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Rodney Gunter's Step Up Helps Cardinals' Beat-Up D-Line

Notes: Leftwich pleads for patience with Rosen development

Defensive tackles Rodney Gunter (95) and Corey Peters (98) are the last two healthy interior linemen from the Cardinals' original rotation.
Defensive tackles Rodney Gunter (95) and Corey Peters (98) are the last two healthy interior linemen from the Cardinals' original rotation.

Rodney Gunter has started six of the last seven games for the Cardinals, with the one miss coming only because he missed a week of practice after the death of his father.

The defensive tackle still had a season-high seven tackles that week.

"I've been through a lot in my life," Gunter said. "You just have to stay focused. Go where life takes you. There are trials and tribulations, but that's just life."

That's true for the team's defensive tackle position in general. In the last two weeks, Olsen Pierre and then Robert Nkemdiche went down with season-ending knee injuries, leaving only Gunter and Corey Peters as interior linemen. The team had to bring back Vincent Valentine – whom they had released from the practice squad – to be the primary backup, while defensive end Zach Moore will also get some snaps there.

"We're trying to get through it, trying to do a good job with the rotation, trying to do the best we can to keep everyone fresh," defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said.

Holcomb said he has liked how the tackles have worked to "overlap" this season and make some plays on the perimeter. Peters has had a quietly strong season, but that was expected. That Gunter has played well might not have been.

"Rodney has done a nice job," Holcomb said. "He's stepped up big-time and gotten better as the season has progressed."

Gunter, a 2015 fourth-round pick out of small school Delaware State, got a chunk of playing time as a rookie when Peters suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. But he has not had the impact the past two seasons the Cardinals had hoped.

That's changed this year, with his 34 tackles and 2½ sacks and solid play inside.

"I came into this league underrated," Gunter said. "It's still under-the-radar, but that doesn't really excite me. Me having a good season and seeing success let everyone know (GM) Steve Keim and (team president) Michael Bidwill made a good decision to draft me.

"I'm more comfortable, I've got my confidence back. I'm getting more opportunities. And you see it."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Gunter is scheduled to become a free agent after the season, and his play likely has boosted his potential value.

"I've thought about it," Gunter said. "But I just want to finish the season strong and put it in God's hands."


In a season where rookie quarterback Josh Rosen will be the top topic – both because of his position and because the Cardinals aren't in the playoff discussion – offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich knows the questions about Rosen will be first and foremost every week.

Leftwich knew it too after the Cardinals scored just three points against the Lions last week as Rosen was inconsistent at best.

"He's getting there, guys," Leftwich said. "I know you guys, we all want to see him play at an extremely high level week-in and week-out. But we must give this kid time. We want him to play better, he will play better, but this kid is doing fine. I'm telling you."

Leftwich emphasized there were things Rosen was improving upon in practice, sometimes things that can't be measured in statistics but progress nonetheless.

Rosen, meanwhile, never has had much interest in the self-analysis.

"That's kind of up to you (media)," Rosen said. "I'm just trying to go and win football games. I haven't done as much of that as I would've liked to this year. We've got three left, but the growth and development, that's all in your guys' columns."


In part because the most banged-up Cardinals have now all been placed on injured reserve, Wilks will have a pretty healthy 53-man roster from which to choose Sunday after wide receiver Chad Williams (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday.

Williams, safety Budda Baker (knee) and linebacker Deone Bucannon (chest) are officially questionable for the game, although Wilks expressed optimism they would be available. The one question about Williams: How much can he contribute after missing five games.

"That's one of the things I have to really evaluate," Wilks said. "I don't want to put him in a position where it is not advantageous for the team, or most importantly, himself. I have a lot of confidence in Trent (Sherfield), a lot of confidence in Jalen (Tolliver)."

For the Falcons, wide receiver Julio Jones (foot/calf/illness) practiced for the first time this week on a limited basis, but will play. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain (toe) is out. Running back Ito Smith (neck/knee) is questionable.

Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons

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