GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
That’s been the case with the Arizona Cardinals since they returned from an extended offseason break due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the Cardinals took the field Wednesday at State Farm Stadium for the start of training camp in earnest, they were one of five teams in the NFL who had not put any players on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list, along with the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Chargers.
But that distinction could change at any moment, and the team knows it can’t get too comfortable.
“I think we all need to keep that feeling of uneasiness,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think that it keeps us prepared and taking the proper precautions and never really letting up because it’s going to be a constant battle to stay COVID free as an organization, really.
“And so, I expect there always to be kind of that underlying thought, ‘Hey fellas, even though we’ve done well this far, we’ve got to stay on top of it.’ And that’s everybody in this country, in this world right now.”
Kingsbury didn’t have a detailed answer as to how the Cardinals have managed to keep their players off the reserve list, which includes players who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone infected (the NFL doesn’t identify which category the player falls into when they are placed on the list).
He called it “good fortune.”
Linebacker Devon Kennard called it “luck, to be honest.”
“Our protocols are great, and it’s up to us to keep it that way,” Kennard said.
At their first camp practice open to the media on Wednesday, every coach had a mask. Players did not while they had their helmets on, but they’ve already been subjected to a slew of protocols and precautions.
Before Arizona moved to the stadium for camp, they spent three and a half weeks at their facility in Tempe, Arizona, where first the rookies and then the veterans did their ramp up. At the facility, the Cardinals installed thermal cameras to measure temperatures as players walked through them and used electrostatic spray guns to clean equipment. Everyone has a contact tracer that beeps when wearers get too close. The tracer can also provide a list of who the wearer had been close contact with for more than 10 minutes should a positive case be found. At the stadium the team has installed plexiglass at lockers, an open locker between those lockers and the staggering of position groups throughout the locker room instead of positions being clumped together.
“We staggered those positions just to make sure if there was some sort of outbreak that occurred you don’t just wipe out an entire position group,” Kingsbury said. “We tried to spread guys out as best we could to make sure that the no position group could be compromised entirely.”
COVID-19 tests are given before anyone is allowed into the dining area. It takes 2 to 5 minutes, Kirk said, and isn’t the nose swab that goes far up the nasal cavity, Kennard added.
“I was sweating bullets worried about that’s how the tests were going to be, and I got to do that every day, so it’s just a little bit into your nose, it just tickles,” he said. “It’s kind of like irritating. They do it for 15 seconds in each nostril. It’s not it’s not a big deal once you get used to the protocols. It just is what it is. You get in a rhythm and a habit.”
The Cardinals’ commitment to following the protocols has been driven by the idea that whichever team handles the COVID-19 testing and protocols the best will be the most successful this season, Kirk said.
“It says a lot about the character in the locker room and the guys that we have on this team,” Kirk said. “The maturity level is very high. When you look on our roster, just the type of guys we have and everybody just buying in because we all want to play football, and that’s been the main goal for us and we know the talent that we have on our team. And we know what we can do if we are able to optimize it and come together.”
It’s not easy for those players who are away from their families, rookie defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence said. Players want to be around them but, he said, at the same they have to do what’s best for themselves, and that’s “focusing on the task at hand.”
Kingsbury is a realist. Sure, he’d like, as would his players, a season without a single positive test or exposure. But Kingsbury doesn’t expect the Cardinals to go an entire season without either.
“We understand,” he said, “we’re going to have our issues with that and that’s just part of the climate that we’re in right now as a world.”