Nau A Fantastic Venue For Cards’ Training Camp

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ESPN’s Mike Sando recently called Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff one of the best training camp venues in the National Football League.

In an online magazine article for Sports Illustrated, Peter King ranked the Cardinals training camp third in his article, “My top five training camps: Places to get up close and personal with NFL.”

ESPN said, “There’s something special about going away to camp if the venue is right.

“Northern Arizona University fits the profile for the Cardinals. It’s far enough from Phoenix to escape the blistering heat, but close enough for fans to turn out in large numbers.

“The high-desert scenery and nearly 7,000 feet elevation combine to set apart NAU from other camp venues in the division and the league overall.”

While Cardinal brass has not yet released the 2012 practice schedule in Flagstaff, the stream of Rim Country football fans that traditionally make annual pilgrimages north on Beeline to NAU will begin in about a month.

The Cardinals traditionally show up in Flagstaff the first week in August and continue to train there through the end of the month.

In past years, two-a-day practices have begun at 9:05 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. Some days, there is just one practice.

Hopes are running high in Flagstaff, Payson and around the state that Arizona will use the Northern Arizona football camp and a nucleus of newly acquired players to regain its lost luster.

The optimism exists mostly because the Cards appear to have two quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, capable of engineering the offense

Whichever quarterback emerges the starter, he must have a variety of receivers to throw to. That’s where former Arizona State University and Mesa Mountain View tight end Todd Heap enters the picture. The Cards acquired him over a year ago and he’s a proven offensive threat.

For years, local fans had the opportunity to personally see Heap in action during Sun Devil preseason training at Camp Tontozona.

There, his spectacular leaping, one-handed catches were the stuff from which legends are made.

Acquiring Heap could also mean the Cardinals are in for a new-look offense this year that will include more throwing to the tight end. In past seasons, the Cards sparingly used their tight ends in the offense preferring to use them mostly as blockers in the running game. But Heap is an elite pass receiver and not using him in that role would be a waste of his talent.

Heap, however, isn’t the only tight end on the Cardinals’ roster. Jeff King, Jim Dray and Rob Housler will battle for playing time.

Enjoying practice

Arizona Cardinals practices take place on the outdoor fields east of Walkup Skydome.

Most notable about the practices is the fans can get close to the action where they can hear audibles, pads thumping, defensive calls, grunts, groans and plenty of old-fashioned butt-chewing from the coaching staff.

There’s also the chance to overhear unforgettable conversations between those who understand the sport and those who never will.

At a practice two years ago, a dingy, but drop-dead gorgeous young woman, asked her date what a “checkdown” was.

Obviously disturbed she didn’t know such a simple fact of gridiron jargon, he decided to mock her, answering, “It’s when a guy, in a bar, passes on the best looking girl in the group because she’s well covered. He goes after one of her friends because the chances of completing are much better.” OK, I’ll agree with that.

Also at the scrimmages, there are chances for fans to get a peek at their favorite player and possibly secure an autograph.

Cardinals training camp practices and parking are free and open to the public.

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