our players.

“Truthfully, I’d like to do that two out of three (preseason weeks), so we’ll see if we can get that done. … I feel like it’s valuable for your players with a little less risk of injury, too.”

The ever-evolving game plan

A smart game plan is one centered around communication.

From the sounds of it, Gannon and Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell have and will continue to do just that as they work toward getting regular-season ready while not pushing the envelope too far.

Since the owners meeting in March to Monday, the two coaches have coordinated a plan of attack to ensure everyone gets what they want out of their time on the field together.

“Things change every day. I got a pretty good relationship with Kevin and it helps when you have that because there is some back and forth,” Gannon said last Monday. “We adapt and change. … Hopefully, we get out of it what we want to get out of it and them as well. It’s like an even trade. We got something, you got something.”

“I’m excited to go against Minnesota, because Kevin and I see it kind of similar on what’s acceptable and what’s not,” the head coach added Monday. “And they educate their guys, and we educate our guys. We’ll get good work out of it. But they’ll be running hot these next couple days because you’re playing a new system, a new opponent, things like that, but we’re going to run our stuff.”

Check the emotions

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise: When two teams battle one another, there’s ratcheted up intensity and tempers have a tendency to flare.

That’s fine as long as punches aren’t thrown and lines aren’t crossed.

“Our guys know what’s expected versus ourselves and with other people,” Gannon said Monday.

Last season when the Vikings held joint practices with the Tennessee Titans, there was a strict no-fighting rule.

That should be much of the same this time around when the Cardinals take the field in Minnesota.

“The way you practice is the way you play,” Cardinals lineman Paris Johnson Jr. said Monday. “If you get caught in a situation like that on a Sunday, it can cost your team some yards.

“It’s not worth trying to throw a punch, trying to throw something back when you’re thinking about trying to get that flag. We kind of practice the same way.”

The Zimmer effect

Minnesota holds a little more weight for a number of Cardinals, notably Gannon and coordinators Drew Petzing and Nick Rallis.

Having made a coaching stop in Minnesota on their way to where they are now, the trio all have one major thing in common:

They reside under the Mike Zimmer tree.

So, with the coaches heading back to their old stomping grounds, naturally there was some reminiscing.

Gannon: “I owe him a phone call. He had a good run. A good football coach. One of the best I know,” the head coach said Wednesday when looking back on his three-year run with Minnesota from 2014-17.

Zimmer’s fingerprints “are all over” Arizona’s coaching staff, Gannon added.

Rallis: “My first years in the league were with Zim and he really showed me the ropes on how to prepare for an opponent,” said the DC, who worked under the former Vikings head coach from 2018-20.

“I think I’d say there’s a lot of things I learned from Zim. Obviously, defense, but his preparation of how he went about scouting an opponent, getting ready for an opponent, game planning for an opponent really stuck with me. I use a lot of Zim’s tools. That’s a huge influence for the course of my career.”

Petzing: “He’s obviously a really good coach, did it at a really high level for a long time,” said the OC who worked under Zimmer from 2014-19. “I have a ton of respect for him and learned a lot from him football-wise and just leadership-wise.

“Head coach for six years, had some really good teams. Saw him manage easy situations, tough situations both with players and staff and I was always impressed with him. He had a big impact on who I am as a coach and kind of how I do things.”

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New era notes: Cardinals-Vikings joint practices carry more weight than you think