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Cardinals' Defense Will Need Markus Golden, Devon Kennard

Joseph optimistic of unit with 9 of 11 homegrown starters

The Cardinals are counting on Markus Golden (left) and Devon Kennard this season, even if the path there hasn't been smooth.
The Cardinals are counting on Markus Golden (left) and Devon Kennard this season, even if the path there hasn't been smooth.

Even Vance Joseph couldn't escape the rocky offseason for the Cardinals' defense, with him still sporting a brace on his right forearm – it had been a cast in training camp – after a summer injury.

Of course, it's a lot easier to draw up and call plays when you are banged up than trying to play, and the Cardinals defensive coordinator is well aware he has some spots in question going into the season opener against the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

"It's always injuries, it's always issues," Joseph said Thursday. "You have to adjust, you have to coach."

The Cardinals don't have cornerback Antonio Hamilton There is a good chance they won't have cornerback Trayvon Mullen or defensive end J.J. Watt.

But perhaps the most curious situation is that at outside linebacker, where the two guys who came into training camp as the presumed starters – Markus Golden and Devon Kennard – are questions.

Golden, the team's sack leader with 11 from a season ago, returned to the practice field on Thursday for the first time since Aug. 1. Kennard was released and brought back to the practice squad, although the conversation around the veteran certainly makes it sound like he will have a role on Sundays, against the Chiefs and beyond.

"Kennard has been a guy for us for years and plays hard for us every play," Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker said. "Yeah he's on the P-Squad but hopefully we'll see him on the active roster once game day comes.

"And Markus Golden, no one really talks about him, but he gets 10-plus sacks every year. That's a guy I was excited to see him practice, see (jersey No.) 4-4 running around, but a guy who will bring a lot of intensity each and every play, lead by example and lead by his voice. 'Junk' is my guy. Both those guys are my guys."

Golden and Kennard were unavailable for comment. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said Golden was a likely game-day decision to play. Joseph expressed confidence in both players and called Golden's toe injury a "freak accident" in the weight room. Golden has been in meetings since he got hurt, Joseph said.

"You guys know Junk," Joseph said. "If he is playing, he'll go full speed, whether it is 20 snaps or 30 snaps. I have no worries about him if he is on the field and playing."

Golden, who said this offseason he hoped for a contract extension, is going into the last year of his contract. Kennard also was in the last year of his deal before he was released and asked to return to the practice squad, and even though he isn't on the 53-man roster, Kennard is listed as Golden's backup on the depth chart – ahead of rookie Cameron Thomas.

"He's a Cardinal," Joseph said. "Some things are football business. (Kennard) starting is football. The best guys play. Obviously it's football business when you are drafting guys and you have numbers and want to get guys back on the P-squad and push guys to IR.

"Sometimes the rules make you do things to get guys back that you have to have, and you take a chance on guys being loyal enough and paid enough that they'll come back to you. That's football business. That's not football."

There are other places on defense that will have scrutiny. What the Cardinals do in coverage, with thin numbers at cornerback, is one of them. So too would be a defensive line if Watt isn't available.

Joseph thinks that the fact the Cardinals are in Year 4 of the defensive system – and that nine of the 11 starters are homegrown (other than Watt and inside linebacker Nick Vigil) also will help any shortcomings.

"The national perception of our defense is (that we are) young and a bunch of unknowns," Joseph said, "but we don't feel that way."

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