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Cardinals Practice Notes: Zaven Collins Coming Along at Difficult Position

The Arizona Cardinals returned to the practice field without left guard Justin Pugh, who continues to deal with a calf injury.

The post-bye week injury report indicated that the Cardinals are getting healthier. 

The weekly list had seven players on it Wednesday, including two rest days. It had 17 Cardinals listed in Week 11, before the bye. 

Left guard Justin Pugh was the only Cardinal listed as a non-participant due to injury Wednesday, and he remained out during the open part of Thursday's practice. 

Quarterback Kyler Murray was in pads and doing drills, including one in which he moved around in the pocket to evade pressure. 

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was making one-handed catches as is customary. 

The Thursday practice report will indicate whether that tandem was limited again or upgraded. 

Practice notes:

What to expect from Chicago

Aside from potentially damp and chilly weather, which the Cardinals say does not affect how they play, Arizona expects to face the run a lot against the Bears in Chicago Sunday. 

The Bears have the 11th-most carries with the eighth-most rushing yards in the NFL this season. 

"They have a lot of good skill guys," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. "(David) Montgomery is an NFL back that runs hard and breaks tackles. I think they're a top-10 rushing offense.

"The challenge is going to be, again, always to defeat what they do best."

Joseph also pointed out wide receiver Darnell Mooney as someone on the Bears' offense who stands out. 

Which Chicago quarterback starts is still up in the air, as starter Justin Fields continues to deal with a ribs issue. Backup Andy Dalton played last week in a victory over the winless Lions. 

Zaven Collins

Joseph said rookie Zaven Collins has been a strong worker this year, but it is difficult to play MIKE linebacker. 

Collins did not play a defensive snap last game against the Seahawks. 

"I think with all rookies that have to be the play-caller, that's tough," Joseph said. "That's a learned deal with time."

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Joseph ensured that Collins has had some great moments and is not discouraged by his inconsistent playing time. 

"We need him, so he is definitely a big part of our defense still," Joseph said.

Zach Ertz

A few weeks ago, Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, who was acquired via trade in Week 6, said his learning the offense was still a work in progress, but he was getting there. 

That has changed now. 

"I feel good," Ertz said. "There's not a lot of thinking anymore. It's just playing fast. I feel extremely confident and comfortable in this offense now."

Ertz had a couple of touchdowns in his most recent game in Seattle. 

Now, he just needs more reps with Murray once the quarterback returns.

"It's fun to play in, there's a lot of space in the middle of the field," Ertz said of the offense. "Obviously it's in large part because of how (head coach Kliff Kingsbury) designs plays. It's also in large part because of the guys and the weapons we have on the outside."

Short-term goals

There are six weeks left in the season, and the Cardinals are close to clinching a playoff spot. 

But this has been a team that has lived by the 1-0-each-week mentality, and its players don't see that changing much. 

"You've got to have short-term goals and that's to try to win every week," Ertz said. "How do you get better from Wednesday to Thursday, Thursday to Friday, get ready to play on Sunday? And I think this team has grasped that mentality."

This in a way came up when linebacker Devon Kennard took the mic.

Kennard is a Phoenix native and was asked about the Cardinals and Suns both having the best records in their respective leagues. 

"Good year to be an Arizona sports fan," Kennard said. "But we can't get ahead of ourselves. I'm sure the Suns are over there saying the same thing. 

"The month of December is really important."