Banjo, Gaillard Exemplify 'Next-Man-Up' Mentality in Week 1 Victory

Howard Balzer

Quality depth can be difficult to come by in the NFL, but having it can be the difference in winning and losing when injuries arise.

The Cardinals experienced that Sunday when safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) left Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers on the second defensive play and center Mason Cole (hamstring) went out in the third quarter.

While head coach Kliff Kingsbury would only say Monday that their absences will “hopefully not (be) too long, but we'll see tomorrow where that's at,” he praised the performances of replacements safety Chris Banjo and center Lamont Gaillard.

Banjo, an eight-year veteran, has been mostly a special-teams player and last year played the third-most snaps with the unit at 62 percent, while being on the field for 42 defensive snaps the entire season. He played 58 of a possible 62 snaps on defense against the 49ers in Week 1 and added 15 of a possible 28 on special teams.

Gaillard was a sixth-round draft pick in 2019 and never got on the field as he was inactive for 14 games and did not play in two games that he was active. Sunday, he played 46 snaps at center and added six on special teams.

“Lamont did a nice job,” Kingsbury said Monday. “That's not easy to step in; second-year player, didn't play any last year at center, making all the calls, doing all the things we asked him to do. I thought he handled himself well against that front and allowed us to have a couple big drives there late to win the game and I was impressed. He's always been super competitive. He's a tough-nosed young man. He got in there and competed well.”

As for Banjo, who had six tackles (three solo), Kingsbury said, “Banjo’s a guy who had a phenomenal camp. We felt like when we wrapped up camp that he was the guy who could step in for either the safeties and continue to help us. He did that yesterday, played a bunch of snaps, made a bunch of tackles and I just couldn't be more impressed by him as a teammate. The way he engages with his teammates on the sideline and the energy he brings to practice, whether it's special teams or defense.

“He's the type of guy you want on your roster. And so it was great to see him get that opportunity.

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