Cardinals linebackers Shaq Riddick (47) and Zack Wagenmann (49) take part in a recent workout.
Shaq Riddick and Zack Wagenmann are no longer rookies, but they have just as much to prove this offseason as the incoming draft class.
The pair of second-year outside linebackers came to Arizona last May with big dreams which never materialized. Injuries robbed them of nearly all of the offseason work, leaving no time to impress the coaching staff.
Riddick, a fifth-round draft choice last season out of West Virginia, hurt his hamstring upon arrival and then aggravated
it after returning to the field. It wasn’t until late in training camp that he started to practice regularly. By then, it was too late. He was inactive for all but one contest last season and never saw game action.
“Once I was hurt all of training camp, that pretty much shot my chances of touching the field as a rookie,” Riddick said. “I tried my hardest (in the regular season). I busted my tail every practice to show I wanted to play.”
Wagenmann went undrafted after breaking his right foot in a pre-draft workout, but after accumulating 17½ sacks as a senior at Montana, he held some intrigue. He missed time early while rehabbing, and then aimed to show his worth in training camp. Like Riddick, Wagenmann aggravated the same injury, breaking his foot again.
The team placed him on injured reserve, ending Wagenmann’s season before it began.
“I was completely bummed, devastated,” Wagenmann said. “I had not missed a game since I started playing football. I’d never missed a start in college or anything. Having to sit out an entire year was something I obviously wasn’t planning on doing. At first it was tough, just because I wanted to be out there competing and I wanted to play. Sundays were tough.
“But it did turn into a year full of silver linings. I was given some time to let my foot heal, letting the rest of my body
heal, and then getting a year in an NFL system, seeing how everything goes, seeing how guys work every day -- everything that goes into that. So yeah, it sucked in the beginning, but you have to make the best out of it.”
Riddick and Wagenmann are completely healthy now and hope to prove they belong on an NFL roster, albeit one year later than originally hoped.
The Cardinals acquired Pro Bowl pass-rusher Chandler Jones in the offseason, and he is followed on the depth chart by Markus Golden, Alex Okafor and Kareem Martin. Riddick and Wagenmann hope to join the conversation as potential assets for 2016.
“I just have to show them that I understand the defense, understand the terminology, understand all the drops and coverages,” Riddick said. “All the stuff that comes with being an outside ’backer – not just rushing the quarterback. And show them that I’m mature and ready.”
The sweltering heat will sometimes result in players dragging themselves out to practice during the offseason, but Wagenmann has looked at it completely differently. The layoff was long and a return to any kind of football is exciting.
“The first day that we were out there with the coaches, I just had an absolute blast,” he said. “I felt like a kid out there, just because it had been so long since I’d been out there and been able to do team activities like that. That’s what I want to do. That’s why we’re here. I can’t wait.”
General Manager Steve Keim put a premium on improving the pass rush this offseason, and did so by adding Jones and first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. If Riddick or Wagenmann can prove to be another option, it makes the group deeper and stronger.
After failing to do so as rookies, both know the time is now to build the coaches’ trust.
“I had a year where I basically did nothing,” Riddick said. “I’m not going through that again. I’m going to show them that I’m ready.”
The Cardinals work on the second day of OTAs