GLENDALE, AZ — The NFL Draft begins two weeks from Thursday, and the Arizona Cardinals, along with the rest of the league, are in uncharted waters during this unprecedented time.
“I think that there are challenges, but it's nothing compared to what the rest of the world is facing,” said Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. “You've got to keep things in perspective. It's football, so there'll be adjustments to be made, but we'll be able to call and text. And for the most part, we're at our house watching film and doing the same draft prep we do in our office just without the human interaction.”
The lack of in-person meetings doesn’t seem to phase the Cardinals second-year head coach either. He said they always tend to overthink these things anyways, and suggested it could eliminate some of the clutter and allow the front office to draft more on their first instinct. Kingsbury believes drafting from home could also help alleviate General Manager Steve Keim.
“I think he's kind of welcoming the solitude of it all,” he said. “I think if anything it will be good for him and really allow him to have a clear, clear picture and a clear thought process.”
It has been a tremendous start to the offseason for the Cardinals, highlighted by the trade for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Through free agency, Keim plugged holes on the defensive line with Jordan Phillips, and at linebacker with Devon Kennard and DeVondre Campbell.
“I think when you look at where the roster sits as opposed to last year, Steve and his guys did a tremendous job of really filling needs where we feel like we could line up today and be a much improved football team, personnel wise, than where we sat last year this time,” Kingsbury said. “It does set the draft up to where we feel like we're free to take the best available pick that comes at that number eight spot.”
At the very least, the Cardinals now have some flexibility with that pick.
“To go into the draft and not feel like you have any glaring holes on your starting defense, it definitely takes some pressure off.”
All indications and mock drafts have the Cardinals selecting an offensive tackle with their first round pick, but Kingsbury did say he feels really good about the two guys, Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray, battling for the starting right tackle job.
Year two for the Cardinals under Kingsbury will be all about progress.
“I expect him to take a big step just understanding the game or this is the NFL, the type of proper preparation it takes to be that guy week in and week out,” he said of second-year quarterback Kyler Murray.
The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year finalist will have a full compliment of weapons with Hopkins out wide, and now an entire season with Kenyan Drake in the backfield.
“I think he's going to have a higher level of competence, no doubt,” Kingsbury said of Drake. “Just understanding the system, understanding how we coach, what's expected of them. I mean, he did a lot of that on the fly. You see the explosiveness, you see what he can do in space, and we have to continue to do a great job of putting him in a situation to be successful.”
On paper, the Cardinals look like they will be a much improved team, and at least be competitive in the NFC West. They’ll have a better understanding of the road ahead when the NFL schedule is released a month from now. As for concerns over whether the 2020 season will start on time, Kingsbury said he always tries to be a glass half-full guy.
“I have no grasp of the severity of the situation, honestly, as far as leaders of our country do and different medical people, things of that nature. I'm not privy to that information, but I hope we do. I think it'd be a great diversion for everybody if we can get on with the season, but obviously that remains to be seen.”
Throughout his call with the media, Kingsbury kept mentioning perspective. For the doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and so on, whose jobs on the COVID-19 frontline make that of a football coach’s pale in comparison. The Cardinals have certainly done their part to help. Wednesday at State Farm Stadium, a third completely full blood drive was held. In addition, the Cardinals and State Farm teamed up to donate more than one million meals to local food banks.
Kingsbury added, “It just makes you proud to be a part of this organization.”