It’s amazing what 10 wins and almost making the playoffs can do for a football team.
Ask the Arizona Cardinals, who are heading into the 2014-15 season with pretty high expectations, coming off that surprising second half run in 2013, falling just short of the dance.
Training camp officially begins on Saturday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium, but before that fun can begin, the players had to take part in the dreaded run test on Friday afternoon.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is heading into his 11th season in the league (all with the Cardinals), which means this is his 11th training camp with the team. To Dockett, this time of the year never gets old to him. In fact, he’s more motivated than ever to get camp and the regular season started.
“I’m always excited,” Dockett said. “Anytime you have an opportunity to come and build your team inside and out and get to know your teammates more in tougher times and stressful moments, it’s always a step forward to see what you want to do.”
Dockett has been through this training camp process quite a few times, so he’s well aware of the keys things for a successful camp.
“The biggest thing is getting in, being productive and getting out healthy,” Dockett said. “We gotta take care of each other while we’re here.”
The Cardinals lost two key cogs on defense from a year ago in Karlos Dansby, who bolted to the Browns via free agency, and Daryl Washington, who is serving a one-year suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
When asked if there’s more pressure on the defense coming into this season with those pieces not here, Dockett quickly shot those thoughts down.
“Not at all,” Dockett said. “We gotta move forward, we’re not gonna talk about that, we’re gonna worry about the guys that are here right now.”
If you’re Bruce Arians, all you want to see on the day of the run test and in camp is guys who are in shape and are willing to do whatever it takes to make the football team better and make it a championship caliber product on the field.
Arians has seemingly found it in the initial stages of it all, based on what he’s seen in OTA’s, minicamp and now in the run test.
“The team is in fantastic shape and ready to go,” Arians said. “The key now is to keep them that way.”
“Sometimes it’s easy to get in shape, and it’s just as easy to fall out of shape in camp,” Arians said.
According to Arians, all hands were on deck for the conditioning test, with the exception of linebacker John Abraham, who was excused for “personal matters.”
Being in his second season as head coach, and having near 100 percent participation in the conditioning test, the day-to-day grind of the job is coming much easier for Arians.
“It’s night and day,” Arians said. “That first year is always tough, and I liked the way our team battled through the second half of the season last year.”
“It makes this one more important and easier to get started,” Arians said.
Cutting down a 90-man roster to 53 isn’t an easy thing to do. You’ve got position battles going on all over the field and it’s difficult to make those sort of decisions if you’re Bruce Arians, but it has to be done.
Arians likes to take a broad look at his team when evaluating players and weaving his team the way he wants it to be.
“We have some very talented players who are fighting for jobs,” Arians said. “Whether it be a starting job, a backup job or making the roster.”
Another key piece on the defense in 2013 was safety Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu played in 13 games in his rookie season, 11 of them as a starter. Mathieu’s season ended tragically in Week 14 against the Rams when he tore ligaments in his knee.
Mathieu was placed on the PUP list this week, effectively taking him out of the mix for the first six weeks of the season.
Despite that status, Mathieu did perform during the conditioning test, and feels good about himself and about his team heading into the new season.
“The excitement’s here, I know our teammates are fired up,” Mathieu said. “Carson [Palmer] is excited, and we’re definitely looking to build off last year.”
The competitor and fire that dwells inside Mathieu is telling him he’ll be ready for Week One, when the San Diego Chargers come to University of Phoenix Stadium for Monday Night Football.
The problem is that the team trainers and doctors trump the competitor and fire. Mathieu has to get the final ok from them before he can step back out and do battle.1
“If I have to pull back and chill for a few games, I’m fine with that,” Mathieu said. “If I’m 100 percent, of course I’ll want to be out there.”
Another rookie who came in and made an impact for the Cardinals last season was running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 652 yards, and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Ellington says he put on about four pounds of muscle in the offseason to get his body ready for the rigors of another season with the Cardinals.
The spotlight will clearly shine again on Ellington this season. There’s 31 teams out there that know what he’s capable of doing on the football field, and you know what? He’s fine with that attention. He’s ready to handle the load.
“At the end of the day, I gotta go out and do my job,” Ellington said. “That’s to contribute the best way I can to help this team win games.”
At the owners meetings, Arians came out and said Ellington is going to have an expanded role in the offense, as long as his role is implemented “correctly,” meaning mixing up that work load in the backfield and also running routes, whether it be out of the backfield, in the slot or lining up out wide.
In this offense, under Arians and Tom Moore, who knows where they’ll put Ellington.
It seems like a lot to pile onto the second-year back, but Ellington is up for the challenge.
“I’m excited for it, but it’s a lot of work I gotta do out there on the practice field just to show him [Arians] and all the staff that I’m ready to go,” Ellington said.
All in all, the excitement level is overflowing for the Arizona Cardinals. They’re ready to get training camp started, done and the regular season kicked off.
“Every one that you get another opportunity to is more exciting, because you never know if it’s gonna be your last one,” Arians said. “There’s nothing like coming out of that tunnel on Sunday.”