Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon wants to build around ‘elite’ QB Kyler Murray in Arizona


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A new era has begun in Arizona, and it doesn’t take much to see it was long overdue.

Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill spoke with a reinvigorated tone on Thursday when explaining why he believed new head coach Jonathan Gannon was the right person for the job.

“I think he came in with a vision and plan,” Bidwill said of Gannon at the new coach’s introductory news conference. “The vision aligned with where we want to be about getting back to the top of the NFC West and competing in January and competing to get to the Super Bowl and win it. So that’s No. 1 with a vision.

“His plan, he outlined, some of which he’ll get into today, some of which we’re not gonna get into, but I’m excited about it. It’s the view that he had of our elite quarterback and getting him back to being the playmaker that he is and making sure we build around him and put our players in positions, especially Kyler (Murray), as our quarterback to really get after it. I was excited about what his plan is and how he outlined it.”

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The vision differs from that of former coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim, a pairing that brought in Murray and positioned the Cardinals to contend, but failed to execute, especially on the offensive side of the ball in 2022. With Gannon and new GM Monti Ossenfort now in charge, the Cardinals aim to change that by building around Murray, who Gannon knows from previous experience can be a game-changing player for Arizona — if deployed properly, with the help of a defensive mind.

“Obviously played against Kyler this year, and it was a unique game plan to put together because of his skillset. I use the term ‘he’s a problem’ to defend because of what he can do,” Gannon said. “He’s a legit problem for defenses. He has a very unique skillset. That’s what I’m looking forward to working with him and showing him, ‘Hey, this is how defenses are going to try to stop you, and here’s what you need to be ready for.’ These are the things that we’re going to do with him that’s gonna help him move all the way up and down the field and score a bunch of points, and be explosive and protect the football.

“With the offseason, we’ll put together a plan. I like some people that are here already, but like I said with Monti, when we disagreed with something in the interview, we did not disagree on this: We’re going to do everything that we can to put the best product on the field.”

Gannon differs from Kingsbury significantly. The new coach arrives from a defensive background, and, as he said, Gannon sees that as an advantage he can use to help Murray take the next steps in his development, which should improve Arizona’s offense as a whole. Gannon’s plan, though, will also require an offensive mind suited to capitalize on Murray’s skillset.

“Yeah. That’s step one,” Gannon said of identifying and hiring an offensive coordinator. “We’re starting to look at some different candidates and looking at interviewing some people here in the next 48 hours, but I have a very specific vision of how I want to play on offense and the person that comes in here to run the offense is gonna understand that everything that we do will be structured around the quarterback position to maximize his skillset and we have an elite one. We also have some elite players at different positions already on the roster that I am very excited to work with and that’s what we’re going to do.

“But just as an overall general philosophy of being adaptable, we’re going to maximize Kyler’s skillset. We’re going to be adaptable. We’re going to generate explosives. We’re going to protect the football and be situationally smart and we know that when you hear me talk about explosives and takeaways, we know those are winning stats and that’s all three phases: Offense, defense, special teams. That’s what we will preach and that’s what we’re going to practice and that’s what the players will be educated on and that’s how we’re going to play. So if you do those things, you’ll be in the playoffs.”

On Thursday, the Cardinals requested to interview Browns quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing and Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas for their offensive coordinator job, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source.

Arizona reached the playoffs in 2021, but by the time the postseason arrived, the Cardinals were traveling with a flat tire. Their Super Wild Card Weekend washout against the Rams and ensuing disappointment of a 2022 season convinced Bidwill a change was necessary, prompting him to hire a new power duo of Ossenfort and Gannon.

The latter has a good example of the type of coordinator he might want for his team: former fellow Eagles assistant and new Colts coach Shane Steichen, whom Gannon referred to Thursday as “a baller.”

He can’t hire Steichen, but he can refer to the way his fellow coordinator maximized the talents of another young star in Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

“The quarterback is the closest thing you have on the field to a coach. Between, (Eagles coach) Nick (Sirianni), Shane and (Eagles quarterbacks coach) Brian Johnson, Jalen understood that,” Gannon said. “I think they did a really good job with him of making Jalen understand the why and how to play fast and efficient and problem-solving on his feet. We didn’t script a lot of practices, guys. Like, everyone has carded periods and scripted things where people know what’s coming — our head coach did not do that and it was because of the quarterback.

“He says, ‘Well, we don’t know how people are going to play us, so you know what we’re gonna do to Jalen in practice? We’re going to give him all kinds of looks where he has no idea what’s going on and he’s got to be able to function.’ And that’s how they really improved his game. I look forward to doing that with our game. My viewpoint of, how you have to defend him and what people are going to try to do, defend him the right way, he’ll have a very specific vision of how teams are going to try to play him and how we can do to counter-balance that.”

While Gannon works to find an appropriate choice for offensive coordinator, Murray is in the early stages of knee rehabilitation following a season-ending ACL tear suffered late in the 2022 season. The process will likely prevent Murray from getting offseason reps with his new coach and coordinator, and Gannon knows he’ll need to have options beyond Murray, just in case.

Having said that, the long-term plan remains centered around Murray, just as it should for any team with a player it believes is a franchise quarterback.

“We definitely have to have a couple trigger guys ready to go until he gets ready to play because I’m not going to rush it,” Gannon said during a Thursday interview on NFL Network. “We always do the best things for our player’s health — always here — and that will be new. When he’s ready to get out here and play, he’ll play, but we’ll look at all the different avenues that we have from the personnel standpoint to try and build out the roster — not just at the quarterback position — to try to build out the roster the best we can to put a competitive team on the field and win football games. When he’s ready to come back, he’ll be ready to go.”

Training camp is still roughly five months away, but the work begins now for Gannon.

Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon wants to build around ‘elite’ QB Kyler Murray in Arizona

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