The 5 Biggest Takeaways from Arizona Cardinals Rookie Minicamp
Over the weekend, 35 Arizona Cardinals rookies and inexperienced second-year players took part in a rookie minicamp, and five main things stood out from the five practices in three days.
While it will take longer to know for certain if the team’s draft picks will pan out, it was a good start for the majority of them—and for an undrafted player or two.
Coaches were impressed with what they saw from the rookies, despite them only being in shorts and helmets. But how they perform in NFL Combine-like conditions in May and how they look Sundays this fall are two very different things, so do not get overly excited if you hear or read praise of players.
They still have a lot of proving and learning to do before being game-ready players.
Tyrann Mathieu Ready for War
After more than a year since his last live football game—the National Championship Game while at LSU against arch-rival Alabama—Tyrann Mathieu is ready to hit someone.
The only problem being, of course, that with just helmets and practice jerseys on, he can do no such thing yet.
Mathieu is active on Twitter, and he routinely uses that forum to give fans insight into what he is feeling, what he is doing and other random goodies.
It was to be expected, perhaps, because of his long layoff from on-field work. But Mathieu said Sunday morning he is ready for war.
I got my mind right, ready For war! Working HARD today for a BETTER tomorrow— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) May 12, 2013
War is just a short time away. Hold steady, Tyrann.
Jonathan Cooper and Line Versatility
It may not mean much in May, or it may mean everything.
The thing about these minicamps that people fail to realize is this: Where a young player plays in May does not mean that is where he will play on Sundays months from now.
That said, rookie offensive guard Jonathan Cooper played at left guard his first day on the job while fourth-round pick, guard Earl Watford, manned the right side.
With so many players who can play multiple positions along the line, it gives Arians and offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin options when determining a starting front five.
Just because Daryn Colledge has been a left guard the majority of his career does not mean he cannot switch to right guard. Does Cooper playing left guard at rookie minicamp mean he is the starter there in September? No.
But options are good to have—especially when so many new players are coming in.
Hungry Running Backs
You have to want it in this league. Without the drive to make it happen, a player will be washed out in no time flat.
For Arizona’s running backs, they all must prove they have the drive and will to compete for playing time, lest they be passed up on the depth chart.
The situation is familiar to Rashard Mendenhall, who went through the same thing in Pittsburgh for years. He did not last long in the Steel City after ACL surgery.
This is a big year for Mendenhall, an even bigger year for Ryan Williams and the start of a career for rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington.
Taylor knows it’s not where you’re drafted, but what you do after being drafted, as he told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
Value will be more on protecting the quarterback, so there will be offensive line and guys like that (drafted in front of running backs). It shouldn’t matter [where you are drafted] because once you get here, you just play and compete. You’re working for that second contract too. […] It doesn’t matter where you are picked.
Taylor is at a disadvantage, however. Due to Stanford using the quarters system for classes, he must stay away from full-team football activities until he has officially graduated.
Arians had this to say of the situation (via AZCardinals.com):
This is a big weekend for him because he can’t come back until training camp [in July]. But he showed exactly what I thought he had—Andrew Luck’s been telling me about him for a year and a half now, and he didn’t disappoint at all.
Arians Pleased with Rookies
There was no grace period for incoming rookies at minicamp over the weekend.
Players were given new offensive and defensive schemes chock full of new terminology they were expected to know by the time their first practice began.
They did well, according to Arians (via Kent Somers of AZCentral.com):
They heard a whole new offense and defense this morning. I was really pleased with the execution. It looked like they were in very good condition. […] We really haven’t slowed it down as coaches. We’ve thrown it at them just like we did with veterans at the first minicamp.
Arians is aware of the false hope unpadded minicamps can bring, so he had to curb his enthusiasm when speaking of how the rookies looked:
Until you put them under the lights and battle-test them in the preseason, you don’t really know about them. I’ve had many, many guys that lit it up on the practice field and when you turned the lights on, they slowed to half speed.
Take it all in stride, the way these rookies play during minicamp. They may look like future All-Pros at their positions now, but wait until real games are played to pass judgment on them.
Prove It While You’re Here
No one cares when you were drafted. No one cares if you were not drafted at all.
All that matters is that you show up and work for it like everyone else.
Just because you were the No. 7 overall pick does not mean you are guaranteed a starting spot.
And just because you went undrafted does not mean you are relegated to hoping a veteran goes down with an injury so you can have a shot. Go out and earn it.
Arians said he likes the amount of talent the team added via undrafted free agency.
We’ve got some really talented guys that we liked and had good grades on that didn’t get drafted. We’re excited about adding them to the mix.
The best of those players—NT Padric Scott, S Tony Jefferson—have a real shot at making the 53-man roster. Whether for the ability to stuff the run (Scott) or to defend the pass from sideline to sideline (Jefferson), they each bring an element to the team Arians likes.
But without putting in the work, they will not make it. They know that.
It doesn’t matter how you get here, it’s what you do while you’re here. —Bruce Arians