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Cardinals set for 'game-like' practices against the Vikings

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 22, 2023

With the reduction to three preseason games in the NFL, joint practices between teams have been becoming more prevalent.

This summer, there were 20 scheduled involving 27 teams, although two this week between the Patriots and Titans and Saints and Texans were canceled. For those four teams, it would have been their second of training camp.

The only five not participating were Buffalo, Dallas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

The Cardinals traveled Tuesday to Minnesota for Wednesday and Thursday practices with the Vikings prior to the final preseason game Saturday. The Vikings previously had practices with the Titans.

Nine teams did it twice and it would have been 13 had the two canceled joint practices been held this week. The eight aside from the Vikings are Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Rams, Miami, New York Jets and Philadelphia.

Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon referenced the Eagles, where he was an assistant coach the previous two seasons, saying, “Truthfully, I’d like to do that two out of three, so we’ll see if we can get that done (in the future). I couldn’t get it done when I got hired. It was kinda already everyone had things in the works. Both years we were in Philly, (it was) two out of three (game weeks). It’s just good.”

One issue making that difficult is that with the heat in Phoenix, teams don’t want to deal with traveling here and having to be outside. The Cardinals will have two road preseason games in 2024, so doing two could depend on the scheduling.

Gannon emphasized that decisions on how many snaps players get in games is balanced by the joint practices.

“When you start looking at just a game-by-game basis, you’ve gotta look at it kinda like a whole,” he said. “So those are really two exposures when we go to Minnesota that are treated as a game. I really like the plan when we go up there. We’re gonna get a lot of good work versus a different offense, defense, special teams, which I think is very valuable. Go against some different guys, so those two days of practice are huge for us.”

Wide receiver Hollywood Brown is excited about the practices considering he didn’t play in the preseason opener against the Broncos and was on the field for only 10 snaps against the Chiefs.

“I am looking forward to it a lot,” he said after Saturday’s game. “Just to get a lot of reps with another team. I didn’t get that many reps tonight, so I am looking forward to getting as many reps as I can. For us (starters), we were out there and played two series and then got out. It was like, man, I am itching to get out there. To be able to get as many reps as I can against another opponent, it is going to be fun. It is going to be good for us.”

Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis did a deep dive into the specifics when asked about joint practices last week.

He said, “It’s phenomenal. Because what starts to happen as we go in camp and we continue to go against our offense, players get used to seeing very similar formations, motions, plays. When you go against a new team, it provides a complete new stimulus whereas a guy has to be able to process and take in different information, apply the rules of the defense and go out there and play within the defense.

“Not, ‘Oh I recognize this, I’ve seen it and now I’m reacting to it.’ It’s always, ‘Oh, shoot, this is a new stimulus. How quickly can I process and apply my rules to it?’ That’s why I love going against a different offense. It allows the players to have some new mental stimulus whether that’s the formations, the motions, the play-types. The routes, the stems, all of that. Different releases from new receivers. That’s all really critical. It’s very beneficial for us.”

Asked how much coaches prepare players, especially the younger ones, Rallis said, “You don’t overdo it. Because you do want to have a sense of, ‘Hey, let’s apply our rules and go play our system,’ so it’s not like you’re going to sit there and game-plan very specifically. But you do want to cut your menu down a little bit and say, ‘Hey guys, these are the calls we’re going to work on’ because you never go into a game with ‘Hey you gotta know everything’ and then all of a sudden, I’m calling something and it’s like, ‘This was up, I had no idea.’

“You prepare them for, ‘Hey, this is gonna be the menu over the next couple practices and you can bank for some tape and start applying your rules, so it isn’t the first time that they’re going through those reactions or playing their rules vs. different routes, run game and all that stuff.”

Gannon has talked frequently with Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell going over plans for the two days and said last week, “Things change every day. I have a pretty good relationship with Kevin, and it helps when you have that because there is some back and forth like, ‘Hey this was the first plan come the spring at the owners meeting when we first talked about it. Hey, here’s the plan when we got out of OTAs. Hey, here’s the plan before training camp started. Hey, here’s the plan now. Where are you at; where are we at?’

“Those things we adapt and change. It’ll change before we get up there probably two or three times more. But hopefully we get out of it what we want to get out of it and them as well because that’s what you’re looking for is it’s like an even trade. We got something and you got something.”

The plan did change Tuesday with the practice time Wednesday being moved an hour earlier to 9 am CT, likely because of a heat warning in Minnesota that is expected to subside for Thursday’s practice.

Gannon and quarterback Colt McCoy talked about the positives.

Gannon said, “(It’s about) going against different schemes and different people. Their nervous system interprets that as a game even though it’s practice. With that being said, you gotta be smart about that, too. They’ve been really helpful for the evaluation and the learning and the development of our players.”

Noting that the Vikings made the playoffs last season with O’Connell as the coach, Gannon said, “The guy can coach football, so we better be buttoned up.”

Added McCoy, who entered the NFL 13 years ago, “I’ve always enjoyed practicing against other teams. It’s a little breakup in camp. You get a couple days playing against a team that shows you different looks, different coverages, different pressures. As long as there’s no fighting, it’s always been good. If it gets chippy, you never know what happens then.”

He went back eight years and said, “I was in Washington when the Houston Texans came to us and we were on Hard Knocks and it got a little chippy. But hopefully that doesn’t happen and you get some good work in. That’s the goal. I think the guys are looking forward to going out there and it’s a good breakup for that week. We get to go play against somebody else in a controlled environment and work on our craft.”

For seven Cardinals coaches, it will be a homecoming of sorts. Gannon was with the Vikings from 2014-2017, Rallis 2018-2020, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing 2014-2019, linebackers coach Sam Siefkes 2021-2022, outside linebackers coach Rob Rodruguiez 2015-2019, tight ends coach Ben Steele 2021 and strength and strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus 2014-2015.

While Petzing acknowledged he was excited about traveling there, he emphasized that it’s all work.

“It’s a business trip,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do when we’re out there. We gotta get better as a team. We gotta get ready for Week 1, so that’s certainly going to be the focus.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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