Arizona Cardinals third-year running back Eno Benjamin is making the most of his first normalized offseason, something he had not had in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury called Benjamin a standout during OTAs and minicamp, commenting that the 23-year-old is playing like a starting NFL running back.
Benjamin has 34 career carries after being held inactive for the entirety of his rookie season in 2020.
He now finds himself in a highly competitive battle for snaps behind starter James Conner. Chase Edmonds left in free agency, opening a gap that Benjamin, third-year player Jonathan Ward, free-agent acquisition Darrel Williams and rookie sixth-rounder Keaontay Ingram will fight for during training camp.
"It's a mentality," Benjamin said Wednesday. "I think, just even in our running backs room, there's so much competition and even James Conner will tell you, everyone's mindset needs to be 'I'm the starting running back.' That's every day what I'm thinking. That's the way I like to go and try to carry on my business."
Benjamin admitted that the NFL game has slowed down substantially since he arrived as a seventh-round pick out of Arizona State.
He said he is recognizing defensive sets with an understanding of how to exploit them and that he is thinking less and allowing his preparation and instincts carry him.
Kingsbury complimented Benjamin's work ethic and growth as a pass-catcher and blocker, stating the young back always had the ability as a runner.
"He has changed his body, he's leaner but the pass-catching abilities, pass protection has just improved dramatically," Kingsbury said. "And I mean, he was running to exhaustion every day that he was here in OTAs. Just really excited about what I've seen from him and how far he's come."
Benjamin had to be patient for his chance, something he had to do at ASU as a freshman behind a pair of upperclassmen.
His wait in the NFL was longer, but he recognizes his chance to take a step up in his role.
"I think it's just more so being ready," Benjamin said. "Just knowing that you can do it and being confident in yourself and going out there and proving it. I'm very confident in my play and my skillset. It's just about going out there and showing it now."
Benjamin finally took the field on offense last year and made the most of his opportunity with 118 yards and a touchdown run. That rush involved Benjamin running over San Francisco 49ers cornerback and former Cardinal Dre Kirkpatrick en route to the end zone.
He called last season's experience a confidence booster, a sign that he belonged on an NFL stage despite getting playing time due to injuries.
Benjamin is a natural foil to Conner, as Conner is a 233-pound bowing ball who was nearly unstoppable in goal-line situations last season.
Benjamin is listed as 207 pounds and is a faster player while growing as a receiver.
Williams and Ingram are bigger backs while Ward does not have Benjamin's speed, so he brings a unique body type for Kingsbury to weaponize.
"It's right there in front of them, myself included, so it helps everybody, everybody has to come to work," Conner said of competition. "(Benjamin) plays fast, plays physical, plays real big. The nice thing is all of these running backs; everybody has their own style."
The Cardinals had four running backs on the 53-man roster during cutdowns last season, and it appears at least four will be on the squad this season to start.
They had a clear 1A and 1B last year with Conner and Edmonds. How they approach the snaps this season, especially after Conner got banged up down the stretch in 2021, will be something to figure out during camp.
Benjamin, though, has put himself firmly in the conversation to gain a more consistent role on offense, something Kingsbury said he is proud of.