GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was only one game, and a preseason affair at that.
Still, Jaxon Shipley’s performance in Arizona’s 34-19 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend — one catch for 21 yards and a 56-yard kick return in which he made a good read and had the speed to get around the edge — was one that stood out.
“Jaxon showed up big time,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You always like when a guy shows up when the lights turn on, and Ship turned out pretty good.”
It was a good step forward for Shipley, an undrafted free agent out of Texas who is hoping to find a spot among Arizona’s deep group of receivers.
“Obviously, it was pretty surreal being out there with a lot of those guys and stuff,” Shipley said of his first game action. “But I had a good time and I felt like just trying to get into the flow of things. Obviously, the speed’s a lot different and everything, but you’ve just got to remember that football’s football, and you’ve got to try to make the most of it and try to have fun out there, and that’s what I did. I tried to have fun.”
Things would be even more fun for Shipley if he was guaranteed a roster spot, but there is no such luxury right now. In fact, Arians said Shipley has an “outside chance” at making the roster, though there is a chance — especially if he can continue to show well on special teams not only as a returner, but in other aspects, too.
Shipley, who returned punts in college, understands how versatility — be it playing different roles as a receiver or on special teams — can lead to a job.
“I think you have to do that at receiver and stuff, especially coming in as an undrafted guy, you’ve got to try to make yourself as valuable as possible,” he said. “And so whether that’s on special teams or trying to learn all the different positions, it’s one of those things where it can definitely be tough because when you’re in a certain position, you’ve got certain roles and all that stuff, and then you get switched immediately to another one.”
Shipley added it’s sometimes difficult to remember where he is supposed to be and what exactly his assignment is when he’s lining up at so many different spots, and he has not been perfect at it.
The key is continuing to improve.
The 6-foot, 190-pound receiver who caught 218 passes for 2,510 yards and 11 touchdowns in 48 games for the Longhorns has done enough to catch quarterback Carson Palmer’s eye. He thinks Shipley has worked his way into the discussion to earn a roster spot.
“He’s a guy that can play all the positions, he understands the game, he’s played at a high level for a big school, so he’s not coming from a small school trying to figure his way out,” Palmer said. ” He’s played against really good competition, he’s competed in a receiver room against really good players, highly-recruited players.
“So I’m excited about him. That’s a battle that’s going on in that room right now, there’s only so many spots and there’s a lot of guys in there.”
To Palmer’s point about Shipley’s college experience, the receiver himself said playing for such a big school helped his comfort level Saturday. He played in front of monster crowds before, so he was not phased at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I just try to look at it as it’s an opportunity for me to be able to show what I can do,” he said. “The bright lights are on, you’ve got to go out there and see if you can try to make some plays.”
With roster cuts still a little ways away, Shipley will have more time to convince the coaching staff he should be kept on board. At this point, everyone knows he can catch the ball and produce on offense, but being able to step up with a big return Saturday was a confidence boost for the 23-year-old.
“Just because I didn’t know where I fit in, especially in the return game,” he said. “I haven’t got any live reps in games or anything like that, so being able to go out there and have a pretty successful game on special teams I think was big for me just because, like I said, that’s something that I think is going to be huge. It’s just trying to fit in on special teams, just trying to show everybody I can play as a return man or whatever it is.
“I think that for sure helped me out, especially confidence-wise and stuff, so we’ll see going into the next couple of games. Hopefully I can have some good special teams games there,” he added. “I think that’s the most important thing for me now. Obviously, offense is really important, but I think definitely for a guy like me who’s undrafted, you’ve got to make your mark on special teams, and so that’s just what I’m trying to do right now.”
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