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Being No. 2 Might Be No. 1 Thing A.J. Green Needs For Cardinals Impact

Wide receiver ready to pair with DeAndre Hopkins

Wide receiver A.J. Green goes out for a pass during Thursday's practice against cornerback Byron Murphy.
Wide receiver A.J. Green goes out for a pass during Thursday's practice against cornerback Byron Murphy.

The last time A.J. Green wasn't the No. 1 wide receiver on his team?

"I don't think ever," Green said, smiling.

Ever until now, of course, on a team with DeAndre Hopkins. But that was the point. That was the reason Green figured the Cardinals would be the spot for him, a place with not only quarterback Kyler Murray in place but Hopkins drawing attention and Christian Kirk to maneuver from the slot.

"I'm always team-first," Green said Thursday. "When I was the guy in Cincinnati for 10 years, I always wanted another guy. I had Tyler Boyd, we had Marv Jones, we had some great guys. My thing is, I don't want to be forced the ball, and here, I don't have to be forced the ball. You got Hop on one side, you got me on the other side, you got Kirk working the middle. It creates a lot of matchups, and that's why I picked this place."

Proclamations mean little at this time of year. The first padded practice is still a few days away, much less games that count. Green is coming off his worst season, with 47 catches for 523 yards and just two touchdowns despite appearing in all 16 games.

He's had foot and hamstring injuries, missed all of 2019, and is going to be 33 on Saturday.

Yet his very early returns in camp look promising. The veteran is running – including deep routes – like he's never had his lower-body maladies. His mindset echoes that of the departed(?) Larry Fitzgerald, with whom Green shares a close friendship.

"I want to be out there every rep (in practice), taking the reps, feeling good," Green said. "I'm a guy they want to give me the vet days off and I am telling them no, because I want to get out there and get the chemistry down."

That's the chemistry with the "human highlight reel" Murray, and Hopkins too. "I've never played with nobody like Hop."

It's not the same scenario as when the Cardinals had both Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in their prime, but Green was still targeted 104 times last season (Hopkins had 160 targets.)

"As a playcaller, yeah, you know that's part of the business and you want to make sure you find ways to get everyone touches," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "But you watch A.J. out there, he's got the skillset of a (No.) 1 still."

Green understands where he is in his career and why there are doubts about his future. He joked in a video about what his Madden rating would be only in the 80s because "I had a (expletive) year last year."

Yet he also believes he will benefit from the last three years, two sub-50-catch seasons and the one completely lost.

"I think it pushed me even more mentally," Green said. "I came into this league, seven Pro Bowls, 1,000-yard seasons, everything was pretty sweet. Last two or three years, it's been a roller-coaster. If you push for greatness, you're going to have those ups and downs and battle through adversity."

"I feel like I have a lot left," he added. "When yon train old, you become old, so I am going to continue to train young and I'll be young, I guess."

It won't hurt that the top cornerbacks will go after Hopkins, that the double-teams will go to Hopkins, that perhaps defenses will underestimate him. It also won't hurt that Murray should be more accurate than what Green got last season, when he got the lowest percentage of catchable passes in the league – something he said he did not know.

"There's a stat for everything," he said with a chuckle.

Green made it work, an attitude he said he picked up from such legends like Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and, yes, Fitzgerald. Being No. 2 may be the advantage he needs.

"You just play with the hand you are dealt," Green said.

Images from the second practice of 2021 training camp.

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