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Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Injured Cards risk being next Wally Pipp

By Josh Weinfuss

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One of Bruce Arians' favorite athletes to talk about neither played football nor is alive.

It's Wally Pipp, the former New York Yankees first baseman, who, depending on which version of his story you believe, was given a day off in 1925. In his place, Lou Gehrig got the start, and the rest, well, is history.

Arians likes to use Pipp as an example of how quickly anyone on the Arizona Cardinals can lose their job -- or how quickly someone can find themselves in a new role.

"You can, if somebody comes in and plays better than you were playing," Arians said. "That's called Wally Pipp."

The possibility -- and the fear of losing their job -- tempts some players to play through injuries. It's not sound medical advice, but it's the culture of the NFL. Yet, sometimes it can't be avoided.

Last season, Lorenzo Alexander started the first three games at outside linebacker before suffering a season-ending Lisfanc injury in Week 3. John Abraham started for the rest of the season and made the Pro Bowl with 11.5 sacks. This season, Alexander entered training camp as a backup inside linebacker.

"At the end of the day, it's about making the team and helping the team win in any fashion," Alexander said. "I'm going to have a role on this team regardless of if I start or not.

"Am I content with not playing or not starting? No. But I'm happy to be out here, happy to help the team and impact it whether it's on teams or coming in on third downs."

Rashad Johnson also lost his starting job last year because of an injury in Week 3. He came back in Week 6 and Tyrann Mathieu was the Cardinals' starting free safety, a job he kept for the next 10 weeks. But in a twist of fate, Johnson regained his starting role when Mathieu got hurt in Week 14.

Already less than three weeks into training camp, the Pipp effect is lingering over a few injured players. Injuries to center Lyle Sendlein, linebacker Kevin Minter and left guard Jonathan Cooper have given their backups considerable playing time with the starters -- enough for them to make a case to be promoted. Although it's unlikely that any of the three starters will lose their jobs, it's not out of the question.

How linebacker Kenny Demens plays Saturday in Minnesota may impact whether he starts taking snaps at starting inside linebacker when Minter returns. It'll take an impressive string of practices and games from center Ted Larsen, however, to unseat Sendlein.

The strongest possibility for a Wally Pipp to occur at this point in camp is at left guard. If Earl Watford can reduce his mistakes and give a solid showing Saturday, he has a chance to stay with the first team because Cooper has struggled. But it's harder than it seems.

Watford understands a starting job isn't just handed over because of a couple good practices. He needs to sustain consistency, which has proven to be an issue for Watford. He had poor practices on Monday and Tuesday so Cooper may not have to worry about losing his job, despite likely missing Saturday's game.

"He had a couple yesterday that made you scratch your head," Arians said.

But Watford isn't letting those bad days derail his goals of starting.

"It's not hard to see," Watford said. "I'm taking it day-to-day. That's how I prepare myself, take it day-to-day and let the chips fall where they may because, like I said, you don't know what's going to happen.

"You can't tell the future. You just want to go out there and do the best you can and at the end of the day, was it good enough?"

Sometimes Wally Pipp gets replaced by an unknown youngster.

Other times someone gets Wally Pipped by one of the best at their position.

"It was just unfortunate that I got injured but [Abraham] took advantage of the opportunity and went out there and capitalized on it," Alexander said. "But he's an All-Pro player, so there's no shame to taking the backseat to John Abraham."