By HCR Staff | Feb. 21, 2019
The Arizona Cardinals made it very clear when they fired head coach Steve Wilks after one season on the job that they wanted an offensive-minded coach running the show. Forget the fact that other teams with head coach vacancies were all looking for the next Sean McVay. The Cardinals know they must face the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive genius twice a year. So they took a chance on a passing-game guru from the college football world, Kliff Kingsbury.
What can we expect from Kingsbury? Last week in The Athletic, Ted Nguyen wrote an excellent, in-depth piece about how Kingsbury might adapt the Air Raid offense to the NFL. One of the points made was that Kingsbury might utilize the tight end position more than traditional Air Raid offenses do in college. On Tuesday, the Cardinals’ first offensive addition since Kingsbury came on board seems to back that premise.
The Cardinals have reportedly signed veteran tight end Charles Clay, who had been released after four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Clay had 21 receptions in 13 games for the Bills in 2018, but in the previous five seasons, he never had fewer than 49 receptions in a season. Clay joins a tight end group in Arizona that includes veteran Jermaine Gresham and Ricky Seals-Jones.
In addition to the idea that Kingsbury might use his tight ends more, some other takeaways from Nguyen’s story in The Athletic:
• Kingsbury will make adjustments. The story explains that the Air Raid offense is more about preparation and execution than creativity. Kingsbury learned the system under the tutelage of his coach, Mike Leach, currently the head coach at Washington State. Here’s a quote in the story from Drew Hollingshead, Leach’s offensive quality control coach at Washington State:
“It’s the simplicity. We don’t have a ton of concepts. But we believe in being able to rep everything we do, every single day and being better at running it than the defense is at stopping it.”
That said, Nguyen’s story also implies that Kingsbury has learned from his brief NFL experience – particularly his 2003 rookie season as a backup quarterback with the New England Patriots – and will tweak his game plan based on the specific strengths and weaknesses of the defense he’s playing each week. This is divergent from Leach’s philosophy, but it will certainly be necessary in the NFL.
• Kingsbury made smart coaching hires. It’s no secret that Kingsbury will be calling the offensive plays, so he didn’t hire an offensive coordinator. But he did bring in veteran offensive coach Tom Clements as his passing game coordinator. While he may not have the title of offensive coordinator, Clements has been an NFL OC (most recently under Mike McCarthy with the Packers), and he can help Kingsbury integrate staples of the West Coast offense. Another big addition is the hiring of well-respected offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who could play a key role in developing the run game.
• Speaking of the running game, watch out for David Johnson – though he might be used more as a pass-catcher than a running back. The Air Raid scheme will prevent defenses from keying on Johnson, thus he should get more opportunities in space. Regardless of how the Cardinals fare in 2019, it’s a safe bet Johnson could return to his perch among the most valuable weapons in fantasy football.