Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward are battling to become the No. 3 running back on the depth chart, behind the main tandem of Chase Edmonds and James Conner.
It's possible they are in the battle with each other just for a single roster spot.
Yet they are close-knit, "even off the field," Ward said.
"Our competition between each other, we know it's a business and we know somebody is going to occupy that third spot," Ward added. "It's the best man who wins."
With the Cardinals set to finish out the preseason schedule Saturday in New Orleans, both Ward and Benjamin are expected to get the bulk of the running back work. It's the last push to show what they have, given that final cuts are Aug. 31 – three days after the game.
Last year, Benjamin, a seventh-round pick, made the 53-man roster and stayed there all season – but was inactive every week. Ward, undrafted, was cut and then on the practice squad to start the season, but was eventually elevated and played in 14 games as a special teamer. He even scored on a touchdown catch in the season finale, the only touch either player had in 2020.
The entire running back room is close, Ward added, and coach Kliff Kingsbury said it isn't a surprise that players fighting for the same job would still become friends.
"They understand the pressures of what they are trying to do and fulfill a life-long dream," Kingsbury said. "That's a common bond those two share. Like I have mentioned about Eno, he has come back a different guy, and Ward has come back with a lot more confidence as well. They both know they belong."
Ward said it was "heartbreaking" to not being invited to the Scouting combine in 2020 and then losing his pro day to the pandemic. The self-proclaimed eighth-round draft pick just was trying to find a team and a role any place anywhere in the NFL.
Benjamin came into the draft thinking he'd go much higher than the seventh round. It was Ward's ability to play special teams – and Benjamin's inability – that separated them a year ago.
"I didn't really have to do special teams in college," Benjamin said. "I didn't really know how to study for special teams or understand exactly what the main purpose of it was."
Now, Benjamin has been better at it. Kingsbury said he can see a scenario where four running backs are on the roster, so both have a chance to make it. But there is always the chance one might not.
"There are no nerves," Benjamin said. "That's what makes the game of football so great. Everything that comes with it and knowing the position you're in. Moreso I feel blessed to be in this position than be nervous."
The two are different kind of players – Benjamin more elusive and shifty, Ward more powerful. That's the decision that has to be made to find No. 3.
"We know that whoever ends up getting it, deserves it," Ward said.
Images from the 21st practice of Cardinals Training Camp Powered By Cox.