GLENDALE, Ariz. — The team has bought in. That's what Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and players including Christian Kirk are saying about the team's ability to adapt to new rules and new protocols as training camp begins.
The Cardinals have had no positive coronavirus tests since workouts have begun and just one player on the team, Marcus Gilbert, has opted out of playing the 2020 season.
As for the rest of the team? They want to play and that's been the mindset when it comes to following new coronavirus testing, mask-wearing, social distancing protocols.
Kingsbury says while the team has had no positive tests, he believes there will likely be bumps in the road as they make the full return.
"We’ve been fortunate. We understand that we’re going to have our issues with that and that’s just part of the climate that we’re in right now in the world," Kingsbury said. "But, our medical personnel have done a tremendous job of making our players feel comfortable with the protocols, making sure everything is in place and easily accessible.
And then our guys have done a nice job with what’s there and I’m hoping that continues, knowing that we’ll have some issues and some rough spots but I like where it’s heading."
Kirk said it says something about the maturity of the team that there haven't been any real issues to date.
“I think it says a lot about the character in the locker room and the guys that we have on this team," he said. "The maturity level is very high when you look at our roster and the type of guys that we have. Everybody is just buying in because we all want to play football and that’s been the main goal for us and we know the talent we have and we know what we can do if we are able to optimize it and come together.”
Kingsbury says it really hasn't taken too much hands-on reminding about players and protocols, saying they're grown men and they've acted like it. While the team hasn't had any positive tests, that doesn't mean the organization is going to let its guard down.
“I think we all need to keep that feeling of uneasiness," Kingsbury said. "I think it keeps us prepared, and taking the proper precautions and never really letting up, because it’s going to be a constant battle to stay COVID free as an organization."
In addition to a fan-less training camp, testing, masks, and social distancing, the team staggered positions in the locker room. Where position groups would normally all, or mostly, have their lockers next to each other, they’re now staggered. This is to limit the risk of an entire position group catching the coronavirus.
"We tried to spread guys out as best we could and make sure that no position group could be comprised entirely," Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury said the entire team was present for the first practice on Wednesday and the players were ready to be there.
"More than anything guys were just excited to be out there and going full speed," he said. "It seems like we’ve been walking through quite a bit and I know guys were antsy after seven months to get out there and actually hit things full go, so it was fun."
"It’s a blessing to be able to strap on the cleats and the helmet and get back out there on the grass with your teammates," Kirk said.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is entering his second season with the team after his Offensive Rookie of the Year performance last season and Kingsbury says Murray did a lot to improve more over the offseason, in multiple ways.
Murray bulked up, adding noticeable muscle to the upper body. The 23-year-old also grew as a leader in the offseason, notably inviting offensive skill players out to Dallas for unofficial workouts prior to camp, and footing the bill.
"I’ve said it a bunch of times, but last year was kind of survival mode for him, the way we thrust him in there and he was the guy from day one and had to learn on the fly. That’s not easy," Kingsbury said. "Not many young players have had to do that at his position in the history of the league and live to tell about it.
He knows what it’s going to be like to take that next step, as far as leadership, as far as work ethic, as far as commitment to being the face of the franchise, so it’s been nice to see. It’s what we expected as an organization and I expect it to continue."
Kingsbury discussed the importance of having chemistry between the young quarterback in Murray and the newly-added star wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, calling it "crucial" that the two gel, and he believes they are doing so nicely.
Between Murray's growth in both maturity and skill, and the addition of Hopkins the Cardinals also have a very big thing going for them into this season and that's stability. Kingsbury noted having all three coordinators back and many players back from last year, along with having the same schemes and terminology, is huge.
While he said he's trying to keep an eye on everything going on, Kingsbury said he really is paying attention to, interestingly, three defensive areas for the team.
The first being cornerback Robert Alford, who suffered a season-ending leg injury during training camp last season.
“We’re pulling for him because he did put in so much work throughout the offseason," Kingsbury said.
He also really looking at the linebackers group and the defensive line group. The Cardinals added Devon Kennard, Isaiah Simmons, and De'Vondre Campbell to the linebacker corps during the offseason and also added Jordan Phillips, Leki Fotu, and Rashard Lawrence to the defensive line.
"Some groups we feel like, talent-wise, we’ve made some solid upgrades there and now we’ve got to go out on the field and show it," Kingsbury said.
The Cardinals continue training camp with no pads Thursday and Friday before putting the pads on for the first time on Monday.
Below, 12 Sports' Cameron Cox and Cardinals Locker Room host Ryan Cody discussed what they saw from training camp day one following the first practice Thursday.