There’s probably no position unit on the Cardinals that has had as much conversation throughout the offseason and training camp as the cornerbacks.
Following the departure of Patrick Peterson to the Vikings, that position was the one most everyone believed the team should target with its first-round pick in the draft. At the time, Malcolm Butler was the only somewhat significant addition from the free-agent market, and that came at the relatively bargain price of $3.25 million for one year.
In the draft, the Cardinals selected linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round, wide receiver Rondale Moore in the second and used their third-round pick to acquire center Rodney Hudson from the Raiders.
It wasn’t until the fourth round when the team supplemented the position with Florida’s Marco Wilson. Fourth-round choices don’t move the needle for the fan base, but while it’s been only one game, the cornerback group appears solid with Byron Murphy Jr., Robert Alford and Wilson the top three after the sudden retirement of Butler in the week of the roster reduction to 53 players.
Said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, “Murph obviously is in his third season, he's grown up a lot. I knew Alford could play once he was healthy again. I mean, he's a veteran player that's been in big games. He's been in the biggest game (Super Bowl) and made big plays in those games. And Marco Wilson; watched him through the spring and watching him in camp, I knew he can play but sometimes it's too big for young guys early and it wasn't. It wasn't perfect, guys. But he was relaxed, and he was playing against good people. And he challenged and again, it wasn't perfect, but he tackled and he challenged. And he's a fairly smart kid, so that's a good combination for a young guy.”
General manager Steve Keim agreed with Joseph about Wilson: “We traded up to get him because the grades were so big and we had a lot of confidence in him throughout the evaluation process. And then that's sort of carried on into the offseason. We got him here. And we were able to work with him in person. And every day, he continued to stack good days of practice and build confidence within our building.
“And it was one of those deals where, ‘OK, now let's see what he can do when the lights come on.’ And, and obviously, he did not disappoint. He was physical, he was fast. He did a great job in coverage. He's got very good anticipation skills, understands zone and man concepts. So the things that he does as a rookie have been extremely exciting and feel like again, he'll just continue to grow through experience.”
Murphy said he feels more comfortable with each passing day.
“Just felt more comfortable overall with the defense, my leverage all the little key things, reading those minor things that rookie year, I kinda was trying to think all over the place,” he said.
“I still think I haven't even been my best yet. So I’m just thinking like every single week, I come in and just keep being better every single day. And knowing to myself staying true to myself.”
Murphy said being only two years removed from being a rookie like Wilson, he was able to help him.
“I told Marco; every single game because I was a rookie at one point, I just told him to come in and play his game,” Murphy said. “Don't think about it too much. Obviously, look at the defense, know the defense, just go in and play your leverage. So I just think overall, for Marco to have a game like that is a big deal. He came in and held his own.”
Murphy was also beyond pleased that Alford was able to be on the field after missing two complete seasons with injuries.
He said, “Just to have my brother back with us in our room, missing those games and that type of energy, we were always praying for him. And just to see him come back, be mentally right, coming out there to play the game that he had a good game as well. So it's just good to see him back with the group.”
Of course, last week was last week, and the play in the back end was helped by the pass rush led by linebacker Chandler Jones.
Against Minnesota Sunday, there will be another challenge, matched against Vikings receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
Confidence is building among the cornerbacks and they all expect to go out each play and excel.