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As the Cardinals roster takes shape heading to training camp in two months, it’s clear the large majority of players will be as young and inexperienced as their coaches.
After Jonathan Gannon (40 in January) was hired in February and added Drew Petzing (36 in March) as offensive coordinator and Nick Rallis (30 in July) as defensive coordinator, he said the plan was to add “major, major experience” to the staff. That didn’t happen.
Then, as player decisions were made, there was an obvious purge of 30-something players (eight) from the roster that included the retirements of defensive end J.J. Watt (34 in March), wide receiver A.J. Green (35 in July) and center Rodney Hudson (34 in July).
Also departing are punter Andy Lee (41 in August), long snapper Aaron Brewer (33 in July), guard Justin Pugh (33 in August), linebacker Markus Golden (32 in March) and guard Max Garcia (32 in November).
Surely, a case can be made that the arrival of a new staff created a time for change. After all, only one of those players is currently on a NFL roster and that happened this week when Golden signed with the Steelers.
However, who will be counted on for leadership?
Currently, there are seven players on the roster that are at least 30-years-old and three are quarterbacks (Colt McCoy, 37 in September and Jeff Driskel, 30 in April) and kicker Matt Prater (39 in August).
The other four are tackle Kelvin Beachum (34 on June 8), tight end Zach Ertz (33 in November), wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (31 on June 6) and cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr. (30 in January).
Two others will turn 30 during the season: defensive lineman Carlos Watkins (if he makes the team) and tackle D.J. Humphries, whose birthdays are both in December.
Meanwhile, of the 90 players on the roster, 48 are 25-years-old or less.
Ertz, like quarterback Kyler Murray, is rehabbing a torn ACL, while the status of Hopkins remains in limbo.
Kyler Murray “engaged”
As OTAs opened Monday, Murray was present but obviously not practicing as he is more than four months removed from knee surgery.
Asked the obligatory questions about Murray’s progress, Gannon said, “He wants to be out there; I know that. He’s fully engaged with everything we’re doing. I saw him making the reads back there behind the offense. When the guys see your trigger guy out there, it matters, so he’s done everything and more that we’ve wanted him to do. Excited for him where he’s at.”
As for the value of mental reps, Gannon said, “You need all the reps you can get. Mental, physical walk-through, fast slow; it’s a way to learn. Everyone learns a little bit different. Some guys don’t need as many. Some guys need a lot.
“We’re in the process of figuring out what all of our guys need. I think the main thing is you have to get a little bit better each day with what you’re doing mentally. Each guy has a plan for that.”
So, coach, how much practice time will Murray need before it’s determined if he’s mentally and physically ready to play a NFL game?
“We’ll evaluate that when we get him on the grass,” he said. “It’s kind of an organizational decision with Kyler, obviously. He’s played at a high level a long time, so it’s not like he’s a rookie seeing cover 3 for the first time. He might be a little quicker than most, but like I said I feel good where he’s at.”
Asked about Murray’s presence, wide receiver Zach Pascal said, “It shows that he cares; cares about us getting better as a team, learning the offense and the mental reps he gets as well, even though he can’t physically be a part of it. But he can get those mental reps, and that trickles down throughout the whole team.”
It also needs to be noted that Murray has a million reasons to be here: This offseason is the first $1 million incentive of the $9.315 million total in the contract he signed last summer. The remaining bonuses are $1 million in 2024, $1.875 million in both 2025 and 2026 and $1.8 million in both 2027 and 2028.
Also important was that McCoy was throwing Monday, something he didn’t do during the team’s April minicamp.
Gannon called McCoy “awesome” and added, “He’s another guy that’s played a long time. He’s got great command of the huddle. Delivers the ball on time where it should be delivered most of the time. It was good to see him out there moving around throwing today.”
Speaking of moving around, this weekend, McCoy will be in Memphis where he will be the analyst on Sunday’s USFL game between Houston and Memphis at 11:30 am Arizona time on USA Network and Peacock. The following Saturday (June 3), he will work the Pittsburgh-Houston game in Canton, Ohio, at 9 am Arizona time that is also on USA Network and Peacock.
Cardinals second-round pick B.J. Ojulari did not participate in drills or team work at Monday’s OTA. The edge rusher is the only one of the team’s nine draft choices that has yet to sign.
One reality is that in recent years all around the league, second-round picks have been slow to sign.
While the total value of all draft-pick contracts are slotted, second-rounders usually receive guaranteed money in addition to their signing bonus. The entire contracts of first-round picks are guaranteed, while the signing bonus comprises the only guarantees for players selected from the third round on.
The guarantees for No. 2 picks are part of negotiations and agents are often reluctant to set the bar for those deals.
Through Wednesday, 73.4 percent (190) of the 259 drafted players had signed. Yet, there were more first-round picks signed (17) than from the second round (only seven).
First round: 17 of 31 (54.8 percent)
Second round: 7 of 32 (21.9 percent)
Third round: 33 of 39 (84.6 percent)
Fourth round: 28 of 33 (84.9 percent)
Fifth round: 36 of 42 (85.7 percent)
Sixth round: 32 of 40 (80.0 percent)
Seventh round: 37 of 42 (88.1 percent)
Seven teams have all of their picks signed (Buffalo, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, N.Y. Giants, San Francisco), while three teams have none signed (L.A. Rams, Miami, Tampa Bay).
If Ojulari is being counseled to avoid practice until he’s signed, he’s missing out on important time on the field.
Always remember; it’s early
Often, too much is made of where players line up during the offseason program. There is a lot of experimenting taking place, especially with a new coaching staff.
Also, it’s important to note that the media will be present for only three of the 10 OTAs, so a player missing on one of those days could be there another day when we’re not.
Much has been made of Zaven Collins working with the outside linebackers, but when asked about that on ArizonaSports 98.7 this week, he said, “I’m not confined to one position right now. Based on the importance of the defense, it’s where I’m working at right now and trying to understand the most important things with the defense. Obviously, the harder skill I didn’t practice as much last year was the four-down edge. Had 20-30 snaps last year as a five-down outside.”
He did say he “loves the edge,” adding, “It’s a lot more free. There’s not as many rules on the edge. It’s like grab your stuff and go. That’s the nice part about it. Don’t have to think as much. Don’t have to worry about too many adjustments.”
Meanwhile, with several offensive linemen not working Monday, Gannon was asked if that was to look at players at different positions, or if it was necessitated by who was present.
He first termed that “an aggressive question,” which was eyebrow-raising considering as the defensive coordinator with the Eagles he had to answer questions form the Philadelphia media.
After that comment, he did say, “We like versatility. We’re right now in the process of feeling (whether) this guy can play right, left, inside, outside. I do see the value in mixing and matching the different lines. You guys probably saw that today. Where the line wasn’t the same with all the periods, but they have to learn to communicate and to play with other guys next to him.
“But I think that’s a little bit of a process that we’re still going through. And we’ll continue to go through that until all the way up until training camp. I like the versatility and I like how those guys are working and I like how they’re fitting in.”
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: email@example.com