Cardinals Team Leaders Setting Important Example

Howard Balzer

It’s the start of practice early in the morning of what will be another 100-plus degree day in Tempe. The temperature isn’t that oppressive yet and Cardinals players begin stretching to the music of rapper Drake, who sings:

“Started from the bottom, now we here ...

Started from the bottom, now the whole team here.”

After winning the NFC West with a 13-3 record in 2015, the final two years with head coach Bruce Arians produced 7-8-1 and 8-8 records, followed by 3-13 with head coach Steve Wilks in 2018.

That led to the firing of Wilks, the eyebrow-raising hiring of former collegiate head coach Kliff Kingsbury in 2019 and the selection of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall selection in the draft.

A 5-10-1 record was nothing to write home about, but winning two of the final three games with better offense and defense after losing six straight created hope.

Now, after a productive offseason and a 2-0 start, which matches the number of total wins in September the team had from 2016-19, a buzz is building locally and nationally.

Still, even as those song words are played, the team’s leaders know they aren’t “here” yet. In fact, there is much work to be done.

That work means making the necessary corrections, which 11-year nose tackle Corey Peters says is a lot easier after a victory.

Said Peters, “When you come in after a win, everybody's in a good mood. So it's the perfect time to talk about what we did wrong. And what we can do to get better. Usually, after a loss, everybody's down. And obviously, we make the corrections. But guys don't take it as well. When guys are feeling good, it's a lot easier to get them to understand where they can be better. So I think after these last two performances, one of the things we've really been focusing on is what we can do to get better; how it could have been tighter.”

Addressing the poor starts in recent seasons, Peters said, “It's great to get off to that 2-0 start. But you know, we have big goals here. And the goals are not to be 2-0. So we're in probably what I would say is the toughest division in football. And we know the type of team we're going to have to be to win that division. So we're not there yet. It's going to take us gradually getting better each and every week. And hopefully, we can get a win while we're getting better.”

Those team leaders, like Peters, outside linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson on defense along with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and emerging leaders Murray and wideout DeAndre Hopkins are clearly team-first players and set a humble tone for the entire roster.

Peters said, “I don't think we have a lot of selfish guys, a lot of guys that are out to get theirs. One thing that I always point to like a Chandler Jones, who is a premier pass rusher in this league, one of my sacks I got last week came off of a ‘game’ with him. I know a lot of guys, they don't want to participate in team ‘games’ or stuff like that. They just want to be 1-on-1 the whole time and get theirs.

“And when you have leaders like that, guys that are not saying, ‘Hey, let me go get 20 sacks this year’ -- obviously that's a goal of his -- but he's more interested in winning the game and he'll do whatever it takes to do that. And when your leaders are like that, then nobody else has a right to be like that.”

Peters also shifted his comments to the offense when he said, “Then if you look on the other side of the ball with somebody like Fitz, who is the ultimate team player and who could be the biggest jerk in the world. I think if you look across our roster, all of our leaders are like that. So I think it really kind of eliminates any room for anybody else to be a jerk.”

And that’s why this team might be “here” a lot faster than anyone thought possible.

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