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Jonathan Gannon's way paying dividends for Arizona Cardinals

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 1, 2023

Jonathan Gannon has a way of coaching a team and much of it has been evident in the first week of training camp.

One method has been the playing of music in practices. Many teams do that during the week of games so crowd noise can be duplicated, but not so much early in camp when everyone is getting acclimated.

Gannon is about putting pressure on the players to focus and concentrate.

He said, “A lot of times, it’s loud (in games). There’s a reason I pump the music out there. I want to actually make it hard for them to communicate and hear because that’s game-like. Week 1 in Washington, it’s going to be hard for our offense to hear. Week 2 for our defense, it’s going to be hard to hear because of our fans. So we try to put pressure on them that way.”

Gannon also has liked what he’s seen from a team that was learning new offensive and defensive systems in the offseason and then had a break after minicamp ended in mid-June.

He said, “I told the team, ‘I know we compete and I know we care.’ What I mean by that is when they came back, I think we pretty much picked up where we left off. You haven’t played in pads in OTAs, but installation schematically, all that stuff, you’re really truthfully in my opinion mentally, you’re kind of there with what you need to know to go play a game and know you go on break for six weeks.

“So when you come back, let’s see where we’re at. I thought they’ve done a really good job in how we structure the installs. We put a lot of pressure on them. They did a good job with it.”

Previously, he mentioned that the structure of the installs has been different from what players are accustomed to, so he was asked to explain.

“It’s what we decided to do to make it a little more game-week-like,” he said. “That’s all. That was me. It was kind of a mistake that I look back, ‘Why did I structure the installs like that?’ Well, (you believe it’s) the correct learning for the players. Says who? Says me? If you think about it, that’s not the best way to learn anyhow.

“Let’s learn what we have to learn in a way that when it really counts, that’s how we’re going to ask them to operate throughout the week. So that’s what we decided to do. Instead of giving them do-do-do-do-do, here it is, go play football.”

Pressure on assistants

While the head coach is usually the one with a constant target on his back, the reality is that no coach can be successful without a competent staff. Those he hired do most of the hands-on coaching on a daily basis.

Gannon said he watches closely how the assistants process things.

“That’s a constant communication of how we’re doing that,” he said. “You’re livelihood as a position coach is are you developing your players. You’re livelihood as a coordinator is how good does your unit play. Hopefully, I can help with everybody on staff to tweak that and make that a little bit better so alternately to get it right to improve our players and help us win games.

“That’s what it’s about. It’s not an ego thing; it’s not anything like that. It’s we’re all part of a team and we gotta do what we need to do to make sure we have a chance to win.”

The best five

In the final weeks of the offseason and at the start of camp, the first unit on the offensive line has been left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Elijah Wilkinson, center Hjalte Froholdt, right guard Will Hernandez and right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. Froholdt was with the Browns last season where offensive coordinator Drew Petzing was the quarterbacks coach.

When Johnson was selected sixth overall in April’s draft after Kelvin Beachum had been re-signed to a two-year contract, the line of thinking was that Johnson might begin huis career at left guard.

Beachum, who was the only lineman to start all 17 games last season, wasn’t on the field for the first two weeks of OTAs. However, when he began practicing, Johnson remained at right tackle. Beachum has been working with the second unit in camp with Josh Jones at left tackle, Dennis Daley at left guard, rookie Jon Gaines II at center and Lecitus Smith at right guard.

Gannon often said during the offseason there would be mixing and matching, but so far it hasn’t happened with the first unit.

He reiterated that mantra in camp, saying, “We’re going to mix and match some guys as you’ll see as we get going. There’s a lot of versatile pieces over there. That’s huge. On game day, there’s not a ton of jerseys to go around so you typically have to be able to play one or two spots. Certain guys only play one spot, but a lot of those guys are going to start flip-flopping sides and positions.”

Monday, Beachum and Jones switched sides with the second team. Recently signed center/guard Pat Elflein was at center with the third unit.

But what’s the best five? Petzing had some thoughts on that Monday along with what’s important among the up-front guys.

“Part of the process of being a first-year staff is trying to identify your best five and make sure they’re out there,” he said. “But also build that cohesiveness because communication is a huge part of the offensive line. And some of it’s verbal and some of it’s not.

“And so being able to play next to someone and anticipate their reaction and their communication before it happens is important. So I think the sooner the better, but we’re not going to rush it. Because at the end of the day, if we’re not putting the best players out there, we’re doing a disservice to our team.”

Quarterback Kyler Murray had some insight into what he’s seen from Johnson.

“He’s been a five-star since high school. Always been great at football,” Murray said. “Usually, in my mind, if you’re always good at football, you’re going to continue to be good if you do the right things and you work hard. And you stay true to yourself. I see that from Paris. A lot of young guys come in and are kinda wide-eyed.

“One thing I told him is just be you. Obviously, you’re going to have these expectations and stuff like that, but don’t come in here like you’re not who you are. It’s been good. I’ve seen the confidence. He’s got a lot of confidence. And he knows who he is. He’ll grow each and every week and get better, so it’s been exciting to see.”

Also exciting is how Gaines, this year’s fourth-round pick, has been a quick-study. Club insiders rave about the camp he is having, while Humphries said Tuesday he’s been impressed with both Johnson and Gaines.

Pads come on

The Cardinals practiced Tuesday in pads for the first time in training camp and Gannon was glad even though he previously stressed the importance of getting work done when not in pads.

“We value the time that we’re not in pads,” he said. “You have to be getting better when you’re not in pads. That’s the NFL today. I told our guys the role of training camp to me is keep everyone healthy, evaluate, and develop.

“When you’re not in full pads, technique, fundamentals, eye discipline, knowing what your body is supposed to do, how you’re breathing out there, that all matters. Every second that we are in meeting rooms, on the grass practicing, in a walk through, they count.”

Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Gannon said to the media, “This week is a good week. I told the guys they’re not going to feel great. It’s how we structured camp. This is a little bit of a test mentally and physically with where the installs are and what we’re asking them to do physically on the field.

“So, we got to make sure we’re getting a little bit better each day. But I do like where we are right now.”

The team is expected to practice in pads Wednesday and Thursday, and then have a day off after the third day in pads prior to Saturday’s Red & White practice.

McCoy headed to Canton

Of course, that will be Rachel, Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy’s wife.

Colt McCoy was selected by the Browns in the third round of the 2010 draft and was in Cleveland through the 2012 season before being traded to the 49ers in the 2013 offseason.

But those three seasons enabled him to get close to Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who was the team’s first-round choice (third overall) in 2007. He played 11 seasons for the Browns and will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday in his first year of eligibility.

Thomas played every snap (10,363) of his career until he suffered a triceps injury on Oct. 22, 2017, against the Titans and was placed on reserve/injured because the muscle was torn. He retired in March, 2018.

When asked about his reflections on being Thomas’ teammate, McCoy said, “I tell you what, Joe is one of my dearest friends. We talk almost on a daily basis. Our families are really close. My wife’s gonna go to the Hall of Fame induction. I won’t be able to go obviously, but I mean there’s not a guy that’s more deserving than him. I got to play with him for three years. His body of work speaks for itself. But more than that, he’s a friend. I love his family, I love his wife (Annie). They’re awesome people and I’m just really, really excited for him.

As for the Hall of Fame, McCoy said, “That’s an extremely special honor, right? I don’t know that anybody comes into the NFL saying like, ‘My goal is to make the Hall of Fame,’ right? I know that certainly wasn’t Joe’s goal, but his body of work and how he approached his day-to-day and the things he accomplished on the field in Cleveland is just pretty amazing. He’s receiving the highest honor, which is extremely cool.”

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

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