Q: What have you seen you seen from DeAndre Hopkins in his first year with the Cardinals?
BB: Thanks, Mark [Daniels]. I hope you had a good holiday, as well. Yeah, DeAndre is, again, one of the top receivers in the league. He's had tremendous production since he's come into the league, really right there with Julio Jones. Those two guys have been extremely, extremely productive. Hopkins has great hands. He has tremendous ball skills and good length. He has the ability to catch almost everything that's around him, even when he's covered. He's a very savvy route runner. He's smart, very instinctive. It looks like he has some freedom in his route running and he does a good job of using the space that he has to get open, to use his body, to use the leverage, to use the displacement of the defense to get to those open spots or those spots where there are fewer defenders. [Kyler] Murray does a good job of reading that and getting the ball to him. So, he's had a tremendous career and shows no signs of slowing down or being any less productive than what we saw from him in Houston.
Q: What has been your assessment of Cam Newton's recent game management, with only one turnover over the last four games, and has he handled the offense to your liking?
BB: Yeah, thank you. I hope you had a good holiday, as well. Yeah, Cam's taken a lot of personal responsibility and pride in the ball security over the last month of the season – not that he didn't earlier, but just even taking it to a higher level. And he's done a great job protecting the ball. Last week, to have the yardage throwing that he had and not have dangerous throws or contested throws is a real testament to his ability to read the defense and get the ball to the receivers that are open. So, not only to protect the ball, but also to have a lot of production in the passing game. So, he really does a good job seeing the receivers and seeing the field, keeping his eyes downfield and being able to hit those guys. He's done an excellent job of that, as has our entire offense. Really, the backs have done an excellent job and the linemen have protected in a way that there aren't a lot of free runners on the quarterback, that our blitz pick-up has pretty good, the quarterback's had a chance to, for the most part, step up and have a clean opportunity to deliver ball.
Q: What is your messaging to a quarterback, or a player in general, about managing risk in a risk-reward scenario of trying to make big plays? What is it that you try to instill in players in general in regards to weighing risk versus be cautious?
BB: Yeah, that's a great question, and there's certainly a line there and there's a little degree of gray area that if you're so conservative you don't make any plays and if you take all the risks, then eventually you're going to pay the price. So, yeah, it's that gray-area decision making and there's times when you need to take it and there's other times when you certainly don't want to take it and really don't even want to even give it too long of a look. So, I think as we continue to go through our repetitions on offense, specifically in the passing game for the quarterbacks and receivers, that the better our execution is and the better decision making is. So, that's something that we'll continue to work on, but we've certainly seen a variety of coverages and looks that have been challenging from various coordinators and zones, blitz zones, pressures, man pressures, some three-man rush, some five, six, seven-man rushes, as well. So, it's really discipline for the quarterback of working his progression, reading through keys, and discipline with the receivers to run good routes, run them properly, attack leverage, not get undercut, things like that. Because we all know that bad rounds can lead to turnovers quicker than anything. So, it's the coordination and consistency of the passing game from the thrower to the catcher and of course the protection is a big part of that, too.
Q: What was yesterday like in terms of practice inside or outside? What did you do and how did it differ from a regular Thursday, given that it was a holiday and maybe you juggled some things around?
BB: Yeah, Mike [Reiss], it was a pretty normal Thursday for us. We moved things up a little bit. We got a little bit ahead on some things on Wednesday afternoon and then moved Thursday up a little bit and had pretty much of a normal Thursday. We trimmed a little bit of the fat off of practice to finish a little bit earlier, and then today will be a little bit of a longer catch up day on Friday than a normal Friday, so kind of a combination of things there. But, for the most part, it was a pretty normal Thursday with things moved up a little bit.
Q: Over the last 10 years, how have you seen the rookie wage scale, and specifically probably for quarterbacks, change how teams build their rosters? Two years ago, Arizona was verifiably the worst team in the league. Now they are able to build around Kyler Murray and two years later are pushing for the postseason.
BB: It's a great question and it's certainly changed the roster building a lot. Teams that have had young quarterbacks that have been productive have been able to take those resources and put those into other positions on the team and then once the quarterbacks hit their, let's call it, close to market value-type contracts, then that process shifts a little bit in some way, whether it's cap borrowing or just less spending on other positions because you reallocate it to the quarterback. But, that quarterback number is generally such a high number, or if it's a low number, it creates quite a bit of extra spending dollars. It's an important component to the roster building strategy that you just referred to, absolutely.
Q: Does it seem to open a window more immediately? Obviously, it depends on how good that player is, but in the fact that you mentioned it opens up more resources for other positions, but you have that player under contract with a fifth year option for five years at a reasonable rate versus perhaps having to invest that money in years prior where those contracts in the top 10 or whatever were just escalating so much.
BB: Yeah, exactly. I think that's exactly what it's done. It's reallocated and given the money to more established players, because just exactly what you mentioned, when the rookies – regardless of what position it was, but especially the quarterbacks – were essentially taking the same contracts that veteran quarterbacks were taking, that limited the ability of a team to draft a quarterback high and still maintain the opportunity to improve other areas of your team while that player is under a lower contract. So, it's definitely changed the roster building component of it. I mean, the key, obviously, is to have a good player. So, there are some teams that have gone to free agency and put that money, invested that money into a free agent – let's call it, more proven players, more proven level performance – as opposed to the rookies that are less expensive, but with the key being you have a productive player at the quarterback position. That's the goal for every team. However that happens, then you work around it. If it's a young player, it gives you more cap flexibility. If it's a player that's in a full value contract, then you don't have that flexibility with that player unless you were to cap borrow, but that's only a temporary solution.
Q: You said earlier in the week that you had to activate Sony Michel last week to avoid running out the clock. Based on what you've seen from him this week, does it look like he's ready to contribute for you guys?
BB: Yes, he's had a couple of good weeks. I think he'll be ready to go.
Q: Cardinals backup quarterback Chris Streveler is a rookie in the NFL this year. Because there was no preseason this year, and his prior pro experience was in the Canadian League, how extensively do you regularly scout the CFL? In a case like this where you're trying to cover every detail in anticipation that he may play, where do you go to access his film if you want to break down what he's done at a professional level from a passing standpoint?
BB: Right, Bob [Socci], that's a good observation on your part. That's exactly what we have to do. There's a very, very small sample size of him in the National Football League, but there's plenty in Canada. It's a different game. It's interesting to watch them play. In some respects, it's kind of like basketball with everybody running and going towards the line of scrimmage and crisscrossing and all that. It's almost like a hockey rush sometimes. But, still, football is football to a point, and so that's where you see him play. You can see his athleticism, his size and so forth. So, that's our only chance to see him. It's in a – when I say a different offense, I don't think that's really doing it justice. It's quite different, but in terms of evaluating him as an athlete and his throwing mechanics and skill level passing the ball and so forth, that's where you have to find it from.
Q: With guys like him or Taysom Hill in New Orleans who sometimes line up on special teams, do you have to be especially aware of the potential for a fake even if you haven't seen it on film?
BB: Yeah, I think it's just a general awareness that you have to have with players that have those multiple skills. Maybe it's a receiver that played quarterback or, in this case, a quarterback that plays another position. These type players have been in the league for a long time, whether it's like Ray Lucas, who was a quarterback that did other things, or Hill as you mentioned, or a quarterback like [Antwaan] Randall El that's gone to be a receiver, [Julian] Edelman, guys like that. You have to respect their ability to do other things, and not that every play is going to be that, but somewhere along the line, you could get a trick play that involves a player other than the quarterback throwing the ball. I think there's certainly an awareness on that. All good teams talk about it and are aware of it. You probably haven't seen a play before because the other team hasn't shown it, but knowing the player's skills, you certainly want to respect the ability of that player to throw the ball, either on a fake or across the field, and change the direction of the return. So, yeah, we definitely talk about that, and it's not at the top of the list of preparation, but it's an alert that you just want to make sure that you're aware of.
Q: You mentioned that DeAndre Hopkins looks like he has some freedom in how he's able to run his routes. Is that something that you see often from receivers? Is it just that he has multiple options, or can he sort of just change what he's doing on the fly? From the quarter standpoint, how difficult or impressive is it that Murray can kind of change with Hopkins and make productive plays in those situations?
BB: Right, well Phil [Perry], look, I don't mean to say that receivers just go out and run whatever route they feel like, like it's a Thanksgiving Day pickup game. That's not what I'm talking about. But, if you isolate a receiver in a certain position and give them an option route of going inside or outside, or possibly deep if there's no deep field player, then a good receiver will make a good decision on that, take advantage of the leverage and space that's available and get open. If the quarterback's looking at that player, if he's not double-covered or is not out-leveraged on both sides, then he can read that player for the option route and try to get it to him. So, that's kind of how that would work. A lot of times Hopkins is on the backside of a three-by-one formation. So, again, if there's only one defender back there, then they would have the ability, whether it's given Hopkins the option or whether it's the quarterback signaling a route to him – an outside route against inside leverage or inside route against head up leverage, or deep route against press or whatever it happens to be – again, that's relatively easy, as probably every team in the league does that to some degree. So, I don't mean to say here that we've revolutionized the game of football. But, when you have a player like that, you want to take advantage of those kind of situations. I think those are the kind of things that you have in your arsenal, whether it be option routes or whether it be routes that are, let's call it, flexible based on the coverage look, then you have a quarterback like Murray who every play is not a drop-back pass where he stands in the pocket. There's several plays in every game where he's going to extend the play and then the receivers, at that point, break off their routes and either follow some kind of scramble rule or they improvise their routes based on where the defense is displaced on the extension of the play, and the quarterback finds a certain progression on the scramble and finds the open guy. I'm sure a lot of times he looks towards Hopkins because he's got a great feel and savvy for getting open, as does [Larry] Fitzgerald. Those are guys that you want to throw the ball to. They're big targets. They catch it. They can get themselves open and you can put the ball anywhere around them, they're going to come down with it. [Christian] Kirk does that, too. I mean, they all do it. I mean, this is not like they go through many games where Murray doesn't scramble. So, that's a part of their offense. I mean, I think every team does that, even if you don't have a quarterback who's going scramble a lot. But, at some point, it's going to come up. The play is going to get extended and you want the receivers to disperse into the areas that give the quarterback options and possibly create space for him to run, as well. So, again, I don't think we're talking about anything here that's that sensational. It's just good, sound fundamental passing game football that is well executed and combines with some scramble situations, as well. And I'd say Hopkins does a good job. When those situations come up, he does a good job with them, and Murray recognizes them, as well. They are on the same page. They get to that space and he hits them.