It was a routine practice play, Kliff Kingsbury said, that will rob Robert Alford of the 2020 season.
The veteran cornerback tore his pectoral muscle and will need surgery, the Cardinals coach confirmed Tuesday. Kingsbury wasn't completely ruling out a return, but acknowledged the normal four-to-six month process likely will end Alford's season – the second straight year a camp injury will keep Alford sidelined.
"No one works harder," Kingsbury said. "The physical way he plays at corner, that's what we wanted.
"He's everything you want in your organization, great leader, great juice, great energy. He worked his ass off to get back and everybody is heartbroken for him."
Kingsbury said the Cardinals weren't even exactly sure when on the play Alford got hurt, whether it was when Alford was reaching out to knock down a pass or when he went to the ground at the end of the play.
"Very natural looking, routine-type play and just unfortunate that happened," Kingsbury said.
What the Cardinals do now to replace Alford is under the microscope. Byron Murphy seems like the most natural in-house candidate and he played outside plenty as a rookie. But the coaches also had wanted to put Murphy in the slot this season, not just because Alford had returned but also because they felt Murphy was better suited there.
"Byron is competitive and a team-first guy," Kingsbury said. "He felt really comfortable at the nickel where he feels he can make plays and we can use him in some different ways. But he wants to win and he wants to help his team win. If what he is asked to do is to go out there and play corner, he'll do it to the best of his ability."
Kevin Peterson and Chris Jones are the other veterans who got work outside last season, and Kingsbury said the Cardinals could sign a veteran.
"Whoever is opposite of No. 21, we know, is going to get a lot of action and we need somebody who can handle that," Kingsbury said.
Alford signed a three-year contract in February of 2019. He was supposed to pair with Patrick Peterson to give the Cardinals two man-to-man corners and allow defensive coordinator Vance Joseph freedom with the rest of the defense.
Alford was having an excellent camp in 2019, knowing at that point he'd have to serve as the No. 1 cornerback for the first six games because of Peterson's suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. But Alford broke his leg on a practice play when he got tangled up with wide receiver Damiere Byrd and missed the season.
Alford's camp injury this year came before the Cardinals even put on pads.
"I think (last year) kind of prepped us all for worst-case scenario," Kingsbury said.