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Rookies About To Play Huge Role For Cardinals

Injuries and need will put draft class in crucial spot

Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy figures to have a big role as a rookie, even before veteran Robert Alford went down with an injury.
Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy figures to have a big role as a rookie, even before veteran Robert Alford went down with an injury.

Byron Murphy was always going to play significant snaps for the Cardinals, even as a rookie.

The cornerback's playing time probably won't be significantly impacted by the long-term leg injury to starting cornerback Robert Alford. Perhaps it'll change where Murphy plays – the slot or outside – but the Cards need him to play well regardless.

The same goes for a whole host of rookies, moreso than most years. The Cardinals are going to lean on their draft class.

"You get drafted for a reason," Murphy said after practice Saturday. "Whatever happens, someone has to carry the flag. It's a team sport. There's no pressure. We have to stick to being ourselves. The standard has been set."

Kyler Murray will start at quarterback. Murphy will have a big role at cornerback, a position that's taken a hit with Alford's injury and Patrick Peterson's suspension. Zach Allen will start on the defensive line after the release of Darius Philon. KeeSean Johnson is tracking to be in the mix of the top three or four receivers, and Andy Isabella might get in there eventually. Even offensive linemen Lamont Gaillard and Joshua Miles could end up as some of the main backups with their unit.

"When you come in as a rookie, you should want to contribute and help the team win games," Johnson said. "For us, some of the young guys having to step up. That's good for them and the team."

Coaches don't always love turning to first-year players if they can help it. Ken Whisenhunt slow-played rookies like running back Beanie Wells and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, preferring to make sure they were used to the game before they got a bigger role. Bruce Arians liked to say that it took until about Thanksgiving before rookies were truly prepared to do their jobs.

These Cardinals don't really have an option. Coach Kliff Kingsbury was ready for that reality anyway, although injuries have only underscored the need for the newcomers.

"We feel great and who we brought in with that draft class," Kingsbury said. "Talking with (GM) Steve (Keim) before the draft, we knew we needed to draft guys who could come in and have an immediate impact and high-character guys who could help build our culture. We feel like we did."

Allen said the class – most of whom were the first pick in their respective rounds – have bounced thoughts about transitioning to the pros off each other, picking each other's brains about what works.

All of them were already preparing to start the last couple years in college at least, Allen said, so the mindset – albeit in a different football environment – has some similarities.

"If you're a competitor, you want to come in and compete for a starting job," Allen said.

How it plays out on the field is to be determined. The Cardinals were always going to have Murray front and center, even if everyone else had stayed healthy/unsuspended/on the roster. That's a big place for a rookie to be.

What Murray went through Thursday against the Raiders is a microcosm with what rookies must deal. There will be success, but there will also be failure at times.

"It's good for us to see that," Murray said after the game. "It's good for us to feel that."