Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green has been an important addition to the team’s offense this season, and he has talked about the culture in the locker room that breeds success.
Earlier this week he revealed something surprising when he was asked about the atmosphere advanced by the staff led by head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“Coach Kliff just keeps everybody level, man, every week in practice it’s very competitive,” Green said. “We go against ones on ones, so every practice is competitive, and I feel like that pushes us every day to just keep getting better week by week.”
Ones on ones?
That’s what the Cardinals do for certain segments every day in practice, which isn’t commonplace in the NFL where it’s usually the first-team offense and defense matched against the scout team.
Green said during his career with the Bengals, practicing starters against starters in the regular season was rare and added, “We do it a lot, at least two or three periods of practices, ones versus ones and I think it really helps us out.”
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, “That hadn't been the case in my career in the NFL. That came up last year with Kliff and it's been good for us to keep our competitive nature and see the speed of the game every week. When you're seeing the first-string offense, it's a different style of play versus when you're seeing cards on a sub team.”
Joseph said there are about 20 of those snaps each week, which he estimated is about 10 percent of the total snaps.
He said, “Red zone, third down, those things and it helps us keep our edge and play fast versus good opponents. Our young DBs have grown so much because they're playing against A.J. Green and Hop (DeAndre Hopkins) and (Christian) Kirk and those guys every single day.
“That's a tough out for those guys so when they go to the games, they're never overwhelmed by who they're playing. I mean, they've played the best all week, so it's fun to watch those guys compete even (linebacker) Isaiah (Simmons) covering Christian Kirk during practice. That's a tough task for Isaiah, but now he goes against tight ends in this division, and he's not overwhelmed by it so it's a good thing for our football team.”
Kingsbury said he studied Pete Carroll when he was the head coach at USC and with the Seattle Seahawks.
“That was a big part of his program. And so when I got to Texas Tech, we wanted to do a bunch of that and then just continued it just to get the game speed. Particularly for the quarterbacks to feel that speed and compete day in and day out against each other. I think it's good for the culture.”
Linebacker Markus Golden said he recalls doing it “a little bit” with his previous teams.
“We've been doing it here a lot more, especially this year. It's like camp. You get out there and you compete. You know that every practice you're gonna have a set of drills where we go against the ones and that's exciting when you get out there.
“You're competing against the best on best. We call it good on good, so it's gonna get you ready for the game. No knock on the scout-team guys, but you're going against the No. 1s on offense and it's gonna help the offense, too.”
Defensive end J.J. Watt, who played his previous 10 seasons in Houston, is also believer.
He said, “I think it's always beneficial because you want that work good on good. You want that opportunity to go against the guys who are playing on Sunday, and to get the high-quality reps. Now, the difference, obviously, you're playing against a different scheme than you're going to play on Sunday, but you're also playing against that different level.
“So you get those reps where a pass rush is the pass rush. It doesn't matter what scheme it's against. So, it's just that opportunity, that competitiveness, that wanting to win and wanting to win that period that's great. And I think that we obviously have a great team and it's a lot of fun to do those ones versus one segments.”