TEMPE, Ariz. — Monday marked the first day that Arizona Cardinals veterans and rookies both gathered, and it brought the first real opportunity to begin discerning just what this Kliff Kingsbury offense will look like.
Getting the first-year head coach to talk about its identity as it makes an NFL transition from the elite spread attack Kingsbury operated at Texas Tech was like pulling teeth.
At the first day of voluntary organized team activities (OTAs), the head coach said he wasn’t sure how often the Cardinals will snap it out of the shotgun — though he did make sure to mention that the Kansas City Chiefs ran the NFL’s best offense snapping it in the gun more than 80% of the time.
He didn’t reveal how often he’d use four-receiver sets (1-0 formation). Kingsbury called it a misnomer to assume Arizona’s offense will operate at light speed at all times or that it would be pass-heavy, putting too much time of possession on the Cardinals’ own defense.
But then there was this hint dropped by starting offensive guard Justin Pugh: “Today the first play we ran, he kept that thing, kept rolling.”
“He” is Kyler Murray, and there’s no doubt the No. 1 overall pick, 5-foot-10 and 1/8 inches of him, makes the Cardinals different.
Regardless of how little Arizona wants to keep under wraps, that’s not in question.
“Eli Manning didn’t take off too much, Sam Bradford didn’t take off too much,” Pugh added of his last two quarterbacks he’s had to begin a season. “This is my first go at it with a mobile quarterback, but have you seen him throw the ball? I think he’s going to stay back there and sling that thing, too.”
Not much changes for the running backs, receivers and offensive linemen regarding playing with the likes of Murray. It’s just that he — his teammates hope — makes their jobs a little bit easier.
For the Cardinals, the good news is they feel confident that the group doing the most protecting of their top asset is “on schedule” healthwise, as Kingsbury described it.
Pugh is healthy after a knee injury ended his 2018 season, his first with the Cardinals. He said he’s been playing mostly left guard in practice.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries does not have a timeline for when he’ll be able to go at full speed but went through individual drills Monday after he also ended the year shut down with a knee issue.
Center A.Q. Shipley missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL and worked on the side individually during 20 minutes to open Cardinals voluntary OTAs. Right guard J.R. Sweezy and right tackle Marcus Gilbert are the new members of the offensive line, the former a free agent addition from Seattle and the latter a trade pickup from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both appeared healthy.
So on a day when several key figures were missing from the voluntary practice, the offensive line was present and attempting to build cohesiveness.
“This offense is offensive-line friendly,” Gilbert said. “Just the scheme and the ball going out as fast as it is and guys running all over the field, and you have a quarterback who can throw the ball any direction, any tight spaces … he’s a hell of a runner.”
The offense also gives the offensive line an easier job “just because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Gilbert added.
A run-pass option (RPO) or a scramble from Murray could change the complexion of a play. Such things will keep Murray’s own teammates on their toes for a full possession before the whistle blows. Same goes for opponents.
“Our offense is all about timing,” Gilbert said. “We can be deep-step throw and guys think it’s a run play.”
Unlike Pugh, Humphries has experience working for a mobile quarterback.
At Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C., he played with Marquise Williams, a dual-threat quarterback who in his senior year of college at North Carolina threw for 3,072 yards while rushing for 948 more. How’s that shaped his perception of what to expect with Murray leading Arizona’s offense?
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Humphries said.
— Humphries (knee) is “not sure” when he’ll be able to fully participate in practice. “Just trying to kind of play it by ear and see how things feel the day after,” he said.
His weight is at a more slim-looking 305 pounds, and Humphries said he has worked hard to be in shape. He’s also taken up pilates in the offseason.
“It’s been legit. It’s probably the hardest workout I’ve ever done,” Humphries said.
— Kingsbury on wide receiver Kevin White, the Chicago Bears’ seventh overall pick in 2015 who has been hit by injuries throughout his career. “I know people who coached him in college (at West Virginia), very close to those guys. They speak the world of him. That’s what we’ve seen. Hard working, focused, wants to be great. Has a lot to prove, obviously. Has a great skill set.”
— Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was also not participating in the team portions of practice but was on the sideline working by himself as he recovers from a late-season ACL injury.