Cardinals defensive tackle Rodney Gunter sacks Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton last week.
The length of an apprenticeship varies by company. For one position group on the Cardinals, it seems to be 11 weeks.
Ankle injuries to veteran defensive tackles Frostee Rucker and Cory Redding have left them doubtful to play in Sunday's Week 12 contest against the 49ers. The duo has combined for 23 years of NFL experience, and in that time they've picked up many tricks of the trade.
Redding, Rucker and Calais Campbell have spent a lot of time passing along wisdom to their four inexperienced teammates on the line – rookies Rodney Gunter and Xavier Williams, as well as second-year players Josh Mauro and Ed Stinson. With Campbell the only healthy veteran, the youngsters are expected to see expanded roles this week (although
Stinson could sit with a groin injury himself.) The Cardinals also signed veteran defensive lineman .
"It's always a concern when you lose guys in the same position, but we've got some young guys," coach Bruce Arians said. "It's Thanksgiving now, so they should be ready to play."
Campbell said the defensive line veterans have taught professionalism to the youngsters since their first day together in the offseason. Mauro said it's not just what Campbell and Rucker say, but how they go about their business.
"They really set the bar, as far as the intensity, the tempo, the energy, the physicality we have to play with up front," Mauro said. "(Campbell) doesn't even like missing plays in practice or the game. He'll rarely come out. When you see a guy like that, the rest of us just try to fall in line and do what they do."
Williams played at Northern Iowa last year and then went undrafted, and he's trying to soak up as many lessons as possible.
"I'm happy I'm not with a really young group, because in that case it's kind of like the blind leading the blind," Williams said. "Luckily we have guys who have gone through it multiple times for many years."
While the guidance is important, in the end, it's about production on the field. The youthful quartet is not a heralded group – none was higher than a fourth-round draft pick – and it must be ready for the expanded playing time. Gunter is the only starter and even he hasn't been on the field for 50 percent of the snaps.
Instead of being worried, the backups are looking at this as a great showcase for their skills. Williams was active for the first time last week and played 10 snaps due to Redding's injury. It only whetted his appetite for more action.
"I don't want anyone to get hurt because I love C-Redd, Frostee, all those guys, but I know it's an opportunity," Williams said. "They're not done for the year, so this could be a limited opportunity or I can help myself to make this a permanent kind of thing. I'm just trying to take advantage of every snap that I get."
Stinson, Mauro, Williams and Gunter are no strangers to pressure. Their first order of business was to simply make the team in training camp at a deep position, as they beat out veterans Matt Shaughnessy and Alameda Ta'amu.
Even throughout the season, they've known the team can make a move in a heartbeat to bring in other bodies if they aren't performing well.
"If you don't feel like you have something to prove every day, not just when injuries come up, there's something wrong with you as a competitor," Mauro said.
Now they'll get their biggest chance under the bright lights. Campbell will play the lion's share of the game at one defensive line spot, but the other two positions should see a steady rotation of the four others.
Campbell will do what he can to dole out advice during the game, but for the most part, the others must hold up on their own.
"B.A. has always taken pride in having young guys step up and do their jobs," Campbell said. "He puts them in position during practice to know their responsibility. They get a lot of reps, so they're ready."
Past images of the Cardinals playing on Thanksgiving