Training camp is here. Sort of.
The Cardinals are in the middle of testing and/or strength and conditioning. They won’t get out to State Farm Stadium for another couple of weeks when normally they’d be there by now. Instead it’s work at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center, both in-person and virtually. It will certainly be a very different season for the Cardinals.
There is still the football component to analyze. And as with every year, the Cardinals have some questions they’d like to be answered as they head into camp. Here are some of those, with Part Two posting tomorrow.
HOW WILL CAMP LOOK WITH THE CORONAVIRUS?
This is something the Cardinals – and the rest of the NFL, to be honest – are still getting their heads around. Teams now have clarity with testing and strength and conditioning and padded practices. But that doesn’t mean teams know how that will look and feel once it actually happens. The reality of no preseason games will change everything, especially for undrafted rookies or inexperienced guys trying to fight their way on to a roster. The safety and health precautions will alter how meetings and locker rooms work. Some meetings will be virtual. And we’ll also have to see if any Cardinals ultimately opt out for the season, as some players around the league have already done.
WHAT KIND OF IMPROVEMENT HAS KYLER MURRAY MADE?
Kyler Murray is expected to make a big jump in 2020. But how big? And will it be as large of a step as it might’ve been if the offseason – and training camp – were normal? The optimism around Murray is reasonable. It’s not as if he didn’t start 16 games as a rookie, which ultimately will be the best training he could have gotten for 2020. He’s already driven to be great, and he’s aware of the eyeballs that will be on his sophomore performance. The projections about what the offense can become is partly because of new wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and partly about a full season with running back Kenyan Drake. But it’s mostly about what Murray is and can be, and how much that was impacted by the world around us?
WHAT WILL THE ROLE OF ISAIAH SIMMONS LOOK LIKE?
This week, Isaiah Simmons himself said he’s playing inside linebacker exclusively and that always figured to be his initial role. Kliff Kingsbury didn’t want to pile on the rookie, and even Simmons acknowledged there is much to learn on the NFL level – and less time to do it in, considering the training camp circumstances. Maybe things would be different had the year not gotten batted around because of COVID-19, but with veteran De’Vondre Campbell already in place to work with Jordan Hicks at the outset, the Cardinals can pick and choose what to have Simmons do early in the season.
HOW WILL DEANDRE HOPKINS CHANGE THE OFFENSE?
As good as Larry Fitzgerald still is 17 years into his career, as good as Christian Kirk hopes to be, the Cardinals needed DeAndre Hopkins. They needed a great receiver in the prime of his career, where he can be Murray’s top target and, perhaps more importantly, draw the attention of the defense so that Fitzgerald and Kirk can thrive. One of the knocks against Murray last season was that he didn’t throw the ball down the field enough; Hopkins – or at least his presence – will help there. Defensive concerns about Hopkins should also create more space for the running game of Kenyan Drake. Truthfully, in whatever form Hopkins might take this season, it can only make the Cards better.
IT’S NOT BASKETBALL, BUT CAN PATRICK PETERSON AND ROBERT ALFORD REBOUND?
The plan had been simple just after the draft in April of 2019. The cornerbacks were set, with one guy a Pro Bowler every season of his career, another veteran who had been on a Super Bowl team and the first pick of the second round providing some depth. But then Patrick Peterson was suspended, and then Robert Alford, in the middle of a good training camp, broke his leg. The rookie, Byron Murphy, was forced to play a lot, in spots for which he might have not yet been the best suited. Peterson is sure he is primed to have a huge bounceback year. Alford is sure he is primed to have a huge bounceback year. Murphy benefits if both happen. But it’s the defensive overall that would benefit the most – the Cardinals need the duo to be the tandem everyone thought they could be 15 months ago.