Camp hits next gear as Cardinals put on pads
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Odd as it may sound, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians could breathe Monday knowing his players finally would be hitting each other.
"We were very fortunate yesterday because we were way too active to be in shorts," Arians said. "I was holding my breath a little bit. But it was an outstanding practice."
Training camp moved into the next gear Monday with the Cardinals practicing in pads for the first time, and Arians probably was more excited than anyone.
Once contact practices arrive, Arians likes to say, the "noise level goes up." Practices begin to feel less like offseason activities and coaches start to get a better idea of what they have in players, particularly ones competing for starting jobs or even just a spot on the roster.
"When that noise level goes up, people change," Arians said. "There’s a lot of guys who look really good in shorts and all of a sudden the noise level goes up and they disappear. And guys that don’t look very good in shorts, all of a sudden they appear because they’re football players."
Arians mentioned over the past couple days a few players he was eager to see practice in pads. High on the list: rookie receiver John Brown, who has impressed with his speed and progress.
Brown got behind the defense Monday and caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Drew Stanton.
Also worth watching: left guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie season after suffering a broken fibula during camp.
"It’s a big day for Coop just to get over what was in his mind if there is anything in his mind," Arians said.
An old school coach, Arians has seemed nostalgic more than once for the days teams could practice twice a day and practice in pads as much as they’d like. But with modern restrictions on those things, Arians knows their value has increased, and the Cardinals won’t hold anything back to avoid injury or stay fresh as the season approaches.
"With the limited time you can hit now, you can’t hit enough in my opinion," Arians said. "You only get 15 practices before you’re playing games. The evaluation process, most of it’s been about how mentally can they handle the job. Now it’s about can they play, and you can’t get enough evaluations in that situation."
The way center Lyle Sendlein sees it, the Cardinals’ offense needs just one thing to reach to another level: a little more noise on the field.
The offense, Sendlein says, is short on vocal leadership, and he’s taken it upon himself to try to fill the void.
"I’ve always thought of myself as a silent leader, and I think that’s something our offense is lacking right now — a more vocal leader," Sendlein said. "So at this point I’m trying to be more of a vocal leader. It’s getting out of my comfort zone. I think that’s all our offense needs to progress to that next level, so I’m going to try to be that guy moving forward."
Sendlein remains the veteran constant on the Cardinals’ offensive line, having started 93 games over the past seven seasons. To his left this season will be Cooper and tackle Jared Veldheer, a free agent signing. On his right will likely be guard Paul Fanaika and tackle Bobby Massie, both of whom have started one season on the line before.
An increased vocal presence would make what Sendlein does for the Cardinals even more valuable. The durable lineman has been the team’s rock up front, the only source of stability on a line that’s seen very little consistency in recent seasons.
"Very underrated," Arians said. "I think he’s as solid a center as I’ve been around in a long time."
Sendlein said former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin is the best vocal leader he’s ever been around, and he hopes to draw on what Boldin did during his time with the Cardinals.
"When he talked, it wasn’t very often, but people listened," Sendlein said. "That’s something I think we’re going to be looking for throughout this camp."
The Cardinals have a deep group of tight ends in camp — six in all — and Arians likes the versatility it could give them. He said Monday he hopes to break camp with four tight ends, which likely means Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Rob Housler and Troy Niklas.
How Arians will use those tight ends remains to be seen. Because some are better blockers and others pass catchers, the Cardinals will be able to mix and match, using two tight end sets and keeping defenses honest.
Arians is also curious to see if one of the tight ends can excel as a fullback. The second-year coach got a reputation last season for being fullback-averse but said Monday whether or not he uses a fullback often depends on the tailback or if a tight end can do it.
"That’s the best of both worlds because if you put a true fullback in the game, you’re going to get their best call against that," Arians said. "But if you have two tight ends that are versatile, they don’t know what the heck you’re going to come out in. That’s the beauty of two tight ends who are versatile. Right now, we’ll find out if we have one who can play fullback."
— Arians said nose tackle Dan Williams has a swollen left knee that took him out of practice early Sunday and kept him out Monday. The injury is not believed to be serious, but Williams will get an MRI to make sure. Arians said the issue stems from an old injury, and Williams is expected back soon.
— With Williams and fellow nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu both sidelined, Christian Tupou will get more reps. Said Arians: "He gets to show what he can do, and he’s showing very well so far. That’s another one of the guys you want to see in pads because he’s shown up and he’s got everybody’s attention."
— Sendlein left Monday’s practice with a left calf injury, missing most of the session. The seriousness of the injury had not yet been determined.
— Quarterback Ryan Lindley will "get the short end of the stick for a little bit" because rookie Logan Thomas is new to the offense and needs more reps to start getting comfortable. Both are practicing behind starter Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton.
— Arians said cornerback Teddy Williams, who played receiver last season, will make the team as a special teams player and continue to progress as a press cornerback, which Arians said is his more natural position.