FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — About two minutes into his first practice as an Arizona Cardinal, Kevin Kolb lofted a long pass to Todd Heap.
There was no defense on the play. The players weren't even wearing their helmets yet, but seeing that smooth, on-the-money delivery from Arizona's new quarterback was a sight the Cardinals coaches, fans and players had been waiting for a week to see.
What followed late Thursday afternoon was one of the most spirited, full-pad workouts in memory for the Cardinals, punctuated by a live, full-speed goal-line drill dominated by Kolb's offense.
"It was funny that even the guys that have been here for three or four years were like 'Man, I have butterflies today a little bit,'" Kolb said. "Obviously there was something different in the air. We had that feeling that we've got us all together now. That's what was great. When we went goal-line and we started scoring you saw the excitement went up and you could feel that team setting kind of setting in."
Twice he handed off to Beanie Wells for touchdown runs, but the most impressive goal-line play was a fake handoff followed by an across the field perfect throw to another new tight end, Jeff King, for a score.
"My better plays, our better plays today, were instinctive plays," Kolb said, "where I'm not thinking too much, I'm not worried about too much protection, all that kind of stuff. I'm just going back to playing. That's the stuff you always are afraid you're going to lose. To be able to come back and make a play like that, it felt pretty good."
Kolb, Heap and King were among two dozen players who practiced with the Cardinals for the first time after being relegated to the sidelines since camp opened Saturday while the final version of the collective bargaining agreement was ironed out. As late as Thursday morning, Kolb wasn't sure he would be able to practice that afternoon.
"Early this morning I was pretty upset when we had our first meeting and it wasn't going to happen," he said, "because I'd built myself up to be out here today. I didn't want to be let down again, along with the rest of the guys. But we got it done, and I think today is a pretty productive day."
The Cardinals were among the busiest teams in the days following the NFL labor settlement, and it began with the acquisition of Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick. Arizona, looking to rebound from a dismal 5-11 season, signed Kolb to a five-year, $63 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed.
Among the scores of passes Kolb threw came in a one-on-one drill, the kind of fade toss to Larry Fitzgerald that Kurt Warner employed so well. Fitzgerald, closely covered by first-round draft pick Patrick Peterson, made a one-handed grab to the cheers of the big crowd of fans on hand.
"Man, he's special," Kolb said. "I think everybody saw the one-on-one over here when he one-handed it. You just feel like anytime that guys out there, just chuck it up to him. That's a nice security blanket to have."
Fitzgerald has been an advocate of the Kolb acquisition for a long time. The two worked out together long before the trade.
"I've liked his delivery since the first time I caught a pass from him," Fitzgerald said. "I'm really happy we have him. He's a wonderful person and he's really a student of the game. I mean, every single day, this guy is a tireless note taker. He drives me nuts in the meetings, honestly, he's asking me so many questions. ... You can see the fire in his eyes when he breaks the huddle. He's passionate. He's got a great delivery in there and when you look in his eyes you can tell he really wants it and we're going to all follow his lead."
Not that all was perfect. Kolb said at the start of practice calling plays was "like a foreign language."
"But it was good, getting back in the cadence, getting back in the huddle," he said. "That goal-line period was great. The intensity was high, and it was nice to see tempers flying a little bit and knowing you're back in camp."
The practice came just a week before Arizona's preseason opener at Oakland. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said earlier in the day that Kolb will play in that game, although he didn't know how much. Kolb has been insistent that he will play in that game.
"I need to get out there and feel those bullets flying, know what it's like to get hit," he said, "and knock some of that rust that's built up."