Cards on Kliff Kingsbury: Wanted to hire O play-caller

The Arizona Cardinals wanted an offensive mind, that much was clear with the hiring of first-time NFL coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said Wednesday that the team targeted an offensive play-caller after firing defensive-minded Steve Wilks following one season.

"I look at today's NFL, you look at the college game, especially over the last several years, has come into the pro game," Bidwill said. "When you look at the output of (Kingsbury's) offense, both when he was a coordinator in college and as a head coach, it's really impressive the amount of points he puts up, where he positioned his offense, and you look at the six quarterbacks that he tutored and coached that have come into the National Football League, including two Heisman winners.

"We've got a young quarterback that everybody knows, that will be an area of emphasis, but offense overall is the direction that this league has gone. We felt it was important to get an offensive play-caller, somebody who had tremendous success and experience doing that, and having the head coaching experience. There's a lot to that job, even to the college level, maybe even more so with the amount of recruiting and the focus on academics. So, he's done that. And we look forward to having him install his offense and get the best out of our offense and start competing."

Kingsbury's main priority will be buffering young quarterback Josh Rosen, who struggled through his first season.

"Josh Rosen is incredibly talented, one of the most talented throwers you'll see," Kingsbury said. "A young player obviously that I'm excited to work with and develop. But as a pure thrower, it's hard to find a guy that throws it better."

The Cardinals' offense in 2018 made life miserable on the rookie signal-caller. The woeful offensive line got its quarterback battered and the scheme did Rosen no favors. According to Next Gen Stats, Josh Rosen was pressured on 37.2 percent of dropbacks this season (second-highest in NFL) -- Rosen was sacked on 10.3 percent of dropbacks this season (fifth-highest in NFL). On the season, Rosen rarely had open receivers, throwing into tight windows on 21.6 percent of his passes this season (highest in the NFL) and his five INTs on tight window throws this season was tied for fourth-most, per Next Gen Stats.

Kingsbury enters with the mandate of building a scheme to aid Rosen and help get him to the next level as a passer. The former Texas Tech coach garnered rave praise for his work with quarterbacks at the college-level, which included Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Johnny Manziel, Davis Webb and Case Keenum.

"I think it was an important piece of the puzzle. It is a quarterback-driven league," general manager Steve Keim said. "There's no doubt through my research, you look at the young quarterbacks in the National Football League, I think there's five of them with three years or less that are having success, and all of those guys are coached by offensive play-callers. And a few of those guys were actually not the primary play-callers prior to their head coaching experience. So there's no doubt that's where the trend is going. So that was just a piece of the puzzle. But to take it a step further, the fact that I've seen Kliff on the grass, I've seen him coach up close and personal at Texas Tech. He's helped a lot of young quarterbacks, not only developed them but identified them through the recruiting process -- to me was certainly a plus."

After being fired from Texas Tech after a 35-40 record, Kingsbury understands there is skepticism making the leap to the NFL.

"There is nothing I can say today that is going to change that," Kingsbury said of his losing record in Lubbock. "And I know it's about the work that started yesterday and what we do from this point forward, and that's how I'm attacking that. I love Texas Tech, I loved my time there, love those players there, but this is a new chapter, and a great opportunity, and an incredible organization to work for."

The biggest aid to Kingsbury will be surrounding himself with an experienced coaching staff. The coach said he would lean on Keim when putting the staff together. Kingsbury will call plays but is looking for assistants with an NFL background who can take his ideas and mesh them to the NFL.

Keim added the Cards are looking for a veteran defensive coordinator who runs a 3-4 scheme.

"I don't think there's any doubt that a veteran defensive coordinator would be ideal in this situation and then just based on our personnel, I think a 3-4 fit is what we're looking for, certainly with the edge rush that we have to be a belt play man-free on the back end," Keim said. "It's catering to your strengths and there's no doubt in my mind that we have to find a defensive coordinator that can do that."

Kingsbury faces a steep climb in his first season as an NFL head coach. The first order of business is finding coaches who can help make that ascent easier.

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