Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich gazed in amazement at the Cardinals’ huddle during Thursday’s practice.
Running back David Johnson was there, as was wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Around them? Rookies galore.
“We had like seven or eight of them in the huddle today,” Leftwich said. “It’s crazy.”
The Cardinals (3-9) are coming off an energizing last-second win over the Packers, and would love to capture back-to-back games for the first time this season Sunday against the Lions. The degree of difficulty has increased, though, due to a litany of injuries on offense.
Leading receiver Christian Kirk broke his foot against the Packers, robbing the Cardinals of their most explosive passing game threat. Left guard Mike Iupati and left tackle D.J. Humphries also went on injured reserve this week, leaving the Cardinals without a single player from their projected offensive line in training camp.
It is conceivable for seven rookies – quarterback Josh Rosen, center Mason Cole, left tackle Korey Cunningham, left guard Colby Gossett, wideout Trent Sherfield, running back Chase Edmonds and possibly wide receiver Jalen Tolliver – to play a snap together on Sunday.
“I know it’s a situation that most people wish they weren’t in, but I don’t mind it,” Leftwich said. “Let’s go. Let’s see how it goes.”
Even though the offensive line is patched together, it held up surprisingly well in Green Bay. Rosen was only sacked twice and the Cardinals rushed for a season-high 182 yards.
“They’ve been battling their butts off up front,” Rosen said. “It has not been a distinctive change with the amount of time I’ve had in the pocket. They’re playing really hard and playing pretty well.”
Kirk’s absence hinders a passing game that has already been uneven in 2018. Fitzgerald should be the go-to target but there are questions behind him in the receiving corps. Sherfield, an undrafted free agent, could see an uptick in playing time, while second-year pass-catcher Chad Williams (ankle) will return from a four-game absence. Sherfield knows the outside expectations are low.
“We’ve actually been overlooked even when we had Christian,” Sherfield said. “I honestly believe now that a whole lot more teams are like, ‘Well, we’re definitely going to overlook them now with Christian gone.’ But we have guys in the room. We have talent in the room.”
After so much offensive upheaval, the Cardinals’ defense will likely need to lead the way. It played well against the Packers, holding quarterback Aaron Rodgers to one of the worst statistical games of his career.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has not fared well in his past six games but the veteran has arm strength and improvisational skills like Rodgers.
“They present some of the same problems for the defense,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
While the Cardinals are in the midst of a losing season, coach Steve Wilks said the infusion of all the rookies has been invigorating. The hope is that the youthful exuberance contributes to another victory.
“The energy is definitely there,” Wilks said. “The sense of urgency is there as well. They’re getting an opportunity to get out there and perform, so it’s exciting.”
Past images between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions