TEMPE, Ariz. — Earl Watford patiently took in his rookie season from the sidelines.
He sat diligently through film sessions. He sought out guidance from veteran linemen and coaches. And most of all, he never complained about his role, or lack thereof.
Unlike the other highly-touted guard drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 NFL Draft, No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper, Watford’s absence from meaningful competition wasn’t due to a season-ending injury.
In the fourth-round selection’s case, he simply wasn’t ready for the responsibility.
“For me, it was a process on the field,” said Watford, who started 36 of the 47 games he played at James Madison. “Not that I didn’t know it, but it just kind of takes time and experience [to play]. You have to get repetitions and learn from all the guys around you.
“It sucked not playing last year, but at the same time I got to see and I got to learn more. I take it as a plus for myself.”
What he saw was a right guard in Paul Fanaika, who day in and day out fought to hold down his starting spot for all 16 games.
While the former Arizona State standout was by no means a proven vet before the 2013 campaign, Watford admitted that he gravitated toward Fanaika for off-field mentoring.
“He’s definitely given me advice,” said Watford. “He’s been helpful all the way through, whether he sees something I’m doing or I see something he’s doing, that’s just the relationship we have.”
It’s a relationship that may be taking on a bit of twist this offseason.
As is the case with the Cardinals’ right tackle position, the competition for the starting right guard spot is very much up for grabs.
Although the incumbent, Fanaika, has a year of experience under his belt as a starter, his challenger is more than confident that his time to play in the league should begin now.
“I am ready,” said Watford. “Every day I have to build on what I know and keep building and just keep getting better. I’m trying to put myself in a position where I can be the starter.
“I’m trying to earn it, because you don’t get handed anything — whether you’re drafted or not. They’re just trying to put the best players out there that can help them win a Super Bowl.”
In terms of familiarity, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians candidly noted that the latter, Fanaika, certainly has the benefit of the doubt with the coaching staff.
However, Arians said he plans to evaluate Watford in much the same vein as unproven right tackle Bobby Massie.
“It’s consistency,” said Arians. “You can play physical, but you can’t make mental errors. You see all the gaps, blitzes and stunts. That’s where your eyes are supposed to be all the time.
“It’s about making no mental errors and staying off the sheet.”
To stay off that sheet, the former two-time All-CAA member revealed that he simply needs to bring the same attitude to work all the time.
“You have to be ready every day,” said Watford. “You have to bring it every day. You have to keep getting better, because there is always more to know and more to learn and gain.
“I have to do the right thing. You got to know the defense and know the offense. You have to show up every day, compete, keep fighting and at the end of the day it will take care of itself.”