GLENDALE, AZ — Training camp for the Arizona Cardinals kicked off Wednesday at State Farm Stadium, where the NFL season will conclude with the Super Bowl in February.
“It's been on my mind,” Cardinals running back James Conner said. “We want to be the team here playing in it. I don’t want nobody else using our locker room getting ready for this game, you know, it's our locker room. It means everything to us, and that's what we want to do this year.”
While the expectation internally is for the Cardinals to follow the two-year trend of teams winning the Super bowl at their home stadium, not all have that thought on top of their mind.
“Really it's just trying to get through today,” said Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. “Day one of training camp, I want everyone to be healthy, fly around, get some good work.”
The way the Cardinals season started last year as the last unbeaten team in the NFL, and the way it ended with a second-half collapse and an embarrassing performance in the playoffs left a sour taste throughout the offseason.
“Definitely a lot of unfinished business. We didn't like the way the season ended last year, so we’re coming out this year with something to prove, with a chip on our shoulder,” said safety Jalen Thompson. “It’s a different feeling this year. Guys are super competitive, and that’s the vibe we’re giving out this year.”
For many teams around the league, the first day of training camp is about who isn’t there due to contract hold-outs, etc. That isn’t the case for the Cardinals Kyler Murray who on the field after cashing in on his big new contract.
Murray was seen throwing passes to DeAndre Hopkins, which of course he won’t be able to do for the first six games of the season.
The only noticeable absence was Hollywood Brown who was in street clothes because of a tweaked hamstring running routes on his own. Kingsbury said holding him out is more precautionary at this point.
James Conner also got his big payday after a strong debut season in the Valley. The Cardinals will try to manage his workload to save Conner from himself, according to Kingsbury, who also said the expectation is that he can rack up another 15 to 18 touchdowns this season.
“I’m just one of those guys, I like to practice hard so the game could be easy,” Conner said. “I just want to win ballgames, do everything we can, but [scoring 15-18 touchdowns] is very realistic. [I] trained like no other this year. I feel like I’m in dog shape, so ready to roll.”
A big storyline entering camp is whether Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons are ready to roll, specifically with Collins entering year two. The Cardinals hope he'll be able to call the defense, but they're also making sure not to pull all the eggs in his basket.
“Zaven is a guy we've been excited to see how he progresses this year. We need him to step up,” said Kingsbury. “We have multiple guys that feel like they can do it. That's what's good about having a guy like Budda, having a guy like JT [Jalen Thompson] back there that have been in the system this long. We'll see how that plays out, but I'd say there's four or five guys that we feel comfortable right now calling [the defense].”
As for Simmons, he enters year three finally finding a role that suits his skillset.
“We've figured out what he does really well, and we're trying to maximize him and put him in that position to do that, so I don't feel like we're stunting his growth. I think the way we've adjusted our defense is gonna play to his strengths,” said Kingsbury. “We will have him rush off the edge, we’ll have him pressure, we'll have him play some safety. We're trying to maximize what he is as a player and that's a dynam