The Arizona Cardinals practice on Wednesday was changed from full contact to a walk-through.
The team didn’t have in-person media availability Wednesday either, instead meeting with media via Zoom.
Mark Dalton, a team spokesman, said the media conference call was ”walk-through-related,” not “COVID-related,” though the team has had ongoing COVID issues.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said last year’s Wednesday practices were “fairly intense.” The adjustment to walk-through offers more time to recover an extra day from injuries and become more fresh for Sundays, he said. That includes their next game hosting the Carolina Panthers, and looking to stay as healthy as possible as they move closer to their bye in Week 12.
“We’ll practice, but Wednesday, like I said, we’ll continue to be smart on that and monitor who’s up, who’s not and really try to get to the bye week with that in mind,” Kingsbury said. “After the bye week, after we’re refreshed and re-energized, we’ll take it from there.”
Among the injured key players, quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle), wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring), starting offensive linemen Justin Pugh (calf) and Max Garcia (Achilles) are day-to-day, Kingsbury said. Also, their other veteran WR A.J. Green still is in the COVID- 19 protocol since he was placed on the Reserve/COVID list on Nov. 3.
Their longtime long snapper Aaron Brewer is out for the next few weeks with a broken arm, and OL Sean Harlow might be his emergency backup.
Murray said he doesn’t like taking time off from practice, but felt Wednesday’s walk-through was good to keep the team close.
“Just to be around the guys, see the plays, see it on the field,” Murray said. “Obviously, If I don’t take the reps, it’s odd in practice, but just to be able to see it, I think that helps anybody.”
The Cardinals-Panthers matchup might have both team’s backup QBs as starters.
For Arizona, that means Colt McCoy for the second consecutive week if Murray can’t go on Sunday.
Carolina will be without its starter Sam Darnold on the Reserve/Injured list with a fractured shoulder on his throwing arm. PJ Walker will replace Darnold.
Kingsbury praised McCoy’s preparation, likening him to a coach. He cited his performance completing 84.6% of his passes, 249 yards and one touchdown thrown in their win over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday.
“Just his daily approach. He’s one of the first players in the building, one of the last to leave,’ Kingsbury said about McCoy. “He’s the only one I’ve seen in there who will eat dinner with the coaches every now and then because he treats it like he is a coach and he prepares that way. So, when his number is called, he knows exactly where to go with the ball and how to move the football. We’ve been very fortunate to have him here, on a lot of different levels, but it was great to actually see his success actually on the field on Sunday.”
Kingsbury also spoke highly about the 2020 XFL MVP Walker, who signed with Carolina in March. He’s the second backup QB to start against the Cardinals since 49ers’ Trey Lance on Oct. 10.
“We scouted PJ coming out of the XFL, thought he played a really high level,” Kingsbury said. “Really liked him and I think we tried to get him here at some point. But smart player, cerebral, can tell he gets the ball out quick, gets to the right spot. He’s athletic, can move around and make plays. Anytime you have a new quarterback coming in, it’s a challenge for the defense. It will look different, and I’m sure he’ll come in and play at a high level.”
Kingsbury on RBs Conner, Benjamin
The Cardinals RB room has gone from four to two healthy backs.
Their starter Chase Edmonds’ high ankle sprain against the 49ers and Jonathan Ward’s lingering neck/concussion issues opens James Conner and Eno Benjamin to be their number one and two RBs against Carolina.
Conner, who’s second behind Edmonds, has emerged as the NFL’s touchdown leader scoring 11 this season. Conner had his first three-TD game in Arizona’s second win over the 49ers.
“We liked what we had working with those two guys,” Kingsbury said. “When James has been the number one guy, he’s carried the load for the majority of his career there in Pittsburgh. This is an opportunity that he wants and we expect him to play at a high level when his number’s called.”
Benjamin has come a long way since he was nearly cut by the Cardinals last season. He rushed for 39 yards on nine attempts and steamrolled over 49ers CB Dre Kirkpatrick for his first NFL career touchdown in the third quarter after he filled in for Edmonds.
“He was hanging out by a thread, but he came back a different guy from Day One in training camp on,” Kingsbury said. “And even when we had a couple of weeks with the players here, you could just tell it was a different type of focus, different type attention to detail.”
Kingsbury added that he’s impressed by Arizona State alum Benjamin’s physicality playing with special teams unit and in their run game.
“He’s been great and you can see the team is really proud of how far he’s come and it’s a great story so far.”
Despite not having a full practice on Wednesday, many Cardinals players were listed out (estimated) from their injuries. Those include Murray, Hopkins, Pugh, Garcia, running backs Edmonds (ankle) and Jonathan Ward (neck/concussion), WR Rondale Moore, DL Jordan Phillips (groin), tight end David Wells (hand), and safeties Budda Baker (concussion/knee) and James Wiggins (knee).
Limited Cardinals include OLs Kelvin Beachum (shin), TEs Darrell Daniels (shoulder) and Demetrius Harris (illness) and LB Jordan Hicks (toe). WR Christian Kirk (thumb) was listed as a full participant.
Panthers who didn’t practice on Wednesday were Darnold, defensive end Brian Burns, LB Frankie Luvu, and cornerback Stanley Thomas-Oliver (toe). Their only limited players was CB Rashaan Melvin (hand), and full participants were LBs Jermaine Carter Jr. (groin) and Shaq Thompson (knee) and cornerback CJ Henderson (shoulder).
Phillips fined for late hit on Rodgers
Cardinals defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was fined $15,450 last Saturday for his roughing the passer penalty following their home loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 28.
The late hit came during the third quarter after Aaron Rodgers throw his second TD pass to WR Randall Cobb to take a 17-7 lead. Rodgers lost his helmet on the play, and a photo of his reaction instantly became popular fodder for social media memes.
The Cardinals activated tight end Demetrius Harris from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. They signed veteran tight end Alex Ellis, long snapper Kyle Nelson and wide receiver Darrius Shepherd to the practice squad. Nelson is a nine-yard veteran who spent the past seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
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