Back to football: Cardinals try to look past offseason of unwelcome publicity

The Arizona Cardinals — or most of them anyway — were together on Tuesday for the first time since the end of last season for the start of Phase I of the team's offseason strength and conditioning program.

It was time to get back to football, which for the Cardinals might have been the best thing given the report of allegations of low morale in the workplace from a few years ago, which came in the wake of a former team executive's public accusations of cheating and abusive behavior from team owner and president Michael Bidwill.

Those reported allegations, whether proven to be factual or put to rest by the Cardinals, forced the team to transparently defend itself and only served to remind fans of the NFL Players Association survey earlier this year that handed out bad grades to the organization, for such things as their weight room, training room and a policy of charging players for meals at the facility.

Head coach Jonathan Gannon and veteran tight end Zach Ertz didn't avoid questions about the reports and the NFLPA survey. But Gannon focused on trying to get to know his new football team while Ertz is trying to return by the first week of this coming season from a serious knee injury suffered last season.

Gannon called the allegations a distraction, but not one he has time to think about.

"My sole focus is on improving our team right now. ... But you know, that's not going to take away from my focus, any outside noise like that. I'm worried about the players right now," Gannon said. "That really doesn't bug me at all, because it's outside of the building. So it's not a distraction I spend any mental space on. But it was good to have the players in today, because that's the best thing about this job, guys, is the players. So anytime you get the players in, it's like the icing on the cake."

Ertz didn't seem to have an issue with anything at the facility, and if he does, he didn't voice it.

"When I came in here this morning, breakfast was ready for me. So obviously, everyone wants to make a big deal of the facilities and the report card," Ertz said. "But I can see firsthand that there have been improvements already. Obviously the people that we fired, the amount of people that we've hired. And I think I mean this place screams of so much potential, and it's up to everyone in the building to maximize that."

As for football matters, Gannon addressed the team in a meeting prior to on-field workouts Tuesday morning. Player attendance is voluntary and the most notable attendee was quarterback Kyler Murray, who continues his knee injury rehab.

Two of the noteworthy absences were wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who could be traded this month, and linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Hopkins shared an Instagram post of himself working out in Houston.

"He's got competitive juice. So he wants to be doing everything that he can to get out there when he can to help the team win," Gannon said of Murray. So pleased where that's at."

Hopkins remains a Cardinal for now. Ertz can relate to the trade talk, he said.

"I was in a very similar situation a few years ago. And as a football player, there's going to always going to be noise when you're in those situations. And all you can do is focus on getting better," Ertz said. "As a football player, obviously 'Hop" one of the best ever do it. So it's going to be tough for him to get exponentially better. "I'm sure that's what he's focused on right now.

"But it is hard when there's some level of uncertainty. But I'm sure everything's going to work out."

Gannon's energy has been present from the day he was hired, and he had it on full display for the players Tuesday. For at least one Cardinal, that kind of spirit was a positive as Gannon laid out his expectations.

"Defensive coach, you gotta love it, you know? He was ready. He was cracking jokes and stuff. He's like, I'm not a very funny guy. But no, Coach John G., he's pretty funny dude," linebacker Zaven Collins said. "His energy is great. It's like something you have to have, especially, you know, he's like, always talking about having an upbeat energy, being a good teammate. Today was all about setting the culture of what we've got to be as a team, a winning team, so he set expectations that we have to meet."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Cardinals focus on football as offseason workouts begin