Cardinals Conduct First Virtual Defensive Walkthrough
In the new virtual atmosphere that the NFL finds itself in, franchises are adapting and finding ways to continue their offseason programs without skipping a beat. Although it is a difficult task, all 32 teams are aware that it is an even playing field and that the organizations who put in the work now will prosper when football — and the world — returns close to to normalcy.
The Arizona Cardinals have been conducting virtual team meetings and the entire defense participated in a virtual walkthrough for the first time on Thursday.
The difficulty of the online offseason programs is exacerbated for rookies and new free-agent signings who were not a part of their respective organizations last season. For the new guys, the learning curve is steeper because they have to adjust to learning a new scheme, while simultaneously trying to build bonds with their teammates.
"Smooth," new Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard told SI.com's AllCardinals about how the walkthrough went. "It was the first time that I was able to hear everybody who's going to be on the defense's voice and kind of see how they see things and how they've been taught things. So, it was cool. I'm looking forward to doing more of that. Obviously, I'd rather be able to have some OTA practices or some walkthroughs in person, but I think that was our first one and I liked how it went and I'm looking forward to doing some more."
It has been emphasized several times by Cardinals players that chemistry is a key component for successful franchises. FaceTime and Zoom calls can only do so much. It is the in-person connection that fosters and develops relationships.
"It's awkward, it's different," Kennard said of the relationship development process to this point. "Usually, this is the time of year where guys are in the locker room, we have more free time in our day, so it's a lot more guys being able to shoot the breeze in the locker room and getting to know each other. You're practicing together, working out together, so a lot of that's taken away. So, when there are position meetings I'm getting to get to know the guys that are all in my position room. But besides that, a lot of that's just going to have to come when camp comes around."
Kennard signed with the Cardinals after being unexpectedly released by the Detroit Lions. It is a position group that received an infusion of new talent after signing De'Vondre Campbell (Atlanta Falcons) and drafting Clemson's Isaiah Simmons No. 8 overall in the draft.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added the stress of the unknown to many people's lives around the country and the world. As NFL players try and keep their families safe, while also being afforded the opportunity to spend more time with them than they otherwise would have been able to in normal circumstances, the virtual sessions with their teams have offered a reprieve.
"Being able to be in the virtual meetings, it kind of takes my mind off of everyday life and everything that's going on within the world," Campbell said. "Just really being able to sit down and think about how other people are being affected by what's going on and not so much myself."
Many of the new guys are experiencing similar situations in which they will have to earn the respect of their teammates by their performances in a live camp setting and how they interact online in meetings. They do not have the established credibility as more tenured teammates within the organization, but that has not dulled confidence.
"I feel like for me being a new guy and learning a new scheme, it presents another challenge just because you don't have the time to sit in there and really sit with the coaches and get that extra time in," Kennard said. "So, you have to kind of do it on your own and those type of things. But that's always been a strong suit for me; I pick up things pretty quickly. I'm a student of the game and I've had fun taking on the opportunity of just learning this defense as much as I can and getting as many mental reps as I can while I'm watching film."
As for the logistics of how the Cardinals conducted the first full defensive walkthrough, Campbell has the details.
"V.J. (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph), he will put up a play and then he'll go position by position and he'll ask you what your responsibility is," he said. "If there's adjustments within the play, he'll be like, 'OK, so you know your assignment, what if this happens or what if that happens?' You kind of talk through it and then everybody's making their separate calls. The safeties are making their calls. Us as linebackers, we're making our calls. The corners are making their calls. We're getting the d-line set.
"I think it went really well for us all being together for the first time. And for me, actually revoicing everything that I've learned over the past couple of weeks, I feel like I'm in a good space considering that we haven't been able to do anything in person."