Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams began the season as the starter but has since been relegated to the bench.
The expected absence of Tyrann Mathieu for Sunday's game against the 49ers would cause a ripple effect in the Cardinals' secondary.
One player who may be able to ride that wave to playing time is rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. He started the first two games of the season but a two-interception day by Marcus Cooper against the Buccaneers flipped the depth chart.
If Mathieu is sidelined this week with a shoulder injury, Cooper would likely move to the slot, and an outside cornerback position would open.
Coach Bruce Arians said on Tuesday either Williams or Justin Bethel would likely be the fifth defensive back in nickel packages if Mathieu and cornerback Tharold Simon (ankle) can't play.
Williams struggled against New England after playing well during training camp and took it hard when he was sent to the bench.
"I'd be a liar if I said my emotions didn't switch," Williams said. "I'm a competitor. I want to be in that limelight to produce for my team. In a way I felt like I let a lot of my teammates down."
Bethel has steadily progressed from a foot injury that has bothered him for much of the year, so it's not a given Williams plays, but he desperately wants that shot.
"How badly would you want the opportunity?" Williams said.
One wrinkle is the quicker-than-expected recovery of Mathieu, who was knocked from the team's most recent game against the Panthers with a shoulder injury. Original estimates had him missing three-to-six weeks, although Mathieu guessed two-to-three.
"Ty's real close, but I don't know (about Sunday)," Arians said.
A REFRESHING BYE WEEK
The Cardinals underperformed in the first half of the season, but Arians noted Tuesday that the goals they set in April are still in play. The NFC is muddled, and there is time left for the team to get hot.
The Cardinals lost last time out in Carolina, but the bye seemed to invigorate them both mentally and physically.
"We've got adversity right in front of our face, and I think everybody's ready to tackle and to challenge it," safety Tony Jefferson said. "I'm really excited to see how we go out there and play the rest of the way."
After the players were given last week completely off from practicing, Tuesday's session was padded and Wednesday's will be the same. Jefferson said he felt "rejuvenated" and Arians liked what he saw when the team returned from the long weekend away.
"I thought we came back fairly healthy and there was a lot of energy on the practice field," Arians said. "Really looking forward to getting this week started."
Arians said Mathieu, linebacker Alex Okafor and tight end Darren Fells are progressing quicker than expected from injuries and have a chance to play against the 49ers. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had a bad ankle, was not present during the open part of practice. There was no official injury report on Tuesday.
WETZEL WILL GET HELP UNLESS HE DOESN'T
In 2013, before Jared Veldheer joined the Cardinals, Arians rotated journeymen Levi Brown and Bradley Sowell at left tackle. It was a scary proposition at times, and the team hopes that won't be the case with new fill-in John Wetzel.
He has taken over for Veldheer, who suffered a season-ending torn triceps in Carolina, and Arians said it's a balance in how you treat a backup at such a crucial position.
"You help them as much as you can, but the more you try to help them, the more they don't get help," Arians said. "They just have to do their job and let them know you trust them to do their job."
FOOD DRIVE BEFORE 49ERS GAME
The Cardinals and Hyundai will host a holiday food drive before Sunday's game against the 49ers.
Volunteers from St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance and the Cardinals cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and on the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items and/or money to the cause.
Images of the Cardinals' statistical leaders through the first eight games