Young players see opportunity presented

TEMPE, Ariz. -- During the grind of the season, the Arizona Cardinals' coaches are unlikely to be watching just the young guys.

But this week was an exception. Because they played Thursday night, the Cardinals began the week with fresh legs and a rare extra practice. It gave the coaches an opportunity to evaluate their young talent while not sacrificing preparation time. With the influx of issues on offense, the Cardinals are also giving their young players on the 53-man roster and practice squad an opportunity to prove they are worthy of playing time. And with the recent rash of injuries spreading across the league, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wants to be prepared if the injury bug hits his team.

“I really liked the way some of the young players stepped up and took the opportunity to have some exposure rather than get exposed,” Arians said Monday afternoon. “It was a good practice.”

With the rare opportunity to get on the field, and with the window on the season starting to close with just nine games left, rookies and second-year players are trying harder to prove themselves. But the motivation to play well Monday didn’t begin with the goal of getting on the field. It was rooted in pride.

“I don’t want to be a waste of a draft pick,” rookie guard Earl Watford said. “I want to be valuable to this team. It’s another opportunity for me to get better, get comfortable and just work hard. I can’t think about my mistakes.”

Watford is getting more of a look than the rest of his younger teammates because he’s filling in for veteran left guard Daryn Colledge, who missed practice Monday with a lower back injury. When he’s filled in for Colledge before, Watford admitted he wasn’t ready but this time he feels he is.

“I got to take this opportunity and run with it,” Watford said. “That’s my chance. I don’t know what’s going to happen if Daryn’s going to play or not. I got to be ready. I’ve been preparing myself every week. This is a chance to actually play and I gotta, whatever happens, be ready. That’s the biggest thing.”

Arians has liked what he’s seen out of Watford thus far.

“Earl has gotten better,” Arians said. “He had a real good day today.”

In addition to Watford, Arians said he’s specifically looking at the practice squad linebacker Dontay Moch, and tight ends D.C. Jefferson and Darren Fells.

Moch, who’s in his second season, was given a chance after being promoted from the practice squad in Tampa Bay. He had two tackles and a sack but was inactive Thursday. Moch wouldn’t say why he was inactive and all Arians would say is the linebacker won’t be ready for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.

But Moch is still preparing like he can win playing time.

“I’m just warming up,” Moch said. “I need to get back in the flow of things, to get back from Cincinnati to here. It’s more of getting comfortable. I showed them a burst of a few different things I can do at the same time. There’s a lot more left in my tank that I can give them.”

Jefferson feels like he’s picked up the Cardinals’ offense mentally and that he’s physically ready to play in the NFL. He’s been active for three of the seven games this season and said his goal is to get the Cardinals to trust him.

Jefferson will have to turn a lot of heads this week in order to see the field on a regular basis, but he knows what he has to prove.

“That picking me up was the best thing that could ever happen,” he said. “That I’m going to give them my best all the time and I’m going to have fun with it.”