New-look Cardinals emphasize toughness, running game
TEMPE, Ariz. — “No risk it, no biscuit” is ancient history for these Arizona Cardinals.
The big-play, fling it down the field offense of Bruce Arians has been replaced by a run-oriented game that features toughness up front, and a stout defense emphasizing physical play, especially in the secondary.
At least that’s the way first-year coach Steve Wilks envisions it.
Whether that results in success in the standings is an open question, especially with a passing game that’s still a work in progress, and a brutal road schedule.
Las Vegas odds make Arizona a 120-1 long shot to win the Super Bowl and has his team’s over-under victory total at just six games.
“That’s great,” Wilks said to a room full of reporters. “From Day 1, April 3, I talked to the guys about our vision and expectations. Outside of that team meeting room a lot of people aren’t giving us a chance. I’m probably looking at quite a few of them. That’s fine as well. But we’re going to continue to emphasize the fundamentals and technique and going about our business each and every day and put ourselves in position to hopefully, No. 1, win our division, and then from there we’ll talk about everything else.”
And expect to see a lot of Johnson, who is out to remind people he’s one of the NFL’s best running backs (and earn a nice contract in the process).
“I definitely feel like people seem to have forgotten about me,” Johnson said. “You hear people talking about Todd Gurley, Zeke Elliott and Le’v Bell — and they’re great backs. But then you notice that you’re not hearing your name or people are not talking about you.”
Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns two seasons ago, but fractured his left wrist in the opener last year and didn’t play again.
Wilks, defensive coordinator at Carolina last year, has emphasized toughness and physical play from the get-go. Some practices start with a one-on-one drill between a top defensive and offensive player. The first had defensive end Jones against left tackle D.J. Humphries.
He also took the team outside of air-conditioned University of Phoenix Stadium for a handful of practices during training camp in the sizzling desert sun. The idea is to develop a mental edge, he said.
Here are some things to consider about Wilks’ Cardinals:
O-LINE MAKEOVER: The Cardinals rebuilt the offensive line and Wilks calls it the strength of the team.
Humphries and guard Mike Iupati, who has had a strong preseason, are on the left side, with free agent acquisitions Justin Pugh at right guard and Andre Smith at right tackle. Center A.Q. Shipley went down with a season-ending knee injury, so rookie Mason Cole, a third-round pick out of Michigan, is his replacement.
BRADFORD’S KNEE: Bradford’s history of injuries led the Cardinals to bring the quarterback along slowly. He didn’t begin taking regular first-team reps until minicamp and got regular days off during training camp.
Bradford said the results have been great. He completed his first seven passes in the preseason before having a couple dropped in the third game against Dallas, but Arizona really hasn’t amped up the passing game yet.
“I feel good right now,” he said. “My body’s in a good place and I think now we’ll see the benefits of the plan we had throughout OTAs and throughout the spring.”
ROOKIES GALORE: Rookies figure to fill prominent roles.
And that’s not counting quarterback Josh Rosen. Arizona moved up in the draft to pick Rosen 10th overall and he’s impressed his teammates and coaches by absorbing the offense so quickly, and incessantly asking questions.
Rosen gets his chance if Bradford goes down.
DEPTH ISSUES: Depth seems to be the biggest question mark for the Cardinals, particularly at linebacker and wide receiver.
Arizona has one of the best receivers to play the game in Larry Fitzgerald, who returns for his 15th season. But the pecking order after that is in flux.
The Cardinals have a talented trio of linebackers in Deone Bucannon, Haason Reddick and Josh Bynes, but the numbers are thin behind them. There’s also a big drop-off after the first-team offensive line.
TURNOVER AVALANCHE: Arizona opponents had 16 turnovers in its first three preseason games, a whopping eight by the Cowboys.
The Cardinals were plus-15 in takeaways through three preseason games. Can that continue at even a close pace in the games that count?