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Emergence Of Antoine Wesley Was A Matter Of Trust

Wide receiver has gone from Kingsbury's college star to Cardinals' asset

Wide receiver Antoine Wesley catches the first of his two touchdown passes against the Cowboys during Sunday's win in Dallas.
Wide receiver Antoine Wesley catches the first of his two touchdown passes against the Cowboys during Sunday's win in Dallas.

Trust, a crucial asset in life, is no less so in football.

For Antoine Wesley – or "Tweezy," as he is known to his teammates and coaches – it has been the focal point of his journey to the Arizona Cardinals.

It's not just about the trust quarterback Kyler Murray must have in the third-year wide receiver, enough of which that Wesley now has three touchdowns in the last two games. It's about the trust Kliff Kingsbury has long had in Wesley, who starred for Kingsbury in the coach's final year at Texas Tech, enough so that Kingsbury got him a tryout with the Cardinals this offseason.

And it's about the trust the Cardinals overall had in an unproven wide receiver that he could be the guy filling in for Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins well enough that seeking outside help was never a true consideration.

"When he became available, I said, 'Hey, I've got one that can come play and that I trust, and I know he can make plays,' " Kingsbury said. "We got him in here and worked him out. He had a great training camp and has gone from there."

There is little question previous relationships have helped Wesley. Murray and he came out in the same year, and with both based in Texas, the two worked out some together pre-draft, and share the same agent (who also represents Kingsbury.)

"There's a natural click, feel, confidence that I have in him," Murray said.

The draft itself didn't go well for Wesley. He went unchosen, a scenario he called "humbling." He was with the Ravens the past two seasons, but got hurt and wasn't much of a factor.

Kingsbury half-joked that GM Steve Keim OK'd Wesley's initial tryout as a "favor" to appease Kingsbury. But it was clear from the start of camp Wesley was making inroads on a roster spot – even despite missing a couple weeks with an injury.

"I obviously was a bit biased and believed in him based on my previous experience and knowing what type of competitor he was, but he had done enough in the short time he was there to stick, honestly," Kingsbury said. "He had made a ton of plays."

After going undrafted and then being released by the Ravens, Wesley admitted he broke down into tears when his agent called to tell him the Cardinals were signing him. More than just another chance to play in the NFL, it was the chance to reunite with Kingsbury.

"I dreamt of it, I ain't going to lie to you," Wesley said. "I love playing for that man."

With a crowded wide receivers room, it was unlikely Wesley was going to play much. After all, he was behind Hopkins on the depth chart, and as A.J. Green noted early in the season, "Hop don't miss games."

Except Hop has. A lot. There was first the hamstring injury, during which Wesley made a big catch in San Francisco on a pass from fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk to set up a touchdown. Then Hopkins suffered his season-ending knee injury.

Wesley, with what he had shown, was always going to be the in-house replacement.

"I know what type of player he is," Murray said. "I know he's accountable, I know he's going to be where he's supposed to be and he's going to make those plays if I give him the opportunities. At the same time, he hasn't had that period of time to where he can get accustomed to the speed of the game. It kind of happen quickly for him."

Wesley made an impressive TD grab against the Colts with a defender hanging on him for his first NFL score. Then came a moment in Dallas in which Wesley was open down the sideline for a deep jump ball. Murray made the throw. Wesley couldn't hold on, and Murray acknowledged later he thought Wesley should've caught it – and told Wesley so on the sideline.

"As you saw me tell him, 'We got to make those plays,' I know he can make those plays," Murray said. He's just got to do it now. There's no time to mess around. He had a great game, and like I said, I'm confident in his skills."

He caught two touchdowns later against the Cowboys, including a highlight-level 19-yard leap on the side of the end zone – Hopkins-esque.

Wesley is the first to say he isn't Hopkins. He's just Tweezy.

"I have fun, love life," said Wesley, who has 17 catches for 191 yards. "Football is my passion, and I get paid a lot of money for it. Who can be mad about that?"

For Wesley, he had trust too – in the process, one that led him to Arizona, to become a key part of the playoff-bound Cardinals.

"Having my team come up to me and say, 'We trust you, we've got your back,' (then) when the ball is in the air, they know I'm going to go get it for them," Wesley said.

Wide receiver Antoine Wesley and coach Kliff Kingsbury during the Christmas night game against the Colts.
Wide receiver Antoine Wesley and coach Kliff Kingsbury during the Christmas night game against the Colts.

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