Arizona Cardinals: Tony Jefferson

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The curtain is about to rise on Tony Jefferson's second act this season.

With safety Tyrann Mathieu out for at least two weeks after surgery to repair his fractured left thumb, Jefferson will re-assume his role as the Arizona Cardinals' strong safety, a position he spent organized team activities, minicamp and training camp in before starting the season atop the depth chart. Jefferson averaged about 65 snaps per game through the first four weeks while Mathieu either didn’t play or was worked back into the rotation sparingly as he continued to regain his football shape after ACL and LCL surgery.

Jefferson
Then Mathieu got healthy and Jefferson’s snaps dropped. He went from 81 against Denver in Week 5 to 11 against Washington a week later. Between Weeks 6 and 12, Jefferson played more than 25 snaps just once, when he was on the field for 71 against Philadelphia. Sunday in Atlanta he took over for Mathieu, who went down in the second quarter, and Jefferson finished with 51.

But on Sunday against Kansas City, Jefferson is ready to show what he learned as Mathieu’s understudy.

"Going through training camp being the starter and stuff and getting all the reps helped me out a lot," Jefferson said. "I knew coming in this year from last year I needed to make a jump, and I think I did a good job of that. And it’s helping me out now in this situation I’m in."

Those early season reps helped the second-year safety out of Oklahoma more mentally than they did physically. For the first time in his young career, Jefferson experienced what it was like to be an every-day starter.

"You get out there, you get to see what it’s like to play every snap and be the guy," Jefferson said. "You don’t want to be the guy that lets the defense down on certain calls, so you want to be as prepared as possible."

Mathieu set a standard last season before his rookie season ended with a knee injury in Week 14. But he raised the bar this season.

With him on the field, Arizona is a better defense against the pass.

Opposing quarterbacks’ completion percentage is 61 percent with Mathieu on the field compared to 67 percent without him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And the Cardinals’ interception-to-attempt ratio is higher when Mathieu plays (4.3 percent) than when he doesn’t (2.8 percent), as is Arizona’s sack-per-drop back percentage (6.9 percent vs. 3.5 percent).

Because Mathieu missed the first month of the season, Arizona had to organize its defense to play without him, thus making it better equipped to handle this absence, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.

"Just a couple man-to-man things," Bowles said Arizona will miss without Mathieu. "And things he can do at safety with the ability of doing some things. We went without him early in the year.

"We’ll make do."

The Cardinals will make do with their leading tackler through the first eight games of the season. And it’s not like Jefferson was cast aside when Mathieu returned. He continued to be Arizona’s base safety and got practice reps in nickel and dime packages.

"It’s not like it’s anything new," Jefferson said.

Jefferson has been dealing with a decreased role for the past two months, but he accepted playing fewer snaps and continued preparing for the next time he would be called upon -- if there was a next time.

"We’re winning and I’m not going to be a negative guy or anything like that," Jefferson said. "Tyrann’s a great football player, so I stepped in when I was needed.

"Now I’m back up to the full role."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Even though Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Dallas after fully practicing Friday, he’ll go through the concussion protocol a second time, coach Bruce Arians said.

“Just to make sure that he’s ready to go before we let him back out there,” Arians said.

Arians said Jefferson would see the team's independent neurological consultant Friday as a precaution.

Jefferson
“We’ve done everything we could for Tony,” Arians said.

After Friday’s practice, Arians said Jefferson was feeling fine and was joking around in the locker room.

On Thursday, Jefferson said he didn’t remember much, if any, of last Sunday's game against Philadelphia. He thought he suffered the concussion during a kickoff, but couldn’t recall the exact moment.

He started showing symptoms Sunday night and was diagnosed with the concussion Monday morning, Arians said.

If Jefferson can’t play Sunday, second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu will fill his role in base coverage and rookie safety Deone Bucannon will get more snaps, Arians said.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson, who also suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game, was listed as probable for Sunday's game.

Second-year running back Stepfan Taylor (calf) will not play. Rookie tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) was listed as questionable.

Also listed as probable were defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), linebacker Kenny Demens (knee), running back Andre Ellington (foot), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee).
Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It'll recap the top storyline from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson was just a true freshman at the University of Oklahoma in 2010.

He came in as one of the top five safeties in the country and was en route to Big 12 freshman of the year honors but first had to spend a season practicing against a Sooners legend. DeMarco Murray, who left Norman, Oklahoma, with his name etched throughout the Sooners’ record book, was the untouchable senior.

“He’s one of the hardest runners I’ve actually got to scrimmage against and stuff,” Jefferson said.

During one walk-through, Murray, now on a record-setting pace with the Dallas Cowboys, who Arizona plays Sunday, stiff-armed Jefferson so hard he still remembers it.

“We only had helmets on and I was mad but I couldn’t do anything because it was DeMarco,” Jefferson said. “I always remembered that. I’ve been waiting for this game to get him back.”

On Sunday, Jefferson will have his chance.

In other news ...

Don Banks of SI.com writes about Calais Campbell's postseason karma.

Kent Somers of azcentral.com writes about the 2014 draft class outperforming the 2013 class and about Terry Bradshaw's take on the Cardinals.

Tyler Killian of azcentral.com writes that Arizona may turn to Marion Grice this weekend.

Bob McManaman of azcentral.com writes that the Cardinals need an improved pass rush in Dallas.

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona writes about John Brown proving himself.

Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com writes about Trent Cole's $22,000 fine for hitting Carson Palmer last week.

Kyle Odegard of azcardinals.com writes about Antonio Cromatie having a solid season.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com writes about Arizona bringing the blitz.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson participated in a full practice on Thursday, basically assuring he’ll play Sunday in Dallas.

Peterson
Peterson
He was limited Wednesday, a day after passing the concussion protocol.

Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.

Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.

Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).

Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Training camp 2014 is over and a lot was discovered during the past 27 days.

Jobs were established, roster spots were lost, dreams were dashed. Camp ended with a major injury and a few serious comebacks. But what else did we learn during the Arizona Cardinals' training camp? Glad you asked.

    [+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
    AP Photo/Rick ScuteriCarson Palmer and the Arizona offense is way ahead of where they were at this time last year.
  • The offense really is light years ahead of where it was last year. Just watch the first two preseason games. The Cardinals were as efficient as they’ve been in some time, but that wasn’t just a show for the cameras. During practice, Arizona moved the ball with ease despite a defense knowing exactly what was coming most of the time. When Carson Palmer faced the scout defense this week, he looked almost flawless, using his battery of weapons to his advantage. What stood out most, however, was that the formation issues that plagued them last year were gone. This was an offense that knew what it was doing.
  • John Brown is the real deal. He still hasn’t gone against a live defense for an entire game but from what we’ve seen out of Brown, he’s as fast with pads on than without them. The Cardinals are trying to temper their expectations of Brown, but it’s tough. He’s lived up to the hype.
  • Left guard is the biggest concern on the offensive line. Heading into camp, 80 percent of the line was supposed to be set in stone, with right tackle being the only question mark. But Jonathan Cooper struggled all camp to overcome the mental and physical hurdles he’s facing after a year away from football, and now he's hampered by turf toe. Earl Watford had a chance to win the job but couldn’t, so it's Ted Larsen turn.
  • Frostee Rucker can replace Darnell Dockett. Dockett is out for the season with a torn ACL but his replacement is more than suitable. Rucker had a very good camp and the veteran has looked strong off the ball this week.
  • Sam Acho and Alex Okafor are back. Both linebackers were injured in Week 3 of last season but both have come back looking quicker and stronger than in 2013. They’ll be part of the rotation at outside linebacker and have showed throughout camp that they can still get to the quarterback.
  • Antonio Cromartie's hip is just fine. He’s made some SportsCenter-worthy plays in camp, proving the hip flexor that hampered him last season won’t be an issue this season. He’s also been consistent in his coverage.
  • Inside linebacker will be a work in progress. It was already going to be a project to replace Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby with a second-year player who played one snap last year in Kevin Minter and a veteran free agent, Larry Foote. But with Minter’s pectoral injury having sidelined him for more than a week, Kenny Demens has been thrust into the starting lineup as his replacement, leaving a lack of depth which caused Arizona to sign veteran Desmond Bishop, who has played just four games in the last two seasons.
  • Jaron Brown has what it takes to make this team. He played in all 16 games last season and had 11 catches for 140 yards. He might top his 2013 yardage in a game or two this season if his performance in camp is any indication. He’s quicker and more explosive than he was last season, and Brown has been making tough jump-ball catches, which will always put him in good graces with the coaching staff.
  • Bobby Massie isn't an issue anymore. It doesn’t matter when everything clicked for Massie, but it did, and for that the Cardinals are grateful. He earned the starting right tackle job during offseason workouts and has held on to it throughout camp. When an offensive lineman’s name doesn’t come up in conversation that’s a good thing, and you’ve hardly heard about Massie.
  • Tony Jefferson won't give up his job easily. That chip on Jefferson’s shoulder from not being drafted last season is still firmly planted there. With Tyrann Mathieu returning from injury this week, Jefferson has been playing at a high-enough level that’ll make it tough for the Cardinals’ to simply cast him aside for Mathieu. He’s playing fast and has been getting his hands on a lot of passes during camp. While Mathieu continues to work toward playing again, Jefferson is a solid option for the Cards at free safety.
If you didn’t pay close attention to the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason, you’d think their defense was made up of two positions: inside linebacker and cornerback.

Those areas have been getting the most headlines since the 2013 season ended. Arizona lost both starting inside linebackers from a year ago when Karlos Dansby bolted to Cleveland in free agency and Daryl Washington was suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy yet again. Later in the summer, cornerback Patrick Peterson became part of a national debate about who's the best cornerback in the league – him or Seattle’s Richard Sherman.

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Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Cardinals' Calais Campbell is looking to build on his nine-sack 2013 season.
Entering training camp, however, there’s more to the Cardinals’ defense. Much more, in fact, and it may be the team’s best unit, potentially ever.

The defensive line, which anchored Arizona’s No. 1 run defense last season, returns in full plus a few additions. Defensive end Calais Campbell, nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will again be the starting front. Alameda Ta’amu, who split time with Williams last season, is expected to fully return from an ACL injury suffered in Week 17 last season. Arizona began stockpiling the future of the defensive line by drafting Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, and while it'll be tough for them to crack the rotation early, Martin and Stinson will be learning from the some of best in the league. In 2013, the Cardinals allowed a league-best 84.4 rushing yards per game, and the 3.65 yards per run allowed were second lowest in the league.

Under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals reacted to a change in scheme with open arms. He altered the gap system and allowed the Cardinals to play based on their skill instead of having their attacks plotted out. The result was 47 sacks, the sixth most in the league last season and the third most in franchise history. Campbell had a career-high nine sacks and linebacker John Abraham had a resurgence, tallying 11.5 sacks, which moved him into the top 10 on the all-time sack list.

Abraham was signed last July as a third-down rusher and spot linebacker. That all changed in Week 3 when the Cardinals lost Lorenzo Alexander, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor to season-ending injuries. But what role Abraham will have this season will be one of camp’s most intriguing questions because all three linebackers lost last year are returning healthy. Abraham, who was also selected for the Pro Bowl, has earned the start at outside linebacker but will be part of a competition that’ll include Alexander, Acho, Okafor and Matt Shaughnessy, who re-signed with Arizona during the offseason.

While there’s an abundance of options at outside linebacker, the opposite is the case at inside.

The Cardinals were left to start from scratch without Dansby or Washington. This much we know: second-year linebacker Kevin Minter will replace Dansby. Who’ll start next to him is anybody’s guess. Arizona’s options are limited. The Cards signed veteran Larry Foote and Ernie Sims to compete for the spot while another second-year linebacker, Kenny Demens, impressed during the offseason, giving him a leg up for the role.

Without set starters, rookies like Glenn Carson and Jonathan Brown, and fourth-year backer Keenan Clayton have an opportunity to earn playing time with impressive camps.

But without the core of the defense intact, added pressure will be put on the secondary. And this year’s defensive backfield may be as prepared as ever to handle it.

The addition of veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie solidified Arizona’s corners as one of the best tandems in the NFL. Arizona replaced Yeremiah Bell by drafting Deone Bucannon at strong safety while Rashad Johnson will hold down free safety until Tyrann Mathieu returns from ACL and LCL surgery.

When all told – and when all healthy – the Cardinals may have one of the best overall secondaries in the league. During camp, Tony Jefferson will give Bucannon a run for the strong safety job while Johnson will try to prove that Arizona doesn’t need to wait for Mathieu to return.

Jerraud Powers, one of last year’s starters at cornerback, has been relegated to nickel back, and Bryan McCann, who’ll also compete for a gunner job, will be battling to be the next corner called upon.
TEMPE, Ariz. – With the first day of Cardinals' OTAs in the books, we were able to take a lot away from the 95-minute practice. Here are a five things we learned during OTAs:

1. Michael Floyd made a statement. He looked good enough to cause quarterback Carson Palmer to gush about him during his time with the media. Floyd was making hard and easy catches, and even blew by cornerback Patrick Peterson on a go-route. On one play, Floyd made an awkward catch while falling out of bounds and Palmer ran down field to tell Floyd he should step back toward the pass before making the catch.

2. Coach Bruce Arians doesn’t watch a lot of players individually during these practices. It was hard for him to talk about specific players at length because he usually evaluates them after watching the tape. It’s tough with 90 guys to hone in on a few players.

3. The majority of the snaps Tuesday were taken by Palmer and Drew Stanton on their respective fields. Both got three snaps to every one by Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas. Palmer was on the main field with the starters and veterans while Stanton worked on the rookie field.

4. Guard Jonathan Cooper saw his first significant practice action since breaking his left fibula in the Cardinals’ third preseason games last year. He’s not quite at 100 percent, Arians said, but he’s close. When asked about Cooper, Arians joked he didn’t want to jinx the left guard. Cooper played with the first team throughout practice, looking close to form.

5. Even though he was the Cardinals’ first-round pick, safety Deone Bucannon wasn’t running with the first team just yet. Tony Jefferson, entering his second season, was the strong safety with Rashad Johnson playing free safety. It’s not uncommon for a rookie to not be playing with the vets on the first day of OTAs. Last season it took Tyrann Mathieu a few practices to earn his way onto the main field.
With Yeremiah Bell still waiting by the phone for a team to solicit his services for the 2014 season, the Arizona Cardinals have a few options already on the roster to replace him.

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And with the NFL draft in less than two weeks, the Cardinals might add another option during the first six rounds. But for now, Arizona is trying to stay close to home.

"We have a number of guys that’ll fight," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Rashad (Johnson)'s played it. Tony (Jefferson)'s played it. Curtis (Taylor) is a big, young guy who played well, and we’ll just see how it plays out."

Safety has been the chic pick for the Cardinals at No. 20 in mock drafts, especially because of their inability to defend tight ends in 2013.

Of Arizona’s 29 passing touchdowns allowed, 17 went to tight ends. And of those 17, eight were to tight ends from the NFC West. Arizona’s new strong safety will also have to be strong against the run since Arizona will be without linebacker Karlos Dansby and his 104 tackles from last season.

Bell started all 16 games at strong safety in 2013 while Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu split time at free safety. Jefferson played 194 snaps in 16 games. Taylor was active for the Seattle game in Week 16.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Yeremiah Bell's absence from the roster has left the Arizona Cardinals with a sizeable gap in the secondary.

Without a true strong safety on the team, the Cardinals will be looking to fill the position in May's NFL draft. If Arizona is forced to, though, it can turn to the two free safeties currently on the team -- Rashad Johnson or Tony Jefferson -- to move to strong safety. That's not an ideal situation, said ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson.

Johnson
Jefferson
“Neither is ideal and either might be best suited to be the third safety, but I think it depends what they want from the position,” Williamson said. “To me, Johnson is clearly the better cover guy and Jefferson is the better run player.”

Arizona's safety corps is in flux until Tyrann Mathieu returns from his ACL and LCL injuries and until a strong safety is signed. Last season with Bell, currently a free agent, on the field, Mathieu became the starter in Week 4 after Johnson lost the tip of his left middle finger. Mathieu played well enough to supplant Johnson until Mathieu got hurt in Week 13.

But when Arizona' safeties are restocked, Johnson and Jefferson would give the Cardinals “great” depth, Williamson added.

Until then, however, Johnson would be the presumed starter at free safety while Jefferson would fill in at strong safety. Both are 5-11, not the ideal size for a tandem of safeties. Last season, it was often Bell's responsibility to defend opponents' tight ends. That didn't work in the Cardinals' favor because of a combination of Bell's declining speed at 35 and lack of size. Of the 29 touchdowns thrown by opposing quarterbacks, 17 went to tight ends.

Ideally, the Cardinals would like a safety taller than 6-foot who can run with tight ends such as St. Louis' Jared Cook and San Francisco's Vernon Davis, but it's not necessary, Williamson said.

“I don't think they need that guy,” he said. “He would be great to have, but they also don't grow on trees.”

They do, however, grow in the draft.

Two prospects who Williamson identified as good fits in Arizona are Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Washington State's Deone Bucannon. They're the second- and third-ranked safeties, respectively, in this year's draft class according to ESPN.com. Pryor is listed at 5-11 1/8 while Bucannon is 6-1.

Williamson doesn't think Pryor gets past the first round, in which Arizona picks 20th, and he doesn't think Bucannon falls out of the second.

The Cardinals' needs are minimal, Williamson added, but safety is one position that can be upgraded. However, to Williamson, filling the void left by Bell may not be vital to Arizona's success in 2014.

“I think the rest of the defense is strong enough and will get stronger through the draft that if they open the season with Jefferson and/or Johnson in that role, this team is still a strong contender and should have a top-10 defense either way,” Williamson said.
Cornerback starters: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers

Backup: Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason

Under contract in 2014: Peterson and Powers

Cash committed in ‘13: $8.1 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $9.17 million

Peterson
Peterson
Recap: Consistency was key at cornerback for the Cardinals in 2013. Patrick Peterson, who has continued to improve every year, was rewarded for his work with a third-straight trip to the Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro nod as a cornerback. While his numbers weren't Peterson-esque -- 42 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 3 interceptions -- he has solidified his reputation as a shutdown cornerback. Peterson regularly covered the opponents’ top receiver and regularly shut them down. He had 17 tackles on the left side of the field and 22 on the right. When he wasn’t on the field -- which wasn’t often -- opposing quarterbacks were 3-for-4 for three touchdowns. With Peterson on the field, opposing quarterbacks completed 58.6 percent of their passes and threw 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Throughout the season, quarterbacks had a tendency to stay away from Peterson, a testament to his ability. Across from Peterson, Powers struggled at times, namely because of his size and strength. He led the team with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, but came on in the final half of the season, which included an interception against Houston. The backups -- Arenas and Cason -- didn’t see much time, but Cason found a role in the final few games as the Cardinals’ nickel back when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down. Cason had the game-winning interception at Tennessee in Week 15.

Safety starters: Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu

Backup: Tony Jefferson, Curtis Taylor

Under contract in 2014:, Johnson, Mathieu, Jefferson and Taylor

Cash committed in ‘13: $3.8 million

Cap committed in ‘13: $2.7 million

Mathieu
Recap: Arizona’s secondary improved as Mathieu gained experience. The Honey Badger started seeing regular playing time in Week 4, the game after Rashad Johnson lost the tip of his left middle finger against New Orleans. From then, Mathieu started the next nine of 10 games before getting hurt, giving Arizona a versatile secondary. Mathieu could play safety, cornerback or nickel back, giving the Cardinals opportunities to change defenses on the fly without substituting. Johnson began filling in when healthy and had a solid season. Bell showed that at 35 -- he just turned 36 on Monday -- he still had what it takes to play safety at a high level. The biggest knock against Bell, who had 69 tackles, two interceptions and a sack, was that he wasn’t fast enough to keep up with younger, quicker receivers or tight ends. But he was certainly strong enough. The Cardinals are in good shape going forward with Jefferson entering his second season. He’s athletic and fast enough to cover ground, but his size might be his biggest hurdle, especially since the Cardinals need a regular safety to defend tight ends.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Welcome to #CardsMailbag, a weekly installment that allows you to ask me questions throughout the week via Twitter @joshweinfuss. I'll answer them every week during the offseason. Make sure to use the hash tag: #CardsMailbag

 
TEMPE, Ariz. – Tony Jefferson’s been standing on the sideline, watching other rookies take the field, patiently biding his time.

He’s been waiting for another chance to rewind the clock to the first half of the season when Jefferson, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma, was the rookie safety du jour for the Cardinals. He played 47 snaps in Week 2, and saw 58 and 31 in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus.

He’s played a total of seven snaps since.

[+] EnlargeTony Jefferson
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsDespite his limited playing time, Tony Jefferson has remained sharp by working diligently in the Cardinals' classroom.
That’ll change Sunday when Arizona plays its biggest game of the season, Week 16 in Seattle with a playoff berth still available, but for now, barely out of reach. Safety Rashad Johnson is doubtful for the game with a high ankle sprain, meaning Jefferson is next man up with fellow rookie Tyrann Mathieu out for the season with a knee injury.

“Personally, I feel like I’m going to be ready,” Jefferson said. “I’m made for this type of stuff. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity. I haven’t been on defense as much as I was earlier in the season. I’m back at it.”

He’s spent the past three months working twice as hard in the classroom as his teammates who play on a regular basis. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles made sure of that.

“We make sure our guys who aren’t starting and playing know twice as much because they don’t get the reps,” Bowles said. “They get mental reps. You can test them and you quiz them and you make sure they’re sharp because you’re gonna need them at some point in the year.

“You never really leave them out in the cold.”

It might’ve been chilly for Jefferson standing on the sideline for the past 11 games but the coaching staff didn't forgot about him, especially after he replaced Johnson last weekend. Jefferson's pressure on Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick forced an interception in overtime, which led to Arizona’s game-winning field goal.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians praised Jefferson’s ability to make plays when he’s given the chance but was quick to point out that Jefferson still doesn’t have enough experience to play an entire game at safety.

“But he’s going to,” Arians said with a chuckle. “That’s how you get experience, you play. He’s fine. He’ll do his job.”

In case he doesn’t, Curtis Taylor is waiting in the wings.

Taylor, who was cut by the Cardinals after training camp and was re-signed to the practice squad a couple days later, earned a spot on the 53-man roster on Dec. 10 when Arizona placed Mathieu on injured reserve. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2010 with San Francisco, but, like Jefferson, whom he’ll back up, Taylor has been waiting for a chance.

“It’s not like it’s my first rodeo dealing with it or whatever,” he said. “It’s the NFL -- somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up.

Even after not seeing the field for so long, Taylor isn’t nervous or anxious or worried about playing.

“When you’ve been playing this game for so long, nerves is not an issue,” he said. “It’s more excitement than anything. I’m looking forward to it. Great opportunity. Great opportunity to get in the playoffs. I have nothing to be nervous about.”

Neither Jefferson nor Taylor have time to be nervous.

They won’t have a chance to ease their way back onto the field. The playoffs are on the line. Sunday is the type of game players strap on their pads for.

Sunday likely won’t go as smoothly as it would’ve had Mathieu or Johnson been healthy, but cornerback Patrick Peterson isn’t concerned that Jefferson won’t come to play.

“He’s a fast, ferocious safety,” Peterson said. “He scans the field, the back end pretty well. As a young guy the most important thing is communication, being a guy that pretty much doesn’t have that feel of the secondary now making the different checks. That’s going to be the hardest part for him.

“It’s not a doubt in my mind he’s going to come out and play a 110 percent.”

Rookies learn to avoid hitting wall

November, 27, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- After his 14th game last year at Stanford, Stepfan Taylor was done for the season.

Not so much this year. He’s already played 15.

Taylor is among the Cardinals’ rookies who have surpassed the equivalent of an entire college season -- conference championship and bowl games included -- and they still have five games to go. For some, their bodies are wondering what’s going on. For others, they’ve been able to combat the grind of what will be a 20-game season, with preseason included. And with a big win over Indianapolis last weekend, there’s a possibility for more.

“I try to take good care of my body so I don’t hit a wall,” Taylor said. “I feel fine. I know some people out here are feeling it, but I feel good. I try to do a good job of taking care of my body and make sure I stay on top of things. There’s definitely times where you’re like, ‘Alright this is way longer than a college season,’ and it hits you we still have six more games.”

The key, the rookies learned, is taking care of yourself. Massages, cold tubs and foam rolling are commonplace throughout the locker room, but the rookies figured out early how crucial they are to helping their bodies last.

Taylor also does yoga.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu makes sure he goes to sleep early.

Running back Andre Ellington gets in the hot tub, too.

“I’m pretty durable, but I mean I could just feel my body [saying] what are you doing? What’s going on?” safety Tony Jefferson said. “I think I can speak for everyone, everybody’s feeling it.

“I don’t think there’s no preparing for it. It’s gonna happen. It’s what you do when it happens or what you can do before it happens. But yup, I’m definitely there.”

Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott warned the rookies that they’ll start feeling the effects of the season after Week 5 and then it would hit them again around this time of year. And he was right, Taylor said.

Taylor also began realizing how long of a season he was in for after the fifth game.

To Mathieu, he hit a point in the last few weeks where everything he was doing seemed redundant. He was seeing the repetition and routine that comes with being a professional football player.

“We still got [five] games left,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around. Hopefully I can stay how I’m feeling right now.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he doesn’t start watching for his rookies to hit a wall until after Thanksgiving. He already noticed Ellington start to hit one last week in practice. After calling out the former Clemson star last Thursday, Ellington responded with a strong practice Friday.

Taking the physical precautions has become the easiest part of withstanding an NFL season. The rookies are working on overcoming the mental hurdles of playing between six and eight more games in a season than they’ve been used to for the last three or four years.

“It’s kinda crazy but at the same time you don’t get burned out during the week in practice,” Ellington said. “They take care of us a lot. When you get to the game you let it all out and you got a chance to recover, as opposed to college. You got to go to class, work out, so it’s different.”

#CardsMailbag: Week 12 vs. Colts

November, 24, 2013
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Welcome to #CardsMailbag, a weekly installment that allows you to ask Josh Weinfuss questions throughout the week via Twitter @joshweinfuss. He'll answer them every week. Make sure to use the hashtag: #CardsMailbag.

 
TEMPE, Ariz. – One statistic has been conspicuously absent from the Arizona Cardinals' box score this season.

The Cards have recorded just one sack in the first two weeks, compared to six at this point last season. But there’s a tradeoff: The Cardinals are ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.

They’re not getting the quarterback, but they’re not allowing running backs to get through them, either. The Cardinals’ are surrendering 58 yards on the ground per game, fewest in the NFC. Only Denver (40.5) and Kansas City (54) are ranked ahead of them.

“I can’t say enough,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “Some of that lack of pressure on the quarterback is because we’re stopping the run, but I thought we got after the quarterback extremely well, pushed him around out of the pocket, had a couple of free blitzers coming again. We just have to get there sooner.”

Arizona gave up 49 rushing yards to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, holding Reggie Bush to 25 yards before he left the game after sustaining a left knee injury thanks to Tony Jefferson's helmet.

Defensive end Calais Campbell was the only Cardinal to bring down Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who avoided a fair stream of pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cardinals pressured Stafford seven times.

“Matt did a good job of running away and throwing the ball away, so it’s just as good as a sack,” Arians said. “He’s a very good quarterback, a veteran now. He’s not taking sacks. He’s throwing the ball away.”

Their stout run defense helped Arizona close out Detroit. After forcing the Lions into passing situations, the Cardinals held the Lions to 3-for-11 on third downs.

To Arians, that makes up for a lack of sacks.

“I’ll take the run defense because we still had great third downs defensively,” Arians said. “We don’t need sacks. We just need to get off the field.”

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