Cardinals Return Amid College Football Postponements

Mason Kern

While the Arizona Cardinals began training camp Wednesday with OTA-like workouts at State Farm Stadium, the state's two Power-5 college football programs are on an opposite course. Tuesday, both the Big Ten and Pac-12, the latter of which houses both Arizona and Arizona State, announced the postponement of the 2020 college football season due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.

For the Conference of Champions, the delay includes all sports competition, not just football, and will last through at least Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the NFL announced Wednesday that it reached an agreement with the NFLPA to continue daily testing for players until Sept. 5 and that "the rate of positive tests for all players and Tier 1 and Tier 2 personnel across the league during this period is below one percent (and no individual club rate is greater than two percent)."

The levels are seemingly trending in completely different directions. The NFL, although it canceled its preseason, still plans on conducting the 2020 year as scheduled, while two of the Power-5 college conferences have pulled the plug on fall competition.

"It's a blessing to be able to strap on the cleats and the helmet and get back on there on the grass with your teammates," Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk told reporters Wednesday following the first practice of training camp. "And it's funny, we were all talking about that last week, before we came to Glendale, just the last week of Zoom meetings how kind of tired and fed up we were of it. Just because we want to get back and be around the guys in the locker room and have that camaraderie, so it's just been good. Everybody's been buying into the process and it's been nice to just put it all together out there today."

A former head coach at the collegiate level with Texas Tech, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was non-committal in his response to the decisions of the Big Ten and Pac-12. He shifted the narrative to center around the efforts the Cardinals have made to contain and limit the spread of the coronavirus, which to this point has been successful. 

Arizona joins the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots as teams with zero players placed on reserve/COVID-19 to this point.

"We've been so caught up in trying to do it right at this level and focused on what we need to do to make this happen that I haven't even followed it closely enough to make an informed comment on it," Kingsbury said. "But very proud of how our guys have handled (it), the professionalism I've seen, and us trying to make it work for us.

"There's definitely differences. We've had our hands full trying to get it lined up here. And there's only 32 teams and there's 127 I think, or more, at that level that are trying to pull it off. And so, I think just the sheer numbers definitely makes it a challenge for those guys down there."

Having missed out on traditional offseason programs like OTAs and minicamps, players across the league have been itching to return to the gridiron. It is especially so for the new guys who switched teams or first-year athletes in the NFL, as they have lacked the proper assimilation period they otherwise would have been granted. The lack of preseason games makes it more difficult, but each team will be in the same situation as rosters are continuously trimmed. 

First-day jitters were amplified Wednesday in Arizona, although that most likely stemmed from pure elation to just be playing football again, rather than nerves.

"I was excited," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "I woke up early this morning, ready to go finally play some football with my teammates. Being able to put on a helmet for the first time was awesome. We're used to the protocol now. We've been doing it for a little time, so I think that was pretty smooth. And we're just trying to get to football and win some games."

For this year's rookie class especially, they barely escaped the COVID-19 cutoff. Had the virus spread earlier, their NFL prospects could have been drastically impacted. It is one notion that has been toyed with in at least one player's mind.

"With what happened with COVID, I don't think anybody saw it coming as far as the timing," rookie defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence said. "It kind of came out of nowhere. For the guys in college still, it's a tough time for them. They're not in control to really be able to make those decisions, but you can only hope for the best for them because it's definitely uncertain times. Hopefully, at some point, they will get a chance to showcase their talents in one way or another."

For Kingsbury, he is just glad it did not strike when his franchise quarterback Kyler Murray was a senior at Oklahoma. If it did, he might have never even made it to the NFL, instead likely playing outfield for the Oakland Athletics — where he was drafted in the first-round of the 2018 MLB draft.

"That puts a real life scenario because he wouldn't have waited around for another football season," Kingsbury said. "I can tell you that much. It's good fortune. I saw (Cincinnati Bengals No. 1 draft choice quarterback) Joe Burrow tweeted something like had he not had a senior year, he would have been looking for a job right now. And so, everything happens for a reason and I definitely feel blessed that he was able to play that senior year and we were able to get him."

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