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Dealing Cards: Back from the bye, Cardinals are ready to get to work

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians argues a call that went to the Carolina Panthers with side judge Alan Eck during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. The Panthers won 30-20. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The bye week now a thing of the past, the Arizona Cardinals were back on the practice field Tuesday in preparation for their Week 10 game against the San Francisco 49ers as well as the second half of the 2016 season.

The break, which lasted a little more than a week, did the team some good.

“Good to be back out,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Really good practice and a really good start to the second half of the season. We will pad it up today and tomorrow, the one week you are allowed to.

“I thought we came back fairly healthy and there was a lot of energy on the practice field. Really looking forward to getting this week started.”

His sentiment was echoed in the locker room.

“Oh yeah, practice went good today,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “I’m sure there were mistakes — any time you come off the first day back after a few days off is always going to be a little rusty, but the energy was high. Guys were flying around, pads were popping. You can’t complain there. Each day is going to get a little better, but I thought today was a winning practice.”

For the Cardinals, the time off provided a respite from a season that began with high expectations but, halfway through, has been a colossal disappointment. On a more macro level, however, there was simply the chance to rest.

“The break was really good,” running back David Johnson said. “Especially after playing Seattle and Carolina back-to-back. That break really was a good benefit.”

Following consecutive games against two of the NFC’s more physical teams, against whom the Cardinals went 0-1-1, the team’s record stands at 3-4-1 on the season.

“That bye week helped a lot,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “My body is real rejuvinated. I took care of my body; I feel good. I think everybody else feels good as well. We had some guys where banged up, I think the bye week came at a perfect time.”

In terms of the team’s health, that line of thinking could probably happen any time the bye arrives, though for the Cardinals, there may be some truth to the matter. In that regard, Arians said there is no doubt the time off did his team some good.

“A lot of rest and a lot of guys that wouldn’t have been able to play last week that are healthy and practicing now,” he said.

The Cardinals are scheduled to practice again Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before hosting the 49ers Sunday. The effects of their week off will not truly be known until gameday, but it’s fair to say the team is in a better place now than it was a week ago, both physically and mentally.

Now, they’re ready to get back to work and erase the memory of their last game, which was the loss in Carolina.

“Losing a game like that, especially a game that would have been nice to have with all considering the NFC Championship Game last year, just our record — everything involved,” defensive lineman Corey Peters said. “It’s always going to be good to get back on the field and hopefully be able to get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Injury update

As Arians said, there were players on the field Tuesday who would not have been able to go this past Sunday, so the team is getting a bit healthier. There will be no official injury report until Wednesday, but Arians did say some players are ahead of schedule with regards to their returns from injury.

“Yeah I think Darren Fells and Alex Okafor,” he said of the tight end and linebacker, respectively. “We actually should get a few guys back that might be able to play in this ball game that I didn’t think we would. Ty (Mathieu) is real close, but I don’t know.”

Fells hurt his ankle against the Seahawks, while Okafor suffered a toe injury in the same game. Mathieu injured his shoulder against Carolina and was originally expected to miss between three and six weeks, but is apparently progressing quickly.

Has that come as a surprise to Arians?

“Yeah it really has,” he said.

Brandon Williams, back in the fold?

Rookie cornerback Brandon Williams was the talk of training camp as he went from an unheralded third-round pick to a Week 1 starter, but the discussion died down after a couple of weeks of struggles followed by the emergence of veteran Marcus Cooper.

But now, with Mathieu battling injury and his would-be replacement, Tyvon Branch, still on injured reserve, Williams may again find himself back on the field in an important role.

“We have Brandon (Williams) and (Justin) Bethel both available, and Christian Bryant,” Arians said of options in the secondary. “We have a number of guys that we feel good about playing nickel and outside.”

Arians said Williams has been getting better as the season has worn on, and even had an interception in Tuesday’s practice.

“He is more than ready if he is needed,” the coach added.

Williams, who has five tackles on the season, agrees.

“I developed a lot, watching the game from a different view,” Williams said. “I started off preseason games and two games of the season, so I was just thrown into the fire. So now those few weeks I was on the sideline I had a chance to look at the game from a different point of view.”

Williams went from a starter in the first two games to being a special teams contributor in the loss to the Panthers, but in that time never got down on himself. Instead, he used the diminished role as a chance to study and learn, citing his understanding of technique and how offenses will attack him as areas where he has grown.

But while he was not upset about being asked to watch the game from the sideline, he is certainly looking forward for another chance.

“I’d be a liar if I said my emotions didn’t switch because I’m a competitor and I want to be in that limelight, as you can say, to produce for my team,” he said. “In a way, I felt like I let a lot of my teammates down, but throughout the weeks I got back to it and just took it moment by moment.”

Williams is not sure if he will be asked to fill in Sunday, with his fate likely being determined in part due to the health of others. But when asked if he wanted an opportunity, he chuckled.

“How bad would you want the opportunity?” he responded. “It speaks for itself.”

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