By all measures and accounts, Thursday afternoon was the first real practice day for the Arizona Cardinals in their 2011 NFL training camp. It was the first time the entire team was eligible to take the field with the addition of 24 veteran free agents who had to wait on the sidelines all week for the CBA to be finally and fully ratified.
From starting quarterback Kevin Kolb to punter Ben Graham, this was the beginning and the players knew it with Kolb reporting even team veterans having butterflies before practice.
"Obviously, there was something different in the air," Kolb said after practice ended.
He, like other players we spoke to, reported rust and a lot of work to be done. He also said things got progressively better as the day went on.
While the precise execution might not have been there, Kolb was pleased with the improvisational skills he saw from both himself and his receivers.
"Our better plays today were instinctive plays where I'm not thinking too much. I'm not worried too much about protection and you just go back to playing. That's the stuff you're always afraid you're going to lose...A lot of plays today where we were just playing ball. When you see that going on you know that when a play breaks down we can make some big ones."
Kolb had his first chance to see Larry Fitzgerald make a spectacular play on one of his passes. During a one-on-one drill, Kolb lobbed a ball up to a well-covered Fitz who made a fantastic one-handed grab, "He's special..I feel like he's one of those guys out there I can just chunk it up to him. That's a nice security blanket to have."
The offense overall kicked the defense in the teeth. The practice ended with a goal line stance drill with the two sides lined up against each other on the one-yard line. Pads were popping.
On the first play, Kolb and Beanie Wells missed the exchange on a handoff. Fumble.
From there both the first team offense led by Kolb and then the second team led by John Skelton scored multiple times without being stopped. Kolb made one completion to the tight end but the other plays were straight forward power football with runs by both Wells and rookie Ryan Williams.
Even defensive coordinator Ray Horton admitted that his unit got whooped.
"Offense was outstanding today. You know something, I'm happy for our offense because the more points they score the more we win," Horton said tactfully. But he's not satisfied at all, "We better have an edge (next time) and some meanness and some nastiness."
It was a very intense practice as well with at least two skirmishes between offensive and defensive players.
It's nothing to worry about according to newly acquired inside linebacker, Stewart Bradley, "That's good. I think that you have to have a little bit of aggression in camp or it's no fun. We're all competitive people out here so have an outlet for that. Push and shoving, everyone's still friends at the end of the day."
Several players reported being winded after the intense high-altitude workout. "Football shape is not the same as being in shape," was a common refrain.
Big Deuce Lutui, who stood out on the goal line as a beast on the offensive line, was still catching his breadth when he told us how he's feeling about the team, "It's just improved scale of football and the talent we have for this team. I think we're going to see everybody getting better and do better than last year."
The Cardinals will be back at it on Friday and then Saturday at 11:35 to 1:20 is the Red and White practice. It's schedule for the outdoor fields at NAU, but could be moved into the Skydome if the weather is bad. Unfortunately, due to construction this year, the Skydome isn't open to the public, so pray for good weather.
From 10:45 to 11:10 am there will be an autograph session for kids under the age of 12. Because of time limitations, there will be a one item per child limit and no posed photos will be permitted. Gates for the autograph session will open at 9:45 a.m. and a specified number of people will be then allowed to start lining up in the player lines. Arrive early if you plan on attending this. Big crowds are expected.
For more on the Cardinals, check out Revenge of the Birds.