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Gannon Era Set To Start With Cardinals Visiting Washington

Team expected to start three rookies in opener

Jonathan Gannon runs through one of the Cardinals' last practices before their season opener against Washington.
Jonathan Gannon runs through one of the Cardinals' last practices before their season opener against Washington.

The Cardinals look much different than they did when they walked off the field in San Francisco at the end of last season.

There is a new coaching staff, 28 new players, and for now, a new quarterback that will enter FedEx Field Sunday for the 2023 season opener against the Commanders. There will be also be the optimism that comes with the start of every new year.

"We're living in a dream at the end of the day," said running back James Conner, one of the players who is coming back from 2022. "We put a lot of work in so we're ready for this moment."

The Cardinals are there to win the football game and focus on "the now."

The rookie class, which team captain Budda Baker described as one of the most mature he's seen, hasn't had the opportunity to fully live out that dream just yet.

Eleven rookies made the active roster, with three of them slated to start: right tackle Paris Johnson Jr., cornerback Kei'Trel Clark, and wide receiver Michael Wilson.

All of the rookies will have a patch on their jersey to commemorate their first game in the NFL.

Coach Jonathan Gannon said his message to them is to "take a deep breath and let it rip."

A deep breath may help Wilson, but he knows what will ease the anxiousness.

"I'm ready for the first hit," Wilson said with a chuckle. "That first pass, just the first play to settle the nerves and get in the rhythm of playing football. I'm just excited for that first pop."

The Cardinals, with Kyler Murray sidelined, will have a new quarterback -- either Joshua Dobbs or perhaps rookie Clayton Tune -- that needs protection from a Commanders defensive line littered with first-round picks.

"It's the first one that really counts and it's against a good group," Johnson Jr. said. "Taking it all in has been the preparation since I first got here. At this point, it's just about executing my job, but I'm ready to go."

From the sixth overall pick to Clark being a sixth-rounder, Clark doesn't let being a late selection define him. Instead, he embraces it, playing the game with swagger.

"I say to a lot of people that I'm at the top, but I feel like I'm not at the top, you feel me?" Clark said. "There's still more work to be done. That's my mindset and I'm not content at all. I'm ready to keep going and I'm hungry."

Being hungry comes with having a big meal, and Clark along with cornerback Marco Wilson will have a lot on their plate when they line up across from Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel.

"It's going to be a great test for our defense," Clark said. "I'm excited, for sure."

With the game being in Maryland, it's a bit of a homecoming for Clark, safety K'Von Wallace, and wide receiver Greg Dortch, who all grew up about an hour and a half away from Landover. Clark said that three combined will have 100-150 people at the game supporting them.

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