Veteran defensive tackle Bryan Robinson may be bearing a heavy burden Sunday playing the middle against the San Francisco 49ers.
Alan Branch and Gabe Watson took turns shuffling in a wide semicircle Wednesday tethered to a bungee cord away from Cardinals' practice, trying to rehab a sprain ankle and bad knee, respectively.
Meanwhile, Bryan Robinson got ready for Sunday's season-opener against the 49ers.
When Robinson signed a free-agent contract in the spring, he was here to provide depth all along the defensive line. A natural defensive end, numbers moved him inside. First, Watson broke his kneecap. Then coaches, unwilling to put the inconsistent Branch as starter in Watson's place, made Robinson first-string.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Watson is waiting for a doctor's clearance to practice, but given his extensive time off, it would be almost impossible to conceive of a scenario where Watson would play Sunday.
Branch hurt his ankle in the preseason finale, and while Whisenhunt said he hoped Branch could practice some Thursday and will be reevaluated for the game Friday, there is a real chance Robinson – signed as a fall-back guy – will have to play significant time at nose tackle Sunday.
"I would like to see those guys healthy," Robinson said. "I know how it is. I don't know if (Alan) is going to be able to play this weekend or not. We have some other guys practicing. But If I gotta go, I gotta go. That's what they brought me here for, in case something like that did happen."
Rookie defensive end Kenny Iwebema, who has proven to be a solid run stopper, would be Robinson's backup this week if Branch can't go.
There is a certain irony that, after an offseason in which the Cards made every effort possible to improve depth in their defensive front seven, the 6-foot-4, 304-pound Robinson could be forced to play extensively at age 34.
"I hate to keep saying I have been around a little while, but I know what to expect," said Robinson, in his 12th year. "I have started on opening days before, I have been where I have played 100 percent of the snaps before, I have been where I played 10 or 15 percent of the snaps. I just have to keep my conditioning up. I have no doubt I know how to play this game. Our defensive front will be ready."
Q AND FITZ VERSUS SF
Both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald have piled up impressive numbers against the 49ers – most of the time.
"Not that first game last year," Fitzgerald said with a smile. "That set us back three years on that one."
With quarterback Matt Leinart struggling to grasp the offense, Fitzgerald had just three catches for 20 yards in San Francisco, Boldin just four for 22. But that was just a blip on the chart. In the teams' second meeting, Fitzgerald had nine catches for 156 yards and Boldin six for 76. For their careers, both have four 100-yard games each against the 49ers.
"(Kurt Warner) is a difficult quarterback to defend because he manages the game very well," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's the key to activating those two wide receivers, who are probably as good a tandem in the league."
Fitzgerald said he thought there was a simple reason for his and Boldin's success against San Francisco: Familiarity.
"We are familiar with their personnel, they know us, and when you play some so often … you look at the best players around the league, usually their best games are against division opponents because you know them the best," Fitzgerald said.
Normally, the Cardinals' No. 1 draft pick is preparing for his first start going into opening weekend (or, if he's Matt Leinart in 2006, he biding his time like many young quarterbacks).
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has shown some flashes in training camp and the preseason. But with free safety Antrel Rolle moving to slot cornerback in nickel situations, Rodgers-Cromartie has only been getting on the field in dime packages and special teams.
He doesn't figure to play much barring injury to starters Rod Hood or Eric Green.
"I do want to play but I just have to get familiar with the defense better," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It gives me time to improve my technique so I feel pretty good about it."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 9/3/08.