Kyler Murray is a rookie. You knew that.
But he’s not the only one the Cards are leaning on Sunday when they open against the Lions. Cornerback Byron Murphy, even if he doesn’t start, will play a ton. Defensive end Zach Allen is starting. The Thompson twins Deionte and Jalen very well could both play (I’d think Jalen would be more likely if only one is active.) Wide receiver KeeSean Johnson will be important. And they may need tackle Joshua Miles or defensive linemen Michael Dogbe and/or Miles Brown.
“We’re rookies, but we’re here for a reason,” Murphy said. “We’ve been brought here for a reason, to show them what we can do. I wouldn’t say pressure, but it’s a lot of motivation for all of us to keep going hard, because it’s all of our first NFL games.”
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said he would take each player as a “case by case” basis in how to treat him, balancing the rookie realities and the need to play well quickly. You figure the bar will be different for Kingsbury when it comes to Murray – both of them burn to have success from jump, given all the arched eyebrows about what the Cards will do. But for the defensive rookies, for instance, “you want to make sure the game is still fun, and I can kind of be the good cop in that with those guys,” Kingsbury said. “You’re supposed to make mistakes, supposed to get beat at times – that’s what happens with rookies. But they have gotten a ton of reps and I’m excited to see them play.”
Although for some of these guys, given how much they have done since arriving in May, it’s tough to see themselves as rookies still.
“I think we’ve played too much ball. Learning every day, and it’s different from college, but we’ve seen a lot so far,” Allen said. “You don’t feel like a rookie, but you’re still trying to absorb as much information as you can.”
-- The news that the Cardinals will be without starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert is … not ideal. (\Waits for the barrage of comments on the subject below.\) The choices the Cardinals have for a fill-in are multiple and far from perfect. None of the backup tackles have much experience, whether it’s newcomers Justin Murray and new rookie Brett Toth, Miles, or even second-year man Mason Cole, whose NFL tackle experience is limited to practices in training camp (although he did play tackle as a senior at the University of Michigan.)
We will see if offensive line coach Sean Kugler has some magic in him – it might be notable that Kugler knows of Cole’s work as a Wolverine, because Kugler’s son was Cole’s teammate in Ann Arbor. (Although to be fair, Cole didn't sound overly enthusiastic about the tackle option when it was talked about a couple of weeks ago.)
-- Once Larry Fitzgerald goes in for one play Sunday, he will have played in his 235th NFL game, all with the Cardinals, and will break the tie he has with former kicker Jim Bakken for the most games played in franchise history.
-- Speaking of Fitz, this is a well-written piece about how sports could help in bridging the obvious divide that is growing in our country. It is optimistic, which is nice to see. (And why, even if you #sticktosports, you realize you can't just stick to sports.)
-- If case you missed it in the spring, as long as this season is about to get going, here's my story about Kliff Kingsbury's journey to get to NFL head coach.
-- I said it all the way back even when Kyler Murray was drafted – I think David Johnson remains the linchpin of the offense. Now we get to see if that’s true.
-- I think Christian Kirk has a giant year. I think Chandler Jones will as well.
-- However the Cards package their cornerbacks, that will be so intriguing to watch. Overcoming no Pat P/Robert Alford almost feels under the radar, even though it’s been talked about a ton.
-- It feels like there has been so much swirling around this team since the new year began, letting Steve Wilks go, the twists before hiring Kingsbury from USC, the Murray speculation and eventual pick, the Josh Rosen talk-then-trade, the spotlight on whatever Murray did as the No. 1 overall pick, the secrecy of the preseason. Thank goodness we’ve finally gotten to a game that counts.
See you Sunday.