Shawn Jefferson’s vibe in the Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver room will change things.
Gone is David Raih’s positive, personable leadership. In its place comes a bit more experience, with Jefferson holding an NFL position since 2006 and a gig leading NFL receiver groups since 2008.
More than that, Jefferson has a tenacious personality. The story of how he raised and coached his son, Los Angeles Rams rookie receiver Van Jefferson, illustrates that well.
Take what Shawn said Tuesday when asked what he thinks about playing Van twice a year as more evidence:
“I’m looking forward to kicking his butt twice a year,” Shawn Jefferson said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, more than anything. It’ll be good just to see him play. We get on that field, I want to kick his butt in every way possible.
“I’m a competitor and he is too, but I’d love nothing more than to have those bragging rights every season of kicking his butt twice a year.”
The three comments about butt-kicking in five sentences made it apparent he was not just joking around.
Jefferson may be intense, but he’s aware that keeping players engaged in film sessions and skill periods is as important as imparting those repetitive lessons on his players.
“Those periods have to come to life for them,” he said. “You have to leave them coming back the next day and wanting more.
“There’s times where I’ve actually come on with full pads and suited up with guys. Hopefully, I don’t have to do that because if I’m doing that, we’ve gotten into an extreme situation.”
The Cardinals must have felt their receiving room needed something extreme. The firing of Raih was the only coaching staff maneuver that’s an obvious change-in-direction move this offseason.
Concerns about Larry Fitzgerald leaving this offseason and DeAndre Hopkins’ use in the offense last year are fair.
Jefferson, who coached under Adam Gase’s New York Jets teams the past two years, made his hay developing Calvin Johnson with the Detroit Lions from 2008-2012, so he knows how to handle generational talents. Maybe he brought the answers to the interview room that general manager Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury wanted to hear.
What is for sure is that Arizona knows it needs to get more out of youngsters like Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson. You can even throw Christian Kirk’s regression from 2019 to 2020 into that conversation.
The Cardinals have been complimentary about Johnson’s route-running and Isabella’s elite downfield speed.
Yet Isabella has struggled against bigger corners as an outside receiver and had to develop the technical tools to thrive in the slot — not to mention he was hard-pressed to find playing time there behind Fitzgerald and tight end Dan Arnold this past year.
Arizona found itself listing Isabella and Johnson — second- and sixth-round picks from 2019 — as healthy scratches too often in 2020. They respectively recorded 224 and 173 total receiving yards to end the season.
“I’ve just started the process of watching game film from last year,” Jefferson said of that young duo on Tuesday. “Prior to this I’ve been grading free agents and stuff like that … This team has talent.
“Isabella has talent, you know what I’m saying? And KeeSean as well. I’m sure that both those guys have a lot to add to this team.”
Which goes back to how Jefferson gets the most out of them.
What did raising a receiver in his own house teach him about reaching the young Cardinals he was brought in to develop?
“It’s taught me to be a little more patient because back in my day, it was a totally different brand of football … these athletes now, they’re super athletes now,” Jefferson said. “… You have to find a way to connect with these guys more so than anything. You got to be a little more intentional with these guys, you have to get on their level, so to speak.
“This is the social media age now and everything. You got to find a way to get on their level without compromising my values and my fundamentals and attention to detail from the receiver position.”