Korey Cunningham not only got his first start last week, but the rookie tackle also played in an NFL regular-season game for the first time, and he noticed the difference.
"After the game, my whole body was like, 'I never felt this way in college,' " Cunningham said Friday.
With one out of the way, Cunningham will try it again Sunday in Los Angeles. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries will miss his second straight game with a knee injury, leaving Cunningham to deal with Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Cunningham said he knew at the beginning of the week Humphries was going to sit – unlike last week, when it was more up in the air – so that allowed a lengthy preparation process that has put him in a good place mentally.
"I'm young, I'm a rookie, I know they're probably going to try me a little bit," Cunningham said. "I've got to be ready for that. It's all about confidence."
Cunningham was a seventh-round pick out of Cincinnati, a player that for most of the season was seen as a potential "redshirt," on the 53-man roster but likely inactive, like Humphries had done himself as a rookie.
But top reserve tackle John Wetzel suffered a season-ending neck injury, and then Humphries got hurt, leading to Cunningham's start against the Raiders. Pro Football Focus graded him at 68.8 for the game, second-best on the Cardinals' line behind left guard Mike Iupati.
"At times you can feel when guys feel uncomfortable," coach Steve Wilks said. "(But) it wasn't too big for him. He performed well."
Depending on the future of Humphries – who will be a free agent after the 2019 season -- Cunningham is a candidate to eventually start on either the left side or right, where veteran Andre Smith current works. Cunningham, who played right tackle as a junior in college, said he is comfortable on either side.
The comfort level extends to start No. 2 as well.
"I feel better prepared," Cunningham said. "It's a bigger task this week."
BAKER, PETERS ARE GAME-DAY DECISIONS
In addition to Humphries, linebacker Deone Bucannon (chest), wide receiver Chad Williams (ankle) and safety Rudy Ford (heel) were all ruled out for Sunday. Wilks said he was "hopeful" defensive tackle Corey Peters (heel/back), who was downgraded to a DNP Friday, will play. He also said there was a "possibility" safety Budda Baker (knee), who was limited Friday and wearing a brace on his left knee, could play.
Officially, kicker Phil Dawson (hip) is questionable, but Wilks said he was "fine." Other Cardinals who are questionable include Iupati (back), who was downgraded to limited Friday, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (calf), tight end John Phillips (knee) and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (ankle).
For the Chargers, running back Melvin Gordon (hamstring/knee), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (not-injury-related) and wide receiver Tyrell Williams (quadriceps) are all questionable.
PLAYING AT STUBHUB
Most of the Cardinals have yet to play a game at StubHub Center, the venue the Chargers are calling their home until the new building they will share with the Rams is finished for the 2020 season. Capacity for Chargers games is a mere 27,000 or so.
QB Josh Rosen has played there, but it was for a high school game. Safety Tre Boston was a Charger last season.
"It was what we called an intimate crowd," Boston said. "Near and dear. You knew what fan base you were coming into, usually opposite (of the Chargers). I think those guys are winning and the fans are starting to pick up more and more. Once you get there, you get a feel that it's a soccer stadium, but I think they've done a good job of building up the fans."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers