Robert Alford made it.
More than two years after getting tangled with Damiere Byrd wrecked his leg, more than a year after tearing his pectoral muscle a handful of days into camp making a routine play, the veteran cornerback is set to actually play in a regular season game for the Cardinals. (We're still a couple days from kickoff, so there is a certain knock-on-wood element here, but optimism is there, and besides, I'm not the guy who believes in jinxes.)
"It's a major thing for me," Alford said Friday. "I just can't wait to go on Sunday."
The talk has been about what the cornerbacks will be able to do, and that was before Malcolm Butler retired (apparently.) Alford's tale, missing two years and yet fighting – after taking a big pay cut – to stick around and prove himself to the team that signed him in 2019, got lost as camp wore on.
Alford never once thought about retirement. And now, with Butler gone, his importance grows 10-fold – even with the Cardinals incredibly high on rookie Marco Wilson.
"You are always going to hear the chatter, but at the end of the day we are confident in the group we have here," Alford said.
Alford said Wilson is ready, and "we all have the trust in Marco." He talks to Butler, a friend, almost every day, saying he just wants what's best for the absent veteran. But it's football he craves.
It was briefly dicey for Alford when he went on the Covid list in camp, yet another camp setback for a man who has had too many. Lucky for him it was a 10-day situation and not season-ending, and as the team gets set to play the Titans on Sunday, he will finally play regular-season snaps for the Cardinals.
And no, he's not wondering what kind of player he'll be after two years not playing games.
"Curious? No man. I'm confident," Alford said. "I'm going to show the world the reason they brought me to Arizona."
-- There are lots of areas that are worth the spotlight in the first game, especially since we don't know what the Cardinals really have. Yes, there's Kyler. And the inside linebackers. And Wilson and Alford. How they deploy Rondale Moore and J.J. Watt. But I'll be honest, right near the top of my list is A.J. Green. To me, he holds a major key to the success of this offseason. If he plays most of the year and can look like he looked in camp practices, the Cardinals will have a find. And it will be fun to watch he and DeAndre Hopkins.
-- I don't know if Kyler is going to go off for 400 yards passing or anything, but I do think that – even after barely doing anything in the preseason games – he will play well. I think, if the Cardinals can find a way to slow Derrick Henry some and not let the Titans grind clock, that a lot of points will be scored on both sides.
-- The Cardinals believe kicker Matt Prater is one of the most important acquisitions of the offseason, given his ability to hit late in games. It'd be fascinating for him to have that chance Sunday.
-- Kingsbury is 42. So what did he think when he watched 44-year-old Tom Brady – his former teammate – dice up the Cowboys for the Bucs (albeit Friday when he watched the tape)?
"It makes me feel very inadequate as a man," Kingsbury quipped. "To still see that competitive fire he has, it's inspiring."
-- There's a good chance the Cardinals will bring up one of their experienced cornerbacks from the practice squad, either Rasul Douglas or Antonio Hamilton. If it's Douglas, we'll see something we haven't seen in a game since 2012 – a Cardinal wearing No. 24. That was the last game played by Adrian Wilson. It's been mostly out of circulation since then.
-- The Cardinals haven't opened on the road against an AFC team since 1997, when they were in Cincinnati.
-- Interesting Kingsbury thoughts about the new college Name-Image-Likeness rules, given that Kingsbury was a college head coach. He is not a fan.
"I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here, but when you have that type of payment to only certain players on a team and you're trying to coach culture and build a team and build a program, it makes it tough," Kingsbury said.
-- The last time Larry Fitzgerald wasn't on the Cardinals' roster for a game? Why, it was this game in 2003.
-- The last word comes from D.J. Humphries, who was talking about what he is curious to see about the team against the Titans now that we have a game that counts. It's dealing with adversity – although Humphries inadvertently came up with a bad word choice.
"Who has that look in their eye of no back-down? That's something I am looking forward to most," Humphries said. "And that's something you can't tell until game day. There is no practice in the world that, when that fight or flight comes, tells who is going to swing and who is going to run. I want a bunch of swingers …"
Humphries realized what he said. "That sounded weird. I'm so sorry. I want a bunch of fighters, I should've said."
Hump laughed. So did we.
See you Sunday.