CINCINNATI – The Cardinals came to Paycor Stadium looking to have a second-year linebacker show his evolution from his rookie year.
It turned out, they did.
Zaven Collins? He's still a work in progress, after the Cardinals beat the Bengals, 36-23, Friday night in the teams' preseason opener. But outside linebacker Victor Dimukeje, a sixth-round pick from Duke last season, came up with two sacks and provided promise for a team that is searching for pass-rush help this season.
"Coming into camp the biggest thing was just contributing any way I could," Dimukeje said. "I'm just playing my part. I'll let the coaches make that decision. But I worked on my pass rush in the offseason and I feel like it's paying dividends right now."
Dimukeje has drawn praise throughout training camp. For a team that has question marks beyond Markus Golden in that area, his development would be welcome.
"We loved him coming out, a physical, stocky player," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We want to see him continue to develop. That was a good start tonight. He's had a nice camp. Hopefully he can continue to get off the ball like he has."
Dennis Gardeck, who started at outside linebacker, continued to look explosive on the pass rush. Golden and Devon Kennard did not play.
The Cardinals two rookie third-rounder outside linebackers, Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas, didn't leave as big of a mark in their initial game.
Neither did Collins, who played the first 18 defensive snaps. He did not record a solo tackle but was credited with an assist. On one bull rush he did shove the blocker and helped blow up the pocket, but slipped when the quarterback scrambled past him.
Kingsbury said he'd want to watch the tape of Collins game. Collins said he was pleased he didn't have any mental errors during his stint.
"Year 2 definitely slows down from Year 1," Collins said. "I thought we executed well. The ball didn't really come my way."
Among the other players who stood out in the game was wide receiver Greg Dortch, who made four catches for 53 yards and also broke off a 55-yard punt return to set up a TD.
Quarterback Trace McSorley played a half, looking sharp most of the time. With Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy sitting, the third-stringer completed 13-of-22 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 32 yards.
"We were pretty efficient, it felt like," McSorley said. "Took care of the ball, didn't have any turnovers. Overall that will be winning football for us.
"Sometimes I probably could have taken some of the things underneath, not force it down the field too much, probably got a little greedy at times. But we will be able to get back on the film and improve on it."
McSorley at least has a safety net of two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. The Cardinals are still sorting through who will be in the rotation on the other side of the ball when it comes to rushing the passer.
That's why Dimukeje could be so important.
"There is opportunity," Dimukeje said. "Our outside linebacker room is filled. We have a lot of talent. The opportunity is there to get better. There is competition and we make each other better."
Cardinals players arrive to Paycor Stadium prior to the team's Week 1 preseason matchup with the Bengals presented by Invisalign