Cardinals rookie safety Marqui Christian (right) talks with Tyrann Mathieu during offseason work.
Marqui Christian dreams of the future.
The rookie fifth-round pick knows Tyrann Mathieu has blossomed into a superstar in the Cardinals' secondary, and when Christian's mind wanders, he can see himself as the Robin to Mathieu's Batman at safety in ensuing seasons.
"I've had my eyes on Ty because I see greatness, and I want to try to emulate that," Christian said. "My mindset is I'm going to be here for years to come, so I always think about that, us being young guys. We've got a chance to build something special, especially with the group of DBs we brought in and the group we've got now with the vets. Hopefully we'll keep growing and things will turn out that way."
Once reality snaps Christian back, he knows there is plenty of work to get to that point. While Mathieu has proven himself as a franchise cornerstone, Christian enters his first NFL training camp as a Division II star from Midwestern State that has never faced this type of talent on a regular basis.
The Cardinals have hit on late-round picks regularly under General Manager Steve Keim – including last year's fifth-rounder, wideout J.J. Nelson – but Christian's ascension is certainly no formality. In Keim's tenure, there have been plenty of draft picks that never panned out, so Christian is spending the last week of summer fine-tuning his skills, hoping to be in the group of breakouts during camp.
"I just want to be in the best shape I can be and be a leader in the back-end," Christian said. "Being a free safety, I want to be able to get everybody in position, make all the checks and all the calls, make no mistakes."
In order to find playing time as a rookie, Christian will need to make a big impression. Mathieu is expected back at some point in training camp from his torn ACL, while veterans Tyvon Branch, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger are proven commodities. If Chris Clemons plays safety – he did some work at inside linebacker in the offseason – the position will be logjammed, which has been a routine occurrence under coach Bruce Arians.
"I remember the last couple of years in the secondary, us coming out competing for jobs," Mathieu said. "(Cornerback) Patrick (Peterson) was really the only one that had a spot. The rest of us were competing every year. It's always good for the group. I think it brings the group close and obviously it raises everybody's play."
Christian is excited for what training camp brings, especially playing for a team which has quickly become one of America's darlings.
"I feel like it's coming together great," Christian said. "All the things I loved about the place and all the things I've anticipated about the place, it's all what I thought."
As padded practices commence in less than two weeks, Christian will look to live up to his end of the bargain.
"He's versatile, he's promising, he's got a lot of potential," Mathieu said. "I'm looking forward to seeing him in training camp."
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