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Cardinals RB Elijhaa Penny, OL Daniel Munyer prove hard work pays off

Arizona Cardinals running back Elijhaa Penny (35) celebrates his touchdown with Brittan Golden (10) and J.J. Nelson (14) as linebacker Gabe Martin (50) kneels on the ground during an NFL football training camp Saturday, July 29, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. – The smile from ear to ear said it all. And loudly.

Running back Elijhaa Penny had made the team. His name was right there, along with 52 others, listed on the 2017 Arizona Cardinals roster.

After spending all of last year on the practice squad, Penny, who joined the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent, dropped 15 pounds and made special teams a priority in the offseason.

“It feels good to know that my hard work has paid off. I feel relieved that I accomplished what I was working towards,” he said, standing by his locker stall on Monday.

Only a few days earlier, Penny was unsure of his future with the Cardinals. Had he done enough to convince the coaches? And if not, would that mean a second year on the practice squad?

As it turned out, there was never a doubt.

After rushing for 77 yards on 17 carries in the preseason finale at Denver, Penny walked into Friday’s team meeting and was told congratulations by his position coach Freddie Kitchens.

For Penny, that moment will never be forgotten.

“I went home for the weekend, told my Mom, told my Dad. We had a little get-together, a little party,” he said.

Unlike Penny, offensive lineman Daniel Munyer did have to sweat out Saturday’s roster deadline. No one gave him a heads up.

Munyer didn’t get much sleep the night before, and it wasn’t until 1 o’clock had passed and a phone call from his agent that Munyer could celebrate making the team.

“It means a lot, and it shows that the people here trust me and they really appreciate the work that I put on tape this preseason and during training camp, too,” he said. “For me, it means a lot because I was undrafted coming out of college and wasn’t even, like, a priority free agent. I was a tryout guy.”

The Chiefs signed Munyer in 2015. In two years, he appeared in two games, including Kansas City’s Wild Card win at Houston in 2016. In between, he was released and re-signed to the practice squad six times. After his seventh release, Munyer decided a change was needed and joined the Cardinals practice squad in late December.

Listed as the Arizona’s backup center, Munyer can also line up at guard, a position he played mostly in college at Colorado. His versatility earned him a roster spot, beating out rookie Dorian Johnson and second-year player Cole Toner.

“Very consistent,” head coach Bruce Arians said of Munyer, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 305 pounds. “He’s got a good anchor. He’s very quick. Those blitz pickup drills (in training camp), he could fly out of there and get those safeties and he’s just been really consistent the whole time.”

The goal now for Penny and Munyer is to remain on the roster. And really that goes for about a dozen or so players. General manager Steve Keim is one who is always looking to upgrade, or as he puts it, churn the bottom of the roster.

“It was good to celebrate (making the team), but I know I got to work way harder just to stay here,” Penny said.

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