GLENDALE, Ariz.—In six months and two days, the worn grass field here will be the center of the sports universe for Super Bowl LVII. Today? State Farm Stadium is home to Cardinals camp, where a group of players and coaches that had the NFL’s best record in mid-December, only to see it come undone from there, are trying to figure how to create their start to 2021, and correct their end to it. Here’s what I saw and heard …
1. Rondale Moore is going to be a big figure in filling the void left by Christian Kirk, and also in generating a threat with DeAndre Hopkins out until Week 7. He’s responded with an outstanding camp. His play strength was already impressive, and he’s always been able to run, and my sense is the coaches are going to do everything they can to get the ball in his hands. And if you want a sleeper at the position, journeyman Greg Dortch has had a nice camp, too.
2. It’s not news to anyone here, but Jalen Thompson looks like a Pro Bowler at safety, and it’s at the point now where the staff sees him as interchangeable and as valuable as Budda Baker at the position. Thompson’s ability to cover out of the nickel corner spot, and be a very reliable tackler in the open field, make him another nice chess piece for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (notable, too, was Isaiah Simmons doing a bunch of his individual work with the team’s defensive backs).
3. Dennis Gardeck’s play could be a swing factor for a defense looking to make up for the loss of Chandler Jones. He found a place in the league as a special teamer, but proved a slippery pass rusher in going for seven sacks when Jones was hurt in 2020. He’s coming back off a torn ACL, but has had a really solid summer that has the team planning to factor him into the equation to fill Chandler’s spot, along with Markus Golden.
4. Corner will be a position that needs some more work. The team feels O.K. with Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson and Antonio Hamilton, but could look for more help at the position later in the month, especially with the depth issue beyond those three. Another question would be who’ll play tailback behind James Connor, though Eno Benjamin has made some headway toward a role.
5. One thing that’s visible in the team’s effort to avoid another late-season collapse is how coach Kliff Kingsbury is managing older vets, giving them days off and trying to ensure they’ll be as physically fresh for the grind of a 17-game season as possible. And another thing that those here say is apparent is that quarterback Kyler Murray, post-contract, has tried to take a more vocal role in leading the group.
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