Hurricane Ida had other ideas, however, and the Cardinals’ preseason finale in New Orleans was canceled.
It was the latest in a series of setbacks for Isabella, the speedy, third-year receiver who missed 15 days of training camp after being in close contact with someone who had COVID-19 and later testing positive for the virus.
“That was my game to kind of show myself,” Isabella told reporters on Wednesday, September 1. “You can practice as much as you want, but the games are what matter. … It was tough losing that for sure.”
Between missing both preseason games this season and spending the final four games of last season on the inactive list, Isabella wasn’t a lock to make the Cardinals’ 53-man roster. His offensive production in 2020 fell short of expectations, and he finished with 224 yards and two touchdowns on 21 catches.
Despite his struggles last season and the time missed during this year’s training camp, the former UMass star said he was confident he’d survive this week’s cutdown.
“I wasn’t worried at all to be honest,” said Isabella, one of six receivers on the Cardinals’ active roster.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury cited Isabella’s “explosiveness” as a key reason the 5-foot-9, 188-pound receiver was able to hold onto a roster spot.
“(He’s) a very conscientious player, can play special teams, can play in the return game, can be a gunner,” Kingsbury said Wednesday, September 1. “So there’s a lot of versatility there.”
Isabella acknowledged that battling COVID at home put him behind in the competition for playing time among a receiving corps that includes five-time Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins, seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green, 2018 second-round pick Christian Kirk, 2021 second-round pick Rondale Moore and second-year player Antoine Wesley, who impressed coaches throughout training camp.
The Cardinals released three other receivers this week, cutting 2019 sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson on Monday, August 30, and letting go of Andre Baccellia and Greg Dorch on Tuesday, August 31. Baccellia and Dorch since have been signed to the Cardinals’ practice squad.
Isabella said he believes the Cardinals’ receiving room is “one of the best, if not the best in the NFL.”
“There’s so much talent,” he said.
Not being able to be out on the field or even at the practice facility for more than two weeks of training camp was frustrating for Isabella, he said. The virus “knocked me out a couple days,” Isabella said, but he fought through the illness and was able to work out at a local park to keep in shape.
“I thought I came back and practiced well, and I think that’s why they kept me around,” he said.
Now that he’s survived the final cutdown, Isabella said he’s anxious to prove that the Cardinals made the right decision.
“Right now I’ve got to just work my way to get on the field. That’s my main concern,” he said. “You can’t do much sitting on the sidelines.”
Speed vs. Speed
One of the players Isabella will be battling for playing time is Moore, a speedy, 5-foot-7, 180-pound rookie from Purdue.
While the two players are similar in size and both are known for their speed, Kingsbury said they can impact the game in different ways.
“Rondale brings a different element with the quick twitch in space, sudden-movement stuff, and Andy is a real burner down the field,” he said, “and so we could definitely have them on the same field at the same time if that is kind of how the game plan plays out.”
Isabella said he’s enjoyed competing with Moore, and the two receivers are learning from each other.
“He’s got a lot of skills,” he said of Moore. “I think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s fun to watch.”
Streveler Secures a Spot
Another player who did enough in the preseason and training camp to earn a spot on the 53-man roster is second-year quarterback Chris Streveler.
The 6-foot-1, 216-pound veteran of the Canadian Football League who saw action in five games last season for the Cardinals made the team as the third quarterback behind starter Kyler Murray and backup Colt McCoy.
Kingsbury said the challenges of fielding a team during a pandemic is one of the reasons the Cardinals opted to keep three quarterbacks. In addition, Streveler is a mobile quarterback, and if Murray were to get injured, he “can do some of the things that we like to do with the quarterback run game and things of that nature.”
“We think (Streveler) has earned it,” the coach said. “He’s played at a high level, gotten better each year, and we want him on the roster.”