Cardinals right tackle Kelvin Beachum has been as positive as possible navigating a season that will finish in California Sunday with a game against the 49ers.
He was awarded the Steve Schoenfeld Good Guy Award Wednesday by the local chapter of the PFWA (Professional Football Writers of America) for being a consistent stand-up guy throughout the season.
But even Beachum had to acknowledge the long, strange trip this season has been when he met with the media and described it as being “treacherous.”
The dictionary definition of treacherous is “hazardous because of presenting hidden or unpredictable dangers.”
That says it all.
Beachum began listing a few of the things that happened since last February, then throughout the season and barely scratched the surface before saying it was “a whirlwind and that’s just the start of it.” One of the items he mentioned was “hold-ins that were happening in training camp,” which many people believed but never actually knew was behind the training camp absences of tackle D.J. Humphries and linebacker Markus Golden while they were seeking new contracts.
Humphries’ stomach bug and Golden’s toe injury miraculously went away after the contract agreements were reached.
After saying that, it was pointed out to Beachum that it revealed why he won the award because it was the first admission that those “hold-ins” existed.
Beachum and the media room exploded in laughter, and Beachum quickly joked, “I probably wasn’t supposed to say that” and that comment was followed by more laughter.
But, on a serious note, he also said, “All in all we learned a lot about each other. We learned how to grow with each other and we found out a lot about each other. And at the end of the day, this will be the last time this particular group is together this Sunday. That’s just the nature of the National Football League.”
His plan is to continue playing, but has no idea where it will be or what will be the plan for the Cardinals.
The elephant in the room is that no one except owner Michael Bidwill knows what he will do following the game Sunday.
General manager Steve Keim is on medical leave for an undetermined length of time, which has led to rampant speculation about his future with the team.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury has commented frequently about evaluating players for next year, which is the only approach a coach can take even if his job might be in jeopardy.
Asked this week about conversations he’s had with Bidwill recently, Kingsbury said, “We talk every day, so we’ve had a great relationship. It’s just business as usual trying to win games. That’s the only thing we talk about is what’s the roster looking like, who’s playing, who’s not, and how does it look this week.”
While the 2023 season surely is in the back of everyone’s mind, there is a game to be played Sunday.
“I focus on that I’m the head coach today and we’re trying to get better,” Kingsbury said while highlighting the improvement of rookie tight end Trey McBride. “I think when you have guys like Trey McBride, you see that type of progress and you see what he could be moving forward. That’s what you try to focus on and try to put all your energies toward and say, ‘How can we keep him going the right direction going into next year?'”
With David Blough starting for the second straight time this week and Colt McCoy being shut down for the season, Kingsbury’s focus is admittedly on what that room will look like with it unknown when Kyler Murray will be available to play. Murray underwent surgery in Dallas Tuesday (Jan. 3).
Dr. David Chao told gophnx.com that while Murray might be healthy ready to play by October, “Kyler might not be Kyler” possibly until halfway through the season, considering that his legs and ability to run are a major part of his game.
Kingsbury said “basically shutting (McCoy) down for the season” is because “we need him next year, particularly with the situation we have currently with Kyler, so we’ll let David have at it and see how it goes.
“Last week, he didn’t get the full process. He just really practiced Friday, so I want to see what he can do (with) the full process and see kind of how he plays against a really good defense.”
While again talking about next year, Kingsbury claimed there haven’t been substantive talks yet about the quarterback group.
“We know that’s coming,” he said. “That’s a discussion that’ll have to be had and there’ll be some options on the table, but we have not gone over that.”
It all makes everyone wonder what will happen next week. Will Kingsbury be given a pass because of so many things that happened beyond his control? Other teams like the Rams and Titans that were expected to be better than the Cardinals have also fallen on hard times largely because of an inordinate number of injuries.
Against the Falcons, the Cardinals had eight projected starters on the field with only three on offense. No matter how many efforts are made to build roster depth, starting 14 backups is not a recipe for success.
Yet, the Cardinals lost on a last-second field goal playing with their fourth different quarterback in four weeks and Blough was coached to play with one day of practice and after being with the team for two-plus weeks.
Outside noise always points the finger at coaching, but Sunday’s game was notable when defensive end J.J. Watt, playing in the penultimate game of his career, apologized to the team afterward for being out of his gap on a 22-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson in the game-winning drive and then got over-aggressive trying to make up it and was flagged for being in the neutral zone.
Those miscues, even from Hall-of-Fame caliber players, happen more than people realize, and can be game changing. Yet, somehow those execution issues are overlooked and in the minds of many it’s always a coaching problem or poor culture.
After all, the offensive issues with the Cardinals apparently have nothing to do with personnel on the field, including having a myriad of offensive line combinations that affects chemistry and makes overall efficiency extremely difficult. Or “treacherous” as Beachum would say.
It’s all Kingsbury’s fault, even though, as one example, DeAndre Hopkins, Hollywood Brown and Rondale Brown have not even played one game together the entire season.
Some of that is surely because many believe Kingsbury never should have been hired for the job.
Those voices can be notably loud and can lead an owner to make a business decision because he believes the status quo will be reflected at the ticket office when in reality the number of vocal critics is probably a small percentage of the fan base.
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh talked to the media about the blame game this week when asked about the future of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur with the team struggling on offense.
Saleh said, “It’s not fair to try to pinpoint one person just to make people feel good about giving a reason why something’s failing.” He noted the numerous people involved in an offense and then reflected on his time with the 49ers as defensive coordinator under coach Kyle Shanahan.
“Yeah, I’ve been in LaFleur’s shoes,” Saleh continued. “I told you guys the story. In 2018, second year as a coordinator on defense, and it would’ve been very easy for Kyle to fire me — very easy just to say, ‘You know what, we went 4-12. You’re the scapegoat. Get the heck out of the building,’ but to his credit, he sat down. He committed to me, and the rest is history. You got to have the discipline to be able to go back and make sure you’re telling the truth about what’s happening in the building and not coming away with knee-jerk reactions that could derail what could be a pretty damn good football coach or a good player for that matter.”
I’m always reminded of the words of Hall-of-Fame coach Dick Vermeil, whose Rams teams won five and four games in his first two seasons with the team and the outside noise was insisting the game had passed him by.
The next offseason, the Rams traded for running back Marshall Faulk, signed guard Adam Timmerman and quarterback Trent Green as a free agent and selected wide receiver Torry Holt in the first round of the draft.
Green ended up blowing out his knee, but a Rams executive told me Green was the best addition because he gave the team hope and helped Kurt Warner.
In addition, the Rams had one starter on offense miss two games and one on defense miss seven the entire season and they won the Super Bowl.
To which Vermeil said, “I became a better coach when I had better and healthy players.”
That’s the way it will always be.
As Beachum concluded, when asked how the coaches have dealt with this unusual season, “I think they’ve handled it really well. The injuries. The poor execution on our part. But they’ve owned it when they’ve put us in bad situations; they’ve owned it as well. I think they did a really good job of handling and trying to manage everything that’s happened this year. By no means should this be normal, but this has been the year that we’ve had. And the coaches, Kliff and Coach (Vance) Joseph have done a phenomenal job of just trying to find ways to still keep us upright in spite of everything that’s happened this year.”
As for culture, the popular buzzword that has been bandied about throughout the season, Joseph had an important perspective when holding his final media conference of the season Thursday.
“The culture is driven through your players,” Joseph said. “Coaches say the same thing all around the country about work hard, do things right, eat right and go to sleep. But players push the culture and having J.J. here the last two years should help push the culture moving forward.”
Finally, Joseph was candidly asked about owners going through the decision-making process of moving on from coaches when some do it during the season. While saying every team is different, Joseph then morphed into what the thinking should be and what he feels about the current state of affairs.
“Sometimes you’re not winning, but the product’s right,” he said. “You watch the guys play and no one’s quitting. No one’s not following protocol. That’s what owners are looking for. The football part can be fixed. Obviously, injuries can be fixed with healthier players next year. But the culture; if that breaks down, as a coach, that can be your demise.
“Here, that hasn’t happened. The guys are playing hard, they love playing for Coach. He hasn’t changed one bit from last year winning, to this year not winning. He’s been the same guy every day. And the players respect that.”
Your move, Michael.
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