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Arians pleased with Cardinals' mental approach
If the Arizona Cardinals learned anything about themselves upon the conclusion of offseason workouts, it is that they are a smarter football team than they were during the 2016 season.
Coach Bruce Arians proclaimed that point following the last day of mandatory mini-camp on Thursday.
"We had great participation," he said. "Guys worked extremely hard. Really couldn't ask anything more of them work-wise. And they're learning to work smarter."
That was the point of emphasis from the very start of the offseason, Arians said. He felt his players didn't produce well enough last season during a disappointing 7-8-1 finish because they weren't playing smart like they had the previous two years combined when they won 24 games and advanced to the playoffs both times.
As a result, more attention to detail was required of the players during film study and individual position meeting-room discussions. Arians for the first time also brought out his famed "accountability board" during this year's round of OTAs as a way of driving mental errors home and correcting them on the spot rather than waiting for that to occur during training camp.
He and his players believe the extra work on staying sharper and more focused this early will only translate into more positive results during the upcoming 2017 season.
"We had plays that we had made in years past that we didn't make," Arians said of this past season. "Whether it be kicks, finishing a game defensively or offensively. (We) had a couple mental errors in critical situations that we hadn't made in the past."
There was a moment early during OTAs while the team was running its two-minute offense that Arians used as a reminder about playing smarter. Though there were multiple breakdowns, he and his coaching staff used it as a useful teaching point.
"The young guys panicked," he said. "When the clock is running, we have a certain play that we go to and (expletive), they lined up all over the place. Those are the types of things that get you beat."
To prevent those situations from occurring as frequently, Arians hung it on his veteran players to help sell the idea of practicing and studying at a smarter level. He has plenty of that kind of players to lean on, too, in men such as defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, 33; linebacker Karlos Dansby, 35; quarterback Carson Palmer, 37; wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, 33; and safety Antoine Bethea, 32.
"Those guys are coaching the crap out of our young guys," Arians said, "and eventually, they'll take their job. But right now, it's getting them ready to win."
Bethea, for one, said it's a part of a veteran's job description. Palmer and Fitzgerald have said the same thing.
"It's being able to be coachable once you get off the field," Rucker said. "When Coach has a pointer, it's not just shrugging your shoulders, thinking about the next opponent and covering something under the rug. It's attacking the little things.
"Being the oldest man in my room, you always take that responsibility to make sure your guys are right. My job is to continue to push them and to answer questions they may not want to ask the coach."
Cardinals rookies will continue to work at the team's training facility for the next two weeks, including safety Budda Baker, the team's second-round pick, who wasn't able to attend most offseason workouts because classes are still in session at Washington.
There were no significant injuries during OTAs, although it was determined that starting inside linebacker Deone Bucannon needed to undergo surgery to repair a lingering ankle issue that could sideline him through much of training camp.
"I thought out veterans really improved," Arians said as the team wrapped up workouts. "Our young guys have a ton of talent and they just have to learn what the heck they're doing."