Cards' rookies learn lingo
By Darren Urban, Tribune
The terms are uttered quickly, phrases like “Pop 606” and “Big 8” and “I-Right 20 Option,” and Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan looks at his rookie receivers often to make sure they are paying attention.
He implores the five players in the room — draft picks Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin, along with undrafted free agents Lawrence Hamilton, Reggie Newhouse and Antwone Savage — to take notes.
“When I look in your eyes,” Sullivan says, “I don’t want to see the back of your head.”
The rookies are broken into position meetings at this point of the morning session on Wednesday. The offense and defense each had group meetings earlier in the morning. Soon, the players will practice for a little more than an hour before returning to the classrooms.
This is the lone week the Cardinals’ rookies are by themselves to learn the system, at a pace slower than normal. This week is all teaching: terminology, the playbook, technique. To take in a cross section of one day’s worth of meetings gives an understanding of the learning curve for an NFL rookie.
“I don’t think people realize the full extent of what being a football player is,” Boldin would say later.
When the defense gathers a little before 9 a.m., the players and defensive assistants first break down the film of the previous day’s practice. Defensive coordinator Larry Marmie winds the film back and forth to show each play.
Linebackers and safeties pipe up, yelling out their defensive calls as if they were actually on the field. As the play runs — the coaching staff has already watched the tape multiple times, coordinating the points they want to make — and Marmie talks, the position coaches also are talking to their players, creating a chaotic murmur around the room.
Defensive end Calvin Pace has assistant defensive line coach Cary Godette chirping in his ear constantly as Marmie breaks down his unit’s Chief defense against the offense’s Blue I Right F Box formation.
“Sometimes you as a player think, ‘That (mistake) wasn’t that bad,’ ” Pace says later. “But at this level you find out quick, bad stuff will do you in.”
Marmie follows the film breakdown with an installation of that day’s plays, beginning this day with the “1 Y” out of an “Under” front. The safeties are in Cover One. The Y-side linebacker blitzes. And there is always a possibility of a “Bingo,” one of the calls made when defenders have to switch men.
“You have got to learn the language fast,” head coach Dave McGinnis emphasizes later on.
By this time, the offense has broken down into positions. Sullivan preaches about a play and backs it up with video tapes of the plays run correctly, nostalgic shots from Sullivan’s days with Detroit and San Diego sprinkled among other shots Sullivan has collected over the years.
He mostly directs his comments to Johnson and Boldin, the first- and second-round draft picks forced to play a big part in the Cardinals’ inexperienced receiving corps. “I tell them, ‘You don’t think when (Lions receiver) Johnnie Morton came outta his mama and they slapped him on the (behind), he knew how to run a comeback route,’ ” Sullivan says after practice.
Meanwhile, linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald spends 10 minutes telling Tony Gilbert and Gerald Hayes the intimate details of subtle footwork cheating so a linebacker doesn’t give away he is about to blitz. Everyone breaks about 10:30 a.m. to get ready for practice. Once on the field, Marmie corrects the misaligned defense on their first walkthrough attempt at the “1 Y” call.
Practice ends about noon. After lunch and weightlifting, the rookies will hang around until around 5 p.m. working on other details, such as their footwork from the practice. They have two more days of work before the vets come in and take away repetitions and the coaches’ attention.
There is so much more to learn.
“If you don’t learn it,” McGinnis said, “you won’t make it.”