Want to see excitement? Watch fans sprint down the steps at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday afternoon to see the first open practice of Cardinals 2018 training camp.
Players feel it, too.
“This is the time, you know,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said Saturday. “Everybody’s really excited about getting going.”
Sam Bradford and David Johnson are eager to get back on the field. Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones are ready to make plays in a new system. Deone Bucannon is ready to hit somebody. Brice Butler, meanwhile, cut right to it. The thing he’s looking forward to most this year is “winning games.”
They all are, starting with first-year coach Steve Wilks and his staff, and if attitude and energy count for anything, the Cardinals have a shot to surprise people. The disappointments of the 8-8 finish last year or the 7-8-1 record of two years ago don’t hover over this group. Neither do the low expectations delivered by Vegas oddsmakers. Around here, it’s all optimism and excitement, and in a lot of ways, it goes beyond the typical start-of-training-camp stuff everybody feels this time of year.
“This will be my sixth training camp,” Butler said. “But this is my first training camp with the Cardinals. So, it is new. New journey. New coaches. New staff. New facilities. New buildings. New teammates. It’ll be exciting, man. Can’t wait.”
For Butler, it’s also a shot to establish himself as a consistent deep threat after years of glimmers.
“I didn’t come here to sit on the bench,” he said, adding, “If I assume the second receiver role, it’s not just going to be (catching deep passes), but it’s something that the quarterbacks know I’ll be able to do.”
‘Get that feeling again’
This camp means more to Johnson, as well, after being injured last year.
“I’ve been trying to bounce back from last year with the wrist,” he said Friday. “And I want to come out and prove to everyone that I’m 100 percent and that I’m better than 2016.”
The all-purpose running back is ready to have an impact, and he doesn’t seem to care how.
“I just like to be on the field,” he said, “no matter if it’s running the ball or catching the ball.”
Bradford missed most of last season, too. He’s had an injury-riddled career, and he’s not taking anything for granted.
“Any time you put the work into your offseason, through training camp, and then something happens during the season, and the opportunity to go out there and play on Sundays is taken away from you, you just realize how much you enjoy it, how special it is to be out there and to play the game,” he said. “It’s really why I do this, why I continue to come back. It’s to be out there on Sundays and be out there with my guys and play football again.”
The Cardinals’ No. 1 quarterback said he wants “just to get that feeling again. Running out there on the field on Sundays. Playing the game. I think that’s what I’m most excited about.”
‘Eager to play’
The enthusiasm isn’t confined to the offense.
“You always want to put your best foot forward,” Peterson said. “But when you have a new crew coming in here, you definitely want to give your best. Show them what you can do so they can be able to gain that trust in you. Having a new staff, guys eager to play, juiced up, it’s definitely a different feel this year in this training camp.”
The perennial Pro Bowl cornerback said the newly installed 4-3 defense “fits our skill set” and will “allow guys to flourish even more.”
At the head of that list is Jones.
“There’s a lot of anticipation about us having a new defense, a new coach and all that,” he said. “I’d just love to see us all jell together, so I’m excited about all that.”
He and his fellow defensive linemen want to increase their production.
“I’m a selfish guy when it comes to ‘team,’ ” Jones said. “And when I say ‘team,’ I mean ‘defense.’ I want the defense to run the team. It doesn’t always happen like that, some certain games the offense might carry the defense. I just want the defense to be dominant. I want to have a top defense.”
Bucannon has something specific in mind: “I’m really looking forward to just making plays and seeing everybody else make plays. That’s my favorite thing about football, is that after you make a play, how everybody rallies around, that one moment, it’s just kind of indescribable. Everybody’s around you, hitting your helmet … just genuine happiness within that moment. It’s hard to find that in life.”
Peters is on the same page. After camp gets going, “soreness and all of that stuff kicks in, but we’re blessed to be here. We’re always thankful for another opportunity to go out there and play football.”