Young Receivers Look to Help Fuel Evolution of Cardinal Offense

The Arizona Cardinal offense has seen a passing game revamp over the past few years. 

With a fully healthy Kyler Murray, Greg Dortch getting his footing and a reliable tight end in Trey McBride, the foundation was set last year. Now, wide receivers Michael Wilson – who’s entering his second year – and rookie Marvin Harrison Jr. can open up the passing game to one of the NFL’s best. 

But elite air attacks aren’t built overnight. 

That’s why both of these wide receivers are using this offseason to get into their quarterback’s head. Small details can lead to big plays. 

“That takes time because (Muray’s) drop is predicated on our steps and our routes,” Wilson said. “I think last year, we didn’t have enough time throughout the offseason to work on that, that timing, that chemistry. But now I feel like it’s been as seamless and as flawless of OTAs as I could have hoped.

“(Murray) kind of knows how I run my routes now and knows the depth that I might come out of my route might be slightly different than (Greg Dortch), because my stride length as a taller guy is a little bit longer. Same holds true with Marvin, his stride is a little bit longer than mine. When I run the play, my catch-point might be at (20 yards), Greg’s might be at 18, or 19, right? Like those are subtle differences that maybe we can objectively state, but he can sort of we can both feel.”

In the Cardinals’ last game of the 2023 season, Murray completed all six attempts to Wilson for 95 yards. Without a true offseason together last year because of Murray’s ACL injury, that Sunday afternoon provided a glimpse of what to come in 2024.

“It was really just objective feedback, confirming to myself and I think that Kyler that what our relationship when it’s clicking can look like,” Wilson said. “I think that’s sort of the standard that I expect from myself, and I think he obviously expects that for himself.”

Wilson doubled down this offseason, making himself available every weekend this spring for Murray. The wide receiver told his girlfriend Sophia Smith, who plays professional soccer for the Portland Thorns and is a member of the US Women’s National Team, that he wouldn’t be able to make a trip north during OTAs so he could work with his quarterback outside of regular business hours. 

Wilson wanted to send a message to Murray that he would be reliable on and off the field.

“I want to help turn this thing around and build this thing around you,” Wilson recalls saying to Murray. “I’ll make myself available, and I’ll put no everything off to the side unless it’s something major to prioritize my relationship with him.”

The former third round pick is catching the eye of his head coach too.

“I really like where Mike is at,” head coach Jonathan Gannon said. “You guys know he’s as smart as they come, as competitive as they come, works on his craft, works on his game…He’s he’s he’s gonna have a good year.”

Marvin Harrison Jr. could help bring this receiving corps jump up to a whole other level. The 2024 No. 4 overall pick comes to Arizona with a laundry list of accolades and sky-high expectations to unlock the Birdgang offense.

But right now, it’s comes back to the little things.

“Obviously, I have a lot of confidence in my abilities going forward,” Harrison said. “I think the mental aspect is kind of the most important right now. Just learning the playbook, learning where I need to be for Kyler.”

“It just timing, getting the timing down. You have to have that in any quarterback-receiver relationship and just that same thought process when on the field. You just go out there and be on the same page.”

The awards and NFL bloodlines speak for themselves, and Harrison has made an impact on the field but in the receiver room.

“He truly is a good person, and he’s humble,” Wilson said. “For someone to have accomplished the things that he’s accomplished, you wouldn’t know that in a regular conversation with him. I think that’s always special when someone’s grounded, and very humbled, despite having accomplished so much.”

And now Harrison is looking to go beyond those high expectations set on himself. Gannon knows it’s a marathon, not a sprint and is looking to the big picture. That involves picking and choosing when to get his wide receiver to pull back on drills or outside work.

“I think it would just be a constant growth and learning from his standpoint of what works,” Gannon said of Harrison.

“The more reps he gets, the better off he’ll be. Hopefully it’ll be ready to go on the same page with the quarterback in the offense.”

The constant frame between the Cardinal receivers has been “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

“It’s just football at the end of day,” Harrison said. “I think we get a chance to take a step back and realize you’re out there just living a dream. I could do that every single day. So try not to put too much pressure on myself, just go out there, be me and just relax.”