Earlier this week, Colt McCoy went into a small room by himself at the Dignity Health Training Center to watch some video.
The Cardinals' backup quarterback knew at that point starter Kyler Murray was dealing with an ankle injury that put his status for Sunday's game at San Francisco in doubt. Not that it mattered. Even if Murray was completely healthy, McCoy would have come to this small room to watch video.
"It's a unique position," McCoy said of being a backup QB. "You always have to be ready, right? Whether it is for a few plays, whether it is for the rest of the game, whether it is for a few games down the stretch.
"I've started a lot of games in the NFL and been a backup for a lot. Really, I try to keep my approach as similar as possible each week, no matter what. For me, it's important if I come off the bench to help because something happened to the starter, my teammates can know what they're getting from me."
Murray did not practice at all this week. Coach Kliff Kingsbury reiterated Friday Murray would still be able to play knowing the game plan and getting mental reps. The Cardinals will allow him a couple more days of rest and see how Murray's ankle is on Sunday morning.
"He's progressing, we'll see how he feels Sunday, and go from there," Kingsbury said. "I know he wants to play. He understands how important a division game is, and is playing at a really high level.
"We're not going to put him out there unless he can function. He wants to play. We'll see."
Murray has played excellent football. But after the Cardinals lost their finale in 2020 against the Rams in part because the Rams got better backup quarterback play than the Cards did, GM Steve Keim set out to upgrade the spot.
That led the team to McCoy, who has been in the league since 2010, with 47 games played with 30 starts.
McCoy has already paid dividends as a mentor for Murray during practice, in games and in the meeting room. But in the end, the most important aspect of the job is this very situation – being prepared if the starter cannot play.
"I think you do learn how to do that," McCoy said. "For me, it's a challenge every week to make myself get ready, to take a lot of mental reps, to watch a lot of tape. You have to do extra things because you are not physically doing it at practice every day."
The only thing that changes for him this week, McCoy noted, would be the physical reps he got on the practice field with Murray sitting. The rest of it – meetings, video study, mental planning – was the same as any other week.
Murray said the same, saying the only difference in their interactions this week were McCoy checking to see how Murray was feeling.
"Because Kyler Murray is the best player on the team, so if Kyler Murray is a superstar, if he can't go … of course you feel (on defense) like you've got to play a little bit harder," linebacker Markus Golden said. "But I played with Colt in New York. I know how he goes every day. This guy is more focused than anybody I've ever seen. You'd think he was (always) starting."
In practice, McCoy will stand behind Murray during plays, watching how the starter operates, looking to mimic some of the things Murray does – the snap count, where the ball goes on a particular play, what Murray may be seeing with the coverage.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Colt," tight end Zach Ertz said. "In the NFL, injuries happen. You are going to miss a game here and there, and the next guy has to stand up. Colt's been working his butt off in case he does have to go."
McCoy started all 21 games he played in his first two NFL seasons, but since 2012, he has not appeared in more than five games in any one season. He has just five starts the past three years, but with 989 career passes, he knows what playing in an NFL game is like.
Last season, one of his starts came in Seattle, allowing the Giants to hand the Seahawks their lone home loss of the season.
"I've been through a couple seasons in the NFL where you never play," McCoy said. "That's good too. Means your starter is healthy, he's played well and you're probably going to the playoffs.
"But I sure enjoy what I get to do."
HOPKINS ALSO GAME-DAY DECISION
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who also didn't practice all week, also is a game-day decision, Kingsbury said.
The coach said center Rodney Hudson, who remains on IR, is "trending the right way" to come back, and he added that defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence (calf) suffered a setback in practice this week and is out, while offensive lineman Max Garcia (Achilles) joins Murray, Hopkins as questionable. Running back Jonathan Ward (concussion), safety James Wiggins (knee) and defensive lineman J.J. Watt (shoulder) are out.
For the 49ers, wide receiver Deebo Samuel (calf) is also a game-day decision, while coach Kyle Shanahan said tight end George Kittle will be activated off IR on Saturday and will play Sunday.
COACHES MISSING BECAUSE OF COVID
The Cardinals, who aren't expected to have wide receiver A.J. Green or tight end Demetrius Harris because of Covid on Sunday, also will be missing three coaches because of Covid: Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, running backs coach James Saxon, and assistant offensive line coach Brian Natkin.