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No Surprise: Cardinals Still Sorting Out Cornerback Situation

Wilson figures to be on the field but new staff still seeks starting companion

Cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Christian Matthew at a training camp practice last week.
Cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Christian Matthew at a training camp practice last week.

Christian Matthew didn't know he was going to be getting snaps as a starting cornerback in training camp until he arrived at training camp.

"You're human," the second-year player said. "You hear (the news), you're excited. But excitement can be a negative emotion if it overwhelms you. I try to stay even-keeled."

Whether it is Matthew or someone else to play at cornerback this season is one of the mysteries of training camp at this early juncture. While it would be a massive upset for Marco Wilson in his third year not to be a starter, with Byron Murphy gone via free agency, the other side needs to be earned.

Asked if he had narrowed down who might be starting with Wilson, defensive coordinator Nick Rallis was blunt.

"Not close," he said, noting how much of the preseason remains.

The No. 2 cornerback spot has long been a position that hasn't been sorted out until the end of training camp. In the years Patrick Peterson held down the No. 1 spot, there was a parade of different starters across from him – William Gay, Jerraud Powers, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus Cooper, Justin Bethel, Tramon Williams.

Murphy, the final name on the Peterson list, took over as No. 1. And Wilson slid into the lineup – seemingly graduating to the top spot now.

"I have talked to Marco specifically about how you have all the ability to be a No. 1 corner in this league and that's what I expect," Rallis said. "'I am going to hold you accountable and try and get you better every day.' Coach (Ryan Smith) is going to do the same thing, JG is going to do the same thing. He has responded great to it."

Jonathan Gannon's roots are as a defensive backs coach. There's little doubting he will monitor the race. But Wilson isn't about to boast.

"I'll be honest, I don't really like to talk about CB1, CB2, because when you are on the field there are two corners always, so when you are on the field, that's CB1 -- whoever is starting," Wilson said. "It's not like college, where you are going to have some guy on the field who is good and then other receivers are just whoever. There is great talent. I am out there to compete and whoever I line up across from whoever, I'm ready to go.

"It's a starting position I've had since the beginning, and I want to keep going to keep that position."

Aside from Wilson? Rookie sixth-round pick Kei'Trel Clark has also received first-unit reps during camp so far in his competition with Matthew. Veteran Antonio Hamilton Sr. lurks if needed, although given the Cardinals' roster makeup this season, going young makes sense.

That doesn't include third-round pick Garrett Williams, who remains on the NFI list as he rehabs a torn ACL.

"It's a young group, with talent, with a high ceiling," Rallis said. "I like the way the show up and work, in meetings. You have to be obsessed with that spot and your craft. I am pleased with where those guys can go."

Matthew got three starts at the end of last season, facing off against wideouts like Jerry Jeudy and Drake London and seeing Tom Brady at quarterback. That, he said, taught him that NFL game is a lot more about the mental game because of the physical gifts all players have.

Matthew remains raw, still battling his tendency to grab at his opponent during the play. But he smiled when asked if he feels he's in a better place in Year Two.

"I didn't know what they meant when they said the game slows down because I was like, 'All these guys still run 4.2 or 4.3,'" Matthew said. "But the game does slow down. It slows mentally."

Maybe Matthew gets surprised again with the first depth chart of the regular season. Maybe Clark can make inroads by early September. Someone will have to fill that role.

"Doesn't matter who is out there," Wilson said. "I know whoever is out there is going to handle business."

Images from the 2023 Cardinals Media Day

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