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Dealing Cards: Goal line, live tackling highlight ‘Red & White Practice’

Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald flips the ball in the air after making a long gain on a pass reception during NFL football training camp Saturday, July 29, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The energy and intensity picked up in Saturday’s practice, the seventh of Arizona Cardinals training camp. Of course, that was to be expected with the annual “Red & White Practice,” which typically attracts the largest crowd of camp.

More than 25,000 fans — the second straight year the Cardinals eclipsed that mark — filled the lower bowl inside University of Phoenix Stadium to watch what was a two-plus hour full-padded practice that featured goal line work and the first live tackling of camp.

“That’s always one of the most competitive drills because of the situation, short-yardage and really good-on-good; you know, who’s the best. I think we got a good mix: the offense won some, defense won some. Of course, I’d like to see more defense but I think that’s a good sign for the team,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said.

Six weeks still remain before the season opener at Detroit, but Saturday provided the 2017 Cardinals their first game-like atmosphere.

“You come out and you got a lot of fans. Hitting is live, so you’re playing real football. It’s kind of like that first real taste of the preseason,” right tackle Jared Veldheer said.

Prior to practice, team president Michael Bidwill recognized Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Patrick Peterson for their 2016 Pro Bowl selections, presenting each with their own framed jersey.

Zamort moves up depth chart before being carted off

When it comes time for fans and the media to discuss the competition for the starting cornerback position opposite Peterson, one name is often left out and that’s Ronald Zamort.

“I ain’t even know you was all talking,” he said, a big smile on his face prior to practice.

People are now.

For the second straight practice, with Bethel unavailable, Zamort received reps with the first-team defense, ahead of Brandon Williams, whom many had thought was Bethel’s backup.

“Whatever you want to read into it. He’s playing with the first team instead of Brandon,” Arians said, adding about the 25-year-old Zamort. “Ronnie’s having a hell of a camp. He had a good camp last year, went right to the wire (as far as making the team). He’s better outside; he was more of a nickel last year. But he’s really worked himself into the outside rotation and is really solid. He’s having a great camp.”

All of this, however, was before a scary moment midway through practice when Zamort had to be carted off the field with what appeared to be a right leg injury.

After not being added to the final 53-man roster in 2016, Zamort went back to Western Michigan University — where he played in college — and got a job as a youth counselor at a detention center. It’s where he was working when the Cardinals called and signed him to the practice squad in Week 16.

The Cardinals brought him back this season on a futures contract.

Listed at 5-10 and 174-pounds, Zamort believes his improved technique, ability to defend bigger receivers and overall confidence level are just some of the reasons why he’s moved up the depth chart.

“It means a lot,” he said, regarding running with the first team. “It’s a humbling experience just to be out there to compete day in and day out.”

With Zamort’s injury, though, and cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Elie Bouka already on the sidelines, there’s more uncertainty than ever surrounding the position.

Notable

— Twice in three goal line plays the first-team offense scored on the second-team defense; both touchdowns were run in by Kerwynn Williams.

— The first-team defense allowed one touchdown and prevented the second-team defense from scoring two other times, including a nice open-field tackle by Gabe Martin on Gerald Christian, who had caught a short swing-pass to the right.

— Several loud collisions were heard once the tackling started, though none of them involved Johnson on the field; he was a spectator during that portion of practice.

— Fans saved their loudest reaction for whenever Fitzgerald caught a pass, which he did several times for touchdowns.

— Early in 11-on-11 drills, the offense ran several end-around plays with either Jaron Brown or J.J. Nelson.

— The one big defensive play in practice was Peterson’s interception of Carson Palmer on ball tipped by Tyvon Branch; the pass was intended for Brown.

— Karlos Dansby received a veteran’s day off, allowing Martin to run with the first-team defense.

— After practice, Chandler Jones sprinted out of the stadium to catch a flight to Anaheim to watch his older brother Jon fight Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. Several teammates, including Frostee Rucker, took to Twitter to offer their support using the hashtag #TeamJones.

Injury update

The sleeve Bethel was spotted wearing on his left knee at practice Friday was because he had hyperextended it the day before, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

The injury is not considered serious.

“It should be just a couple of days, but we’ll be careful with it,” Arians said.

Joining Bethel on the sidelines during the “Red & White Practice” were cornerback Bouka (ankle), wide receiver John Brown (quad), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), linebacker Alani Fua (knee) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (hamstring). Dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon (ankle) remains on the physically unable to perform list and linebacker Jarvis Jones (quad) on the non-football injury list.

Follow Craig Grialou on Twitter

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