Vance Joseph has an aggressive defensive philosophy predicated on strong cornerback play.
For at least the first six weeks of the season, the Cardinals defensive coordinator may have to shelve it.
The Cardinals won’t have Patrick Peterson (suspension) and Robert Alford (broken leg) for that stretch, which could mean softer coverage and more zone with youngsters Chris Jones and Byron Murphy in the lineup. Joseph’s stated preference after getting hired was to play press coverage and blitz regularly.
“Not having your best players always affects you,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to play differently until we get Pat back and hopefully get Robert back soon. Until that happens, you’ve got to play differently.”
Joseph will rely on the safety tandem of D.J. Swearinger and Budda Baker to help out. Baker has moved to free safety this offseason and could be an important fire extinguisher if the cornerbacks lose track of a receiver.
Baker is one of the rangier center fielders the Cardinals have deployed in years.
“Hopefully we can use his skillset to erase big plays,” Joseph said. “That’s what he’s been good at during camp.”
Baker played in the slot last season but is not expected to return there despite the attrition. Joseph said Baker is the emergency option, although the 2018 Pro Bowl alternate is ready if needed.
“There’s been instances when I thought that (Joseph would ask), and I’m still thinking that,” Baker said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the season. I want to be able to play whatever they need me to play.”
The Cardinals may roll out their projected opening-week lineup in the third preseason game Saturday against the Vikings. That depends on whether or not Peterson takes the field due to the cornerback shortage.
“He may play some, he may not, but we have to eventually get to a point where those three guys who are going to play against Detroit have to play together and practice together,” Joseph said.
CLEMENTS DISAGREES WITH FALSE START PENALTIES
Cardinals passing game specialist Tom Clements was surprised to see quarterback Kyler Murray called for two false starts on Thursday against the Raiders.
Both times, Murray was whistled for faking a clap too abruptly as a way to draw the defense offside. Clements called them “phantom penalties” because he has seen similar schadenfreude in the NFL in years past that hasn’t drawn flags.
“You see a number of quarterbacks throughout the league who are very demonstrative and bob their head and flash their hands and don’t get called,” Clements said.
Murray has been told the fake clap is legal but must have a smoother motion.
PUGH ON THE MEND
The Cardinals should have their starting offensive line back together against the Vikings. Guard Justin Pugh (shoulder) has been practicing this week and seems in line to play Saturday.
“We wanted to take our time, don’t rush back in the preseason,” Pugh said. “But obviously I want to get out there and get some live reps. This third preseason game is the perfect time.”
Mason Cole has been filling in as the starting left guard in Pugh’s absence.
Images from Tuesday's practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center