'Player's Coach': Linebackers Laud Kliff Kingsbury
After a five-win campaign in his first season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury has still drawn rave reviews from players new and old within the franchise. Typically, there is not a lot of optimism in years following poor performances in the win column. Yet, the organization has revamped its roster through the offseason and the draft and looks poised for a breakout year.
The team's linebacker corps was one position group that saw massive overhaul. Hometown legacy Devon Kennard was signed to a three-year deal following his "unexpected" release from the Detroit Lions, which gave the franchise a significant pass-rushing threat opposite All-Pro Chandler Jones. Former Atlanta Falcon De'Vondre Campbell was also brought into the fold after leading his old team in tackles last season.
And with their No. 8 overall pick in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, the Cardinals selected Clemson's Isaiah Simmons. A prototypical "positionless" player who projects favorably in the NFL, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has already said Simmons will start out solely at linebacker. After struggling at times last season, now the position group appears to be a strength, at least on paper. On the inside of the 3-4 scheme, Campbell and Simmons will join Jordan Hicks, who played 100 percent of the teams' defensive snaps last season.
With all of this newness comes a learning curve. That has been affected to a certain extent by the lack of in-person offseason programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the franchise is using the virtual time to learn the playbook and be as prepared as possible for when they are allowed to return. To this point, players have said the Cardinals coaching staff has thrived.
"What I admire about this coaching staff the most is their teaching skills, honestly," Jones said. "Kliff is definitely a player's coach, but as far as the the way they teach things — and with me having a lot of different coaches, position and head coaches, not saying one is better than the other, but also there's a lot of different teaching techniques. What I admire the most, like I said, is their teaching techniques and the way they teach things."
Every NFL organization has been forced to adapt to the given circumstances. Those that excel will benefit when in-person training resumes. For the new guys, assimilating into the Cardinals' culture has been easier thanks to Kingsbury's efforts.
"I feel like he's created a great environment where it's very competitive, but he's a down-to-earth guy," Kennard told SI.com's AllCardinals. "(He's) a player's coach, but has high expectations for us. And that's all you can ask for as a player, somebody who understands you, has your best interests in mind, but is going to push you and demand the most out of you. And it seems like that's the kind of coach he is and I'm excited to strengthen that relationship and get to know him more."
In terms of the offseason free agency approach overall, Kingsbury was a major factor in the acquisition of the new additions. Cautious organizational optimism is emanating regarding the potential they feel they possess.
"I'm confident In Kliff," Campbell said. "I've had several conversations with him. And I just like the way things are headed. I think we've got some really good pieces on defense and we just have to continue to build."