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Cardinals Try To Stay Strong With Back Half Of Roster

Team has had to utilize players who haven't had consistent NFL snaps

Defensive lineman Kevin Strong tapes his fingers before last week's game against the Bengals.
Defensive lineman Kevin Strong tapes his fingers before last week's game against the Bengals.

Walking around State Farm Stadium on a Sunday, fans will be repping uniforms of various different players. The classics like Pat Tillman's No.40, Larry Fitzgerald's No. 11, or Kurt Warner’s No. 13 will be on full display throughout the concourse. Obviously, current players like Kyler Murray, Budda Baker, James Conner, and maybe even Joshua Dobbs will be spotted as well.

During training camp, coach Jonathan Gannon said Baker has the ability to make an opposing team say, "who the (blank) is that guy?" Well, that guy is hurt, as are a lot of the other popular Cardinals players on the roster.

That has allowed players who haven't been in the spotlight in their careers -- like defensive lineman Kevin Strong -- to make a move.

"I've always been the next man up, usually, wherever I go or wherever I come from, but it's really been a fun new journey," Strong said. "This is what I've been waiting for since I got into the league."

Arizona is Strong's third team in his five-year career. The first two-plus seasons were spent in Detroit, where he started in one game, followed by one start in Tennessee over a season-and-a-half.

With the Cardinals, Strong has started three games for a defensive line that has already been dealt injury blows to L.J. Collier, Carlos Watkins, and Jonathan Ledbetter.

"He's extremely intelligent and knows what we're trying to get out of the calls and techniques," Gannon said. "He has good skillset, can knock the line of scrimmage back, and can rush when he's singled up pretty well. He's playing well for us."

Gannon has said before that if you have a jersey on game day, there's a role that needs to be executed. Strong has worked to earn a spot, and his jersey number, 92, is one he takes great pride in. It's even tattooed on the back of his leg.

But a uniform is just that, until you make an impact on the field.

Safety K'Von Wallace is a prime example of making the most when your number is called. Wallace was claimed by the Cardinals on Aug. 30, less than two weeks before the season opener. Currently, Wallace is tied for second on the team with 23 tackles, four behind linebacker Kyzir White.

While he did start a handful of games with the Eagles, Wallace said he's been patiently waiting for an opportunity to play starting snaps.

"I've always had a chip on my shoulder that has now turned into a boulder," Wallace said. "I have a lot of people counting on me, and I'm going to go out there and perform. Whether it's JT (Jalen Thompson), Budda, Andre (Chachere), Joey (Blount), whoever is back with me there, we're going to rock and we're going to play hard and give it all that we got."

There are plenty of other members on the roster that have taken advantage of the next man up mentality. Linebacker Josh Woods, despite being sidelined for three weeks, earned a starting role after having spent years trying to earn that job. Undrafted rookie Emari Demercado is expected to get a lot more snaps after Conner landed on the injured reserve list.

"That's the type of mentality I feel like every players should have," Wallace said. "If you're a backup, you never know when your number is going to be called and you always have to be ready."

On Sunday against the Bengals, Strong had his best game this season, finishing with five tackles and a sack, his first since 2020. The sack was more like Joe Burrow running into a brick wall.

Thinking back to the big hit a few days later, Strong still had a gigantic smile on his face.

"I've been praying on one all year, like I've really been waiting to get to one and I finally got it," Strong said. "Hopefully I can get blessed with another one soon."

Ledbetter has sat out the previous two games with a finger injury, and it's still to be determined if he'll play against the Rams this weekend. At this rate, with all of the different schemes that defensive Nick Rallis has drawn up, it's likely that Strong, and others, will continue to jump into the spotlight they didn't have before.

"I think everybody's loving it and I'm sure nobody has no complaints about extra plays or extra snaps," Strong said. "It's football. You love the game, and you'd love to be out there as much as you can."

"I'm sure a lot of guys have been waiting on their moment to be able to step up and be able to play in the roles that they're finally getting now. Once you get that opportunity of it you have to take advantage of it."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 6 regular season matchup against the Los Angeles Rams

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