Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden during Monday's training camp practice.
Markus Golden was tied for third in the NFL in sacks last year, and yet, he's the second banana among Cardinals pass-rushers.
Chandler Jones has the bigger name, the bigger contract and the more extensive body of work. Golden had 12½ sacks a season ago – one and a half more than Jones – but it still feels like this is the season of reckoning for the third-year outside linebacker.
"He's not going to surprise anybody this year," coach Bruce Arians said. "Whether you had people worried about Chandler and Calais (Campbell) and singling him, he's not going to get singled very often. As long as he keeps applying pressure, because he has a relentless motor, that's what separates him."
The hesitancy to crown Golden is nothing new. When he entered the draft in 2015, teams were more enamored with his pass-rushing teammate, Shane Ray, who was drafted in the first round by the Broncos. Golden said the doubts surfaced before that.
"People said I wasn't going to make it out of junior college," Golden said. "Back then, once I knew the route I had to take, I knew then, 'Just stay focused and you're going to be where you need to be.' I always knew I was going to be in this position, and I've believed in myself. I believe in myself more than anything."
Golden speaks with a confidence and fervor that is infectious. He will always be built differently than the prototypical edge-rusher, but he is paid to harass quarterbacks, which he's done with aplomb for the Cardinals.
"My whole life, this is what I've done," Golden said. "I know how to play. I can pass rush just as good as anyone in this league, and I know that in my heart."
When the Cardinals drafted Golden, they initially started watching Missouri's tape because of Ray. But General Manager Steve Keim kept getting drawn to the other edge-rusher. Some thought it was a reach when the team took Golden in the second round.
"All along I wondered why this guy wasn't getting the type of hype as Shane," Keim said. "He's not quite as tall, he's not as fast, but he's the one guy who plays every snap as if it's his last. His intensity, his get-off, his quickness. Projecting him to a 3-4 outside 'backer, he's built a little bit differently, thicker through his trunk and his hips. Does he have the skillset to drop and play in space? In reality, you realize this kid loves it so much he'll find a way to get it done."
As long as they remain together, Golden and Jones plan on jockeying for the title of the team's best pass-rusher. Arians gives Golden the current nod because he had more sacks and pressures in 2016. When asked if teams paid more attention to Jones and Campbell, thus giving him an unfair advantage, Golden scoffs.
"It's funny, man," Golden said. "I watch film and I'm double-teamed just as much as Chandler. Literally, from watching the film. I didn't see it like, 'Oh, they're freeing me up every play.' Every sack I had, I had to work my butt off for."
Golden may never be looked at in the same light as Von Miller, even though the Broncos linebacker only had one more sack than him in 2016. But players who consistently get after the quarterback are highly coveted in the NFL. Golden will be eligible for a contract extension after this season, and would have nice leverage if he produces once again.
"I wouldn't say it's on my mind, but of course you think about it," Golden said. "It's a business, and you have to think about the business side of it. To me, man, I'm the type of guy who knows what's going to happen. It's already written. My whole life, I feel like it's been written out. If I do what I'm supposed to do and do my part, God's going to do the rest for me. I've just got to make sure I hold up my half."
Golden and Jones are close friends, and if Golden remains on this trajectory, they could soon get equal billing. But Golden has always been certain of his stardom. It doesn't matter to him if others see it the same way.
"My whole life, I've kept a straight line," Golden said. "You can tell me I did something good, I'll say 'Thank you' and then move on. You tell me something bad and I just move on. I'm not really worried about people talking about me, being a big star. That's never been me. I know that comes with it, but I'm just going to keep doing what I've got to do. And that's go hard, man."
Images from the fourth day of Cardinals training camp