The Arizona Cardinals conducted their annual Red & White scrimmage Friday morning at State Farm Stadium, albeit in a different way. Amid COVID-19, fans were unable to attend the practice, as has been allowed in previous years.
With no preseason, this year's scrimmage had elevated importance for younger players and borderline veterans competing for roster spots ahead of the cutdown to 53 players. It gave these athletes an opportunity to show why they deserve to be on the roster or the 16-man practice squad in a live game setting.
The following are observations gleaned from the several open portions of the session.
Note: All first-team reps were closed to the media and are unable to be reported on in any capacity.
1. Eno Benjamin
The rookie running back looks undersized compared to the rest of the room at a listed 5-foot-9, 207-pounds, but he does not play like it. Benjamin showed schematic versatility in Friday's practice and ripped the longest run of the day — nearly 45 yards — along the left sideline on a handoff from quarterback Chris Streveler before being tackled by cornerback Zane Lewis at the 5-yard line. On the ensuing possession, Benjamin took a handoff again, this time to the right side, and appeared to almost be tackled for a loss before bouncing off the defender and rushing into the end zone for a touchdown. Benjamin also got some looks pregame as a kick returner on special teams and has shown the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He is competing for the third spot on the depth chart with fellow former ASU rusher D.J. Foster and, potentially, a spot on the roster with undrafted free agent Jonathan Ward.
2. Rashard Lawrence
The Cardinals second fourth-round defensive lineman 2020 draft pick has been touted by several players and coaches in training camp for his maturity and presence. He has already been likened to a seasoned veteran despite this being his first NFL preseason camp. Coming out of a professionally-run system in LSU and with direct interaction with its head coach Ed Orgeron as his position coach on a daily basis seemingly prepared Lawrence better for the NFL than most rookies. Defensive lineman Jordan Phillips previously called him "the best d-lineman I've seen in a long time." Friday, Lawrence made several plays, most notable of which was a 5-yard tackle-for-loss on Ward following an exchange from Streveler. After an array of injuries across the defensive line last season and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and position coach Brentson Buckner both previously saying they like a constant rotation, Lawrence seems poised for meaningful snaps in his rookie year.
3. Andy Isabella
The second-year wide receiver was touted by his position coach David Raih earlier this week and the strides he has taken were evident Friday. Despite his small stature, Isabella is a presence as a receiver and finds ways to get open. His speed makes him hard to defend and he is more consistently making extended-arm catches compared to the body grabs he became known for as a rookie. Isabella showed poise, patience and persistence with his route-running Friday and was rewarded with multiple targets and zero observed drops. He is getting more comfortable beating press coverage and also is shifty enough to beat his man 1-on-1. He is also a consistent return man. The top of his routes need more work, but Isabella had an impressive scrimmage overall.
4. Larry Fitzgerald, D.J. Humphries
In a Red & White scrimmage that looked and sounded completely different compared to years past, pregame introductions were still carried out. A hype video was shown on the monitor and the PA announcer delivered with the same intensity as if there was a sold-out crowd. As the offensive (red) players were prepared to come out of the tunnel, the 17-year veteran wide receiver Fitzgerald and boisterous personality offensive tackle Humphries pumped themselves up by interacting with an empty stadium. Fitzgerald was observed jumping up and down while pointing in the direction of empty seats while music blared from the ceiling of State Farm Stadium, while Humphries pumped his arms in the air, seemingly signaling for more fan noise. Crowd sounds were pumped into the stadium with varying decibel levels throughout the scrimmage.
5. Zane Gonzalez
After a consistent season last year in Arizona in which he was a perfect 12-for-12 from inside the 20- to 29-yard line and 31-for-35 on the year, the Cardinals kicker has had an under-the-radar training camp in impressive fashion. During the open portion of Friday's practice, Gonzalez was perfect on all of his kicks. His approach and mechanics have all seemingly improved under the direction of special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers after a woeful couple of seasons with Cleveland.
6. Tempo offense
Under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, several defensive players and coaches have told reporters since training camp started that the pace of the offense has been difficult to keep up with and scheme against. Friday, during open portions of the scrimmage, a no-huddle offense was often employed and the defense was slow to keep up. The operation of the offense seemed smooth and both backup quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Chris Streveler managed the timing appropriately. Players seemingly lined up properly and plays were executed at a pace that forced defensive rotations and did not allow for adequately consistent play-calling.
WHAT NEEDS WORK:
1. Backup quarterbacks
The Cardinals backup quarterbacks, Hundley and Streveler, were relatively accurate Friday, but are prone to operational and procedural mistakes. Hundley had a tendency to hang on to the football too long, so the play overdeveloped. That increased his tendency to tuck and scramble, or simply throw the ball away. The anticipation of where receivers are going to be needs to improve in order for Hundley to have an opportunity to accentuate his development behind Kyler Murray. As for Streveler, the adjustment from the CFL to the NFL can be difficult and he seems to have a run-first mindset before giving the play a chance. He is a true athlete who can make plays happen, but sometimes his decision-making is preemptive and disrupts a potentially big play. Plus, the lone turnover of the scrimmage during the open portion of practice came on a handoff between Streveler and Ward that was not properly contained, which outside linebacker Reggie Walker hopped on top of after the ball bounced out of Streveler's hands as he tried to make the recovery. Streveler's next snap after that also resulted in a tackle for loss.
2. Reserve pass rush
After projected starters Chandler Jones and Devon Kennard at outside linebacker, there is not much in the way of talented pass-rushing depth on the roster. As was previously reported, Dennis Gardeck shifted from inside to outside this offseason, while Kylie Fitts, Haason Reddick and Walker are the other options on the roster. There was little pressure generated by the reserves at this position group, with the only prevalent maneuvering coming from the backup defensive linemen.
3. Defensive pace
Granted, most opposing offenses the Cardinals face will not be as quick as their own in practice, but the team's defense during open portions of the scrimmage seemingly could not keep up at times. It is good developmental preparation and conditioning as players look to ramp up their physical fortitude ahead of San Francisco in Week 1, a game that is likely to feel slower for the Cardinals' defense than their own practices.
1. Kentrell Brice
The Cardinals safety suffered an apparent left leg injury Friday that required him to be carted off the field. He was observed being unable to put any weight on the leg as players and training staff helped lift him off the grass and aid him to the cart. The injury came on a play after Brice was being blocked by tight end Dylan Cantrell on a run play designed for Benjamin. Linebacker Evan Weaver seemingly fell onto Brice's outstretched leg, causing it to buckle, after he was blocked by offensive lineman Koda Martin. Kingsbury did not issue an update on Brice following his scheduled media availability at the end of practice and there has been no announcement or indication of what the specifics of the injury are or a timetable for his potential return.