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Robert Alford Hoping Third Time Charm As Cardinals' Cornerback

Season-ending injuries have cost veteran two full years in Arizona

Cornerback Robert Alford catches a ball during a drill at the mandatory minicamp.
Cornerback Robert Alford catches a ball during a drill at the mandatory minicamp.

Robert Alford's stepfather is a pastor, and his entire family believes strongly in a higher power.

"Faith is a big thing for me," the veteran cornerback said.

Faith is also at the heart of Alford's comeback – his second comeback – with the Cardinals. Alford's faith in himself, the Cardinals' faith in a player who has missed two full seasons with injuries, and the faith that Alford can return to have an impactful role at a position in need after the free-agent departure of Patrick Peterson.

Returning twice was daunting, but he never once considered retiring.

"Not at all, man," said Alford, who will turn 33 in November. "I'm not ready to hang it up at all. You're always going to have dark times in anything that you do. If you love what you do, you're going to use that to motivate you, and that's what I've done with these last two years."

When Alford signed as a free agent in 2019, he was supposed to team with Peterson. He was having arguably one of the best training camps of anyone – until he came down wrong battling wide receiver Damiere Byrd for a ball in an outdoor practice at State Farm Stadium, breaking his leg and ending his year.

Alford grinded through rehab, posted on social media his fantastic physique heading into 2020 training camp and seemingly was ready to retake his place on the depth chart – until he tore his pectoral muscle in one of the first practices, again ending his season.

Alford was originally due to count $9 million on the 2021 salary cap, which wasn't going to happen. The Cardinals released him to save $7.5M in cap space, but just a couple days later, Alford had re-signed for the league's minimum veteran salary.

"He basically told us 'Hey I want to come back, I owe you guys, so I'll come back for whatever deal because I owe the organization, I owe the Cardinals and want to prove y'all were right about me.' " coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We respect that a ton."

Alford didn't have any desire to leave. He didn't even disappear with either of his season-ending injuries, staying around the facility to work with athletic trainers Tom Reed, David Hines and Chad Cook, and continue to go to team meetings and help teammates with video breakdowns.

"I had to come back here," Alford said. "I had something to prove."

He essentially became an extra coach as he worked to stay connected to the team even while he couldn't play.

"He's a guy who is a big talker, a guy who loves the game, a guy who, last year, who had a season-ending injuriy and would still go to meetings, still goes to practice and watch practice and help young guys out, even help older guys out and seeing things," safety Budda Baker said. "Now that's he's on the field I know he's excited and looks like the great Robert Alford, a fresh Robert Alford and I'm excited to see him play."

The Cardinals could use him. They have Byron Murphy, whom defensive coordinator Vance Joseph calls out first as the top cornerback on the roster, and the Cards did sign veteran Malcolm Butler. But beyond that, there is the inexperience of rookies Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan, in addition to another veteran in Darqueze Dennard. Alford has opportunity.

"He knows if he is healthy, he's a big part of the defense," Joseph said.

"Our entire staff is obviously pulling for Rob," Kingsbury said.

It was the faith of his family, of his mother and stepfather and father and others that got him through the dark periods of two years of rehab. But it is the faith in himself that Alford is counting on to get him back in the lineup, that fuels the energetic patter towards teammates in minicamp. He looked like a guy anxious to do what he hasn't been able to do for far too long, ready to prove not just to the organization but to the world he can still be a factor on the field.

"I hear the chatter," Alford said. "I use it as motivation. But at the end of the day, all I can do is tell guys who wrote articles like that to stay tuned. Come to practice. I see it.

"I'm not a guy who is going to argue with nobody on social media. I let my play talk. I'll tell them, just stay tuned."

Images from minicamp as the team wraps up offseason work.

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