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Cardinals' Training Camp Has Arizona State Flavor

Notes: Simmons to stay at linebacker for now; Kirk in punt return mix; Hopkins misses practice

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin during training camp practice on August 16, 2020.
RB Eno Benjamin (26) and G Sam Jones (70) are two of the four Arizona State players on the Cardinals' roster.

D.J. Foster has been out of college for five years, but Arizona State reminders are everywhere at Cardinals' training camp.

On Tuesday afternoon, the veteran running back did a Zoom session with the media immediately after kicker Zane Gonzalez – a teammate of his at ASU from 2013 to 2015.

During practice, Foster did positional drills alongside fellow Sun Devil Eno Benjamin, the Cardinals' seventh round draft pick in April. Guard Sam Jones makes four Arizona State products on the roster, tied for the most among any college along with Washington and Florida.

NFL players are notoriously prideful in their alma maters, and Gonzalez was happy Benjamin was added to the group this offseason.

"Seeing him in the locker room is really cool," Gonzalez said. "Eno is a stud. I'm always happy to see another Sun Devil out here."

Foster and Benjamin are battling to make the 53-man roster this season. If the Cardinals only keep three running backs it could be one or the other, but it's all love between the two.

"He's a great kid," Foster said. "He's hungry. He's learning a lot. It's awesome to have the history of both of us going to ASU, and being able to push each other. He's kind of like a little brother."

The Cardinals even have an Arizona State tie-in on their staff, as former Sun Devil quarterback Michael Bercovici is a coaching assistant.

"Playing with Berco, I always told him he'd be a great coach one day," Foster said. "It's nice to have a best friend in the coaching perspective, to see how he sees stuff. It definitely helps me as a player."

ALFORD INJURY WON'T CHANGE SIMMONS' INITIAL ROLE

The Cardinals will have to shuffle players around following the possible season-ending pectoral injury to cornerback Robert Alford.

Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons is known for his versatility, but at least early on, is not expected to play in the secondary. Coach Kliff Kingsbury said that could change as the season moves along, hoping that Simmons' duties will be "ever-expanding" into a unique role like he had in college.

"We're going to keep it as simple as we can for him early, and as he gets more comfortable in our system, try to use him in different ways," Kingsbury said. "As of now, he's kind of where he's at. We want him to learn (linebacker) and get comfortable there, where he can use his speed and athleticism to make plays."

KIRK A POSSIBILITY AT PUNT RETURN

All things being equal, special teams coach Jeff Rodgers would prefer to give the punt return duties to a role player because wideout Christian Kirk is such a big part of the offense.

However, if Kirk is the clear-cut best option, he will likely secure the job. Pharoh Cooper was the punt returner for most of 2019 but moved on to the Panthers as a free agent, opening up the role again.

"I've not been told, really ever here, 'Don't use this guy in a return role,'" Rodgers said. "We'll figure out how that goes. Christian is pretty good at punt return. We've got to find about the other guys. Opening day, if Christian happens to be the guy, we'll use him. If somebody else rises up, we'll go with that plan."

NO HOPKINS AT PRACTICE

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) missed practice for the third straight day on Tuesday.

Outside linebacker Chandler Jones, tackle Kelvin Beachum and tight end Maxx Williams were not practicing during the open portion of practice. Kingsbury said Jones was given a maintenance day, which will become more common for tenured players as camp progresses.

"We're getting to that point, hitting some veteran days here over the next couple of weeks," Kingsbury said.

Images from Monday's practice at State Farm Stadium, presented by Hyundai.

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