Wide receiver Jaron Brown has a smile on the sideline after making his touchdown catch Saturday night.
Larry Fitzgerald and his familiar flowing dreads were front and center early in the preseason opener against the Texans on Saturday. The star wide receiver caught two passes for 11 yards on the opening drive – his only playing time of the night – including a seven-yard touchdown on a slant from Carson Palmer.
While the receivers who joined him on the field were not nearly as recognizable, they showed that the position group is one of the deepest on the Cardinals' roster – and possibly the deepest wide receiver group in a long time.
With Michael Floyd (groin) and Ted Ginn (knee) sidelined by minor injuries, several backups made the most of
their increased playing time against the Texans. Rookie third-round pick John Brown had five catches for a team-high 87 yards. Walt Powell had three catches for 74 yards. Brittan Golden led the team in receptions with seven for 45 yards, while Jaron Brown had two catches for 15 yards, including a five-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Drew Stanton.
"It's great when the day before they find out, 'Oh wait, I'm starting? I'm in there with Larry (Fitzgerald) and those guys?'" Palmer said. "And to see the way they handled the situation – they weren't scared, they weren't nervous, there was no, 'Man, this is the NFL?' There was none of that going on."
John Brown has a firm hold on the fourth wide receiver spot after impressing in practice, and he carried over that production to the game. He said there was no nervousness in his first NFL action, and that was evident from the outset as he made an impact early in the contest. All of Brown's receiving yards came in the first half, and he had 10 passes thrown his way in the game.
"When I knew Michael wasn't playing and Larry wasn't getting that much playing time, I just knew that I had to step up," John Brown said. "It was basically showing those guys in case anything happened, I could be the person to fill those shoes."
Jaron Brown, Golden and Powell are all in the mix, and Arians said each of them played well against the Texans, although Brown has begun to take hold of the spot with his play both in practice and the game.
"It's going to be knockdown, drag-out to see who gets to stay," Arians said.
Special teams will play a big role. Arians has already praised Jaron Brown's special teams prowess. Powell made a nice tackle on kickoff coverage, while Golden filled in at punt and kick return for Ginn, something he hadn't done since 2011 and wasn't told about until Friday night.
Golden said he thinks about the wide receiver competition every morning when he wakes up, and was more than happy to get as much opportunity as the coaching staff allowed him.
"I figured I would get in, (just) not from the first series to the last series," Golden said. "I wasn't expecting that. Like I said, it was a blessing. I was just glad to get those reps."
When Ginn and Floyd return, the wide receivers behind Fitzgerald will get bumped back down the depth chart. That doesn't include tight ends John Carlson and Rob Housler, who also figure to be active in the passing game. It's a contrast from last year, when Jaron Brown was the fourth wide receiver in a thinner group.
Now the bigger challenge may be keeping them all happy, but Palmer doesn't think that will be a problem.
"There's not a guy clamoring for the ball or bad body language if the ball goes to somebody else," Palmer said. "They do their jobs. If they get it and their number's called, they get it and come back to the huddle. There's no first-down dances or some of the stuff you see. It's just a very mature group, because there's really only one veteran (Fitzgerald) in that group. Mike is still young, too, though it doesn't seem like it. It's just a very mature group that gets it."