It was no surprise that Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was not present for the first day of voluntary OTAs Monday at the team’s Tempe practice facility.
However, while Murray was the headliner, he certainly wasn’t alone in being absent.
Joining him from his offensive teammates were running backs James Conner and Jonathan Ward, wide receiver Marquise Brown, and four of the starting offensive linemen from last season: left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Justin Pugh, center Rodney Hudson and right tackle Kelvin Beachum.
Those that ended the 2021 season injured were also not present: wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tight end Maxx Williams and guard/tackle Justin Murray.
Two players signed as free agents in the last 10 days weren’t on the field: wide receivers Christian Blake and Jontre Kirklin.
Missing from the defense were cornerbacks Byron Murphy Jr. and Antonio Hamilton and linebacker Markus Golden. Punter Andy Lee was also not seen.
Working on a side field were defensive end Zach Allen and rookie edge rushers Cameron Thomas and Jesse Luketa.
Tight end Zach Ertz, sporting a new blond hairdo, said everyone knew who was probably going to be there.
“I had a pretty good feel,” he said. “It's pretty much been the same crew that's been here (for the first two phases of the offseason program).
“Obviously, I wish we had 100% attendance. But at the end of the day, my situation is very straightforward. I just signed here and I’m all in. I've also been in a situation where it wasn't a good situation for me to be at OTAs. So, I empathize with everyone. Obviously, everyone's got their own situation. But I'm just focusing on what I can control. And that being the best version of myself."
Asked specifically about Murray and whether he has communicated with him, Ertz said, “We talk every now and then. We went to that one fight; we happened to be there together. And he's just doing his thing; a lot of the business stuff. As a player, as a friend, you just want to stay out of it and you want to support them for what they're going through.
"I know he's working his butt off to be the best quarterback he can be for this team.”
Safety Budda Baker echoed Ertz’s words when asked if it’s a big deal that the team’s starting quarterback isn’t with his teammates.
“For me, I honestly think that I know K1 is working really hard,” Baker said. “I know that he's doing all the things that he can, whether it's talking to the coaches, talking to the players, and I know that when he gets here, he's going to be ready. There's gonna be no drop-off and I'm excited for when the whole team gets together.”
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has to tread a fine line when asked about players not present, while noting what can be gained by being together.
“It's good to have them around each other,” Kingsbury said. “First and foremost, after a couple years of not having that much time, I think team building is big. Just being in the locker room, weight room, doing things together. And then a lot of mental reps. It's one thing to be in the meeting rooms. But it's another thing to go out there and apply it and be able to coach from the film, whether it's full speed or walk-throughs. And so the mental stuff is huge.”
When asked if he’d like to see Murray and Brown together, he harkened back to his days as head coach at Texas Tech when the quarterback and receiver were at Oklahoma.
He said, “I've seen them together live and in person on the other team. And it was not fun. I know what it looks like. But no, I think, like I said before, I think as a coach, you want to have these guys here all the time. But it's just not how the rules are set up and different guys handle it in different ways.”
Most important, when asked if he anticipates Murray being on the field for the mandatory minicamp June 14-16, Kingsbury said simply, “I do.”
Still, he couldn’t keep himself from marveling at defensive end J.J. Watt, who turned 33 in March but treats every day like it is his last as a player.
When it was mentioned how Watt goes all-out in every drill, all the time, Kingsbury said, “It's insane. He comes up to me after and he wants to go full-speed team, right? Others are saying, ‘Never. Like, let's not do that.’ But that's what he wants. That's how he feels like he's getting better. And that's the only way it's been for him.
“One of our draft picks was talking. He was like, ‘I thought I knew what NFL football was like, except we were getting to the hot tub at 6 a.m. to warm up and J.J. had already worked out, showered and was leaving the building.’ So that just shows the type of time and effort he puts in.”