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Cardinals Hope Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders Add Up To Sustained Pass Rush

Third-round picks have opportunity with departure of Chandler Jones

Rookies Myjai Sanders (41) and Cameron Thomas have already bonded at rookie minicamp.
Rookies Myjai Sanders (41) and Cameron Thomas have already bonded at rookie minicamp.

The rookie outside linebackers were going through individual drills, the bass line thumping from the song blaring from the giant speaker nearby, and Myjai Sanders began to dance.

It was a practice habit that a former Cardinals outside linebacker – Chandler Jones – would sometimes partake.

If Sanders or the Cardinals' other third-round pick, fellow outside linebacker-to-be Cameron Thomas, can emulate or imitate Jones on the field, now that's what the team will ultimately need.

Gone is Jones, a free-agent departure to Las Vegas. In are a couple of prospects, although neither necessarily slide exactly into the Jones mold.

Sanders is closest, with his 6-foot-5, 248-pound frame (and his dancing skills). He watches Jones' game, in part because their agents work together at the same agency. But "I don't really think his game and my game are comparable."

"His length and mine are nice. He's a nice pass rusher as well," Sanders said. "The other person I was thinking about was Haason Reddick when he was here. He's a nice pass rusher at the position he was in. He had 12 sacks in the position I'm going to be in, and I'm definitely trying to come in and fill the shoes."

Thomas, built differently at 6-4, 267, has patterned his game not after an outside linebacker but after new teammate J.J. Watt. Thomas even wore No. 99 in college and studied Watt's film constantly. While he played mostly defensive line in college, Thomas said he "loves" standing up on the end.

"I think the transition will be no problem at all," he said.

Those are easy things to say as rookies start their time in the NFL, still without any work with and against guys who have played in the league. Coach Kliff Kingsbury, who includes seventh-round pick Jesse Luketa – who will start by working as an outside linebacker as well – in the mix, called it a "day-to-day process" for Thomas and Sanders.

"It's impossible to replace a Hall of Fame rusher like Chandler, we know that," Kingsbury said. "But as a unit and schematically, we've got to be able to find that production somehow. I think those guys will all add to it."

Thomas, who played rush end in college, had the statistics. He posted 10½ sacks and 20½ tackles for loss for San Diego State, and for a guy who idolizes Watt, it's not a surprise when he notes "relentless and effort, those are two things I pride myself on."

As for replacing Jones, "I'm just going to go in every day and give 110 percent. That's how I am looking at it."

The numbers weren't there for Sanders in his final year at Cincinnati – only 2½ sacks – but he was credited with more than 60 quarterback pressures, a total that would thrill the Cardinals.

"It did get frustrating in a game when you right there with a quarterback and he slips out of your hands," Sanders said. "That's something is going to be fixed. I realized I have to slow down."

"I'm trying to make a big leap in my career as a rookie," Sanders added. "I'm going to try to be as ready as a can."

Thomas is anxious to learn what he can from Watt. Sanders is looking forward to learning – and rushing with – Markus Golden. Sanders, like Thomas and Golden for that matter, talks about his "non-stop motor."

Sanders also said he loves "outsmarting" his opponent with preparation during the week. It's the kind of thought process coaches love to hear.

Sanders said he and Thomas at a talk on the bus from the hotel to the team facility Thursday before their first day at their new place of employment, telling Thomas the two of them "could be a real nasty combination."

"I looked at some of his film," Sanders said. "Two young guys, with the motors that we have, it's going to be hard to stop us the next couple of years."

Images from the second day of rookie minicamp.