There was a mixed bag of offseason programs around the NFL in a year that began with threats that veterans would stay away from much of the on-field work.
After discussions with players, numerous teams significantly limited the offseason work with many reducing from the 10 voluntary OTAs and some mandatory minicamps being shelved entirely.
The Cardinals cut the OTAs to three, moved up the minicamp to this week and, after Thursday’s final minicamp one-hour practice with no 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work, the veterans were sent home until training camp. Rookies will stay around for another week or two.
Of the 91 players on the roster, 88 attended the minicamp, with the only absences linebackers Chandler Jones, Jordan Hicks and Dennis Gardeck.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard missed Thursday’s practice with what head coach Kliff Kingsbury described as a minor ankle injury that should be fine by the start of camp at the end of July.
Asked if the coaches learned what they needed to about the players during the reduced timeframe, Kingsbury said, “We did. You never really know exactly where some of those young guys are until you get them out under the lights in preseason and training camp. But I like what I saw. I think it was good to get guys around each other, introduce some of the new players and just get to coach them. The rookies have been here pretty much the whole time. But some of those new acquisitions that we brought in, it was great to have them around.”
Kingsbury was relieved the Cardinals didn’t experience some of the major injuries that afflicted some other teams.
“(Our) health seems really good,” he said. “A couple guys still coming off some injuries from the fall. But we got out of these couple of weeks clean. And so that's a real positive. I felt like guys were healthy, and we had some good work. But we were able to avoid any of that stuff.”
The most significant injury from last season was the torn ACL suffered by Gardeck in Week 15, but Kingsbury expressed optimism when asked if he might be ready when camp opens.
He said, “I wouldn't put anything past Dennis. He looks great. Sounds like he's ahead of schedule by all accounts and so we'll see how he feels going into training camp. But if he's not ready for the start, I would expect him to be ready soon thereafter.”
Finally, he was asked about the message to everyone as they await the beginning of camp in about seven weeks.
“I let Buddy Morris kind of handle that, our strength and conditioning coach. He does a pretty good job letting them know the expectation and the workout programs. And then he's highly motivating. But, just safe, be safe, be smart, and it will be here before you know it and come in in great shape and be excited when we get back.”
Safety Budda Baker had a similar message. He said, “Once camp starts, that's when it really gets real. So, guys know, we got to always continue to work, continue to be in your playbook. Whether you're at home or you're on vacation, just continue to watch football because as you guys know, this flies by. (Camp) comes real fast.”