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Upgrades At Inside Linebacker Will Benefit Cardinals

Notes: Hopkins returns to practice; Gardeck shifts outside

Veterans Jordan Hicks (58) and De'Vondre Campbell led the retooled inside linebackers group.
Veterans Jordan Hicks (58) and De'Vondre Campbell led the retooled inside linebackers group.

Inside linebacker was going to be a point of emphasis for the Cardinals heading into this offseason, and it showed.

Jordan Hicks was an excellent free-agent signing in 2019, but he needed help. So the Cards then signed veteran De'Vondre Campbell to make sure they at least solidified the starting lineup. Then the draft fell their way to nab Isaiah Simmons in the first round, and uber-productive Evan Weaver in the sixth.

It changed so much that Dennis Gardeck , an inside linebacker his first two seasons, is now working on the outside.

"Those inside guys, our room just got a lot deeper, through the draft, through free agency," coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

"There's a lot of quality players who have played a lot of snaps in this league. It's been fun to see that position progress, and we just have to be creative."

Covering the tight end was the big upgrade needed. Kingsbury raved about the athleticism of Campbell, the vet who may keep Simmons out of the starting lineup for now. Campbell not only can aid the on-field play, but he adds the experienced element that first arrived with Hicks last season.

"I try to do my best with the knowledge that I know," Campbell said. "I don't try to overstep my boundaries. Jordan Hicks is the leader of this team at this point and I just try to help him as much as I can."

Campbell is also helping Simmons, calling the rookie "very, very intelligent" as the first-rounder tries to assimilate into the NFL. Kingsbury has said multiple times the Cardinals want to make sure Simmons has a grasp of the game before trying too hard to tap into his Swiss Army Knife-type abilities.

Then there is Weaver, who is just trying to make the team but has the makeup usually craved on an NFL roster.

"A guy in my situation, just try to pick (a veteran's) brain and figure out what they know and go from there," Weaver said. "Every little question I can ask, every little detail I can get out of them, is something that is going to help my game."

HOPKINS RETURNS TO PRACTICE

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) was back at practice Wednesday, although Kingsbury said the Cardinals will work him back in slowly.

"He's been chomping at the bit to get back out there," Kingsbury said. "We're going to be smart and bring him along slowly, but he's getting a lot of mental reps and we'll continue to increase his load."

Kingsbury said there is no concern about long-term issues with the hamstring, and Hopkins has been taking part in afternoon walkthrough getting a "ton" of reps.

Both guard Justin Pugh and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were not taking part during the open portion of practice and looked like they were on vet days. Linebackers Hicks and Devon Kennard were not present during the open part, nor was tight end Maxx Williams. For Williams, it was the second straight day he was absent.

GARDECK WORKING AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

With the influx of new inside linebackers, Gardeck was moved to outside linebacker. Gardeck, a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams, had been at inside linebacker his first two seasons.

"He's such a tremendous special teams weapon but he's a heck of a football player as well," Kingsbury said. "We want him to have a role in the defensive phase at some point. … He's a guy that if an inside guy went down or an outside went down, you could throw him in."

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