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Sherfield up, White down after first Cardinals preseason opportunity

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 08: Trent Sherfield #16 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball while being defended by Kyle Wilson #56 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL preseason game at State Farm Stadium on August 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Whatever the Arizona Cardinals’ offense ultimately looks like in 2019, receivers are going to play a pivotal role. Kliff Kingsbury wants to spread the field and give Kyler Murray plenty of targets to throw to. And it’s no secret there are jobs up for grabs this preseason.

That would seem to bode well for a guy like Kevin White. Four years after being drafted with the seventh overall pick, he has just 14 games on his NFL resume. Injuries have derailed him time and time again, but now he has a chance to stick on a Cardinals roster that might hold up to seven receivers.

Problem is, he has to be on the field. And in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Chargers, he was not. Kingsbury explained after the game that a hamstring injury was the culprit, though he didn’t have a timetable for his receiver’s return.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”

Kingsbury has already pointed out the obvious during camp – that White’s biggest obstacle is availability. But it still carries more meaning when the head coach is the one saying it. And while it’s hard to blame a guy for being hurt, the reality of life in the NFL is that someone else will just take the roster spot if you’re not playing.

Which is where Trent Sherfield comes in. He wrestled his way onto the team as an undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt a year ago, playing in 13 games. So he knows what a strong camp can do for a player. And he delivered a solid effort on Thursday, hauling in four catches for 44 yards – including a sliding, over-the-shoulder 22-yard touchdown grab from Brett Hundley in the second quarter.

“He just keeps getting better,” Kingsbury pointed out. “Very solid player. Had a great play on special teams. Heck of a catch on that touchdown and shows up and works every day. The technique that our wide receivers coaches are coaching, he tries to execute it each and every day and it’s paying dividends for him.”

Even better, two of Sherfield’s catches came on balls thrown by Kyler Murray on the first drive of the game. If you want to make this roster, having a good rapport with No. 1 can’t hurt.

“He had a great day today,” Murray noted. “One of the hardest workers on the team. He just continues to get better and better, so it was good to see him catch a touchdown today, make a couple plays on special teams, catch a couple balls. I mean he had a pretty good day today.”

Sherfield did make his presence felt on special teams as well, delivering a tackle in punt coverage. And that’s always an important part of the game for guys scrambling for a roster spot.

“Honestly, I would say the special teams probably meant more to me,” Sherfield said, when asked if that or the touchdown was his bigger takeaway. “Just because of having that journey, being able to tell that story that I had to play special teams before I was able to play receiver.”

Granted, it’s one game. And Kingsbury has suggested he’ll be weighing practices more heavily than preseason contests anyway. But it still feels like a missed opportunity for White right out of the gate, and a step in the right direction for Sherfield. One guy’s stock slipping a little, while another’s is on the rise.

KeeSean Johnson had a decent showing as well, snagging two catches for 29 yards. That continues a trend we’ve seen throughout camp, where the sixth-round pick out of Fresno State is leading the way among the three rookies Arizona drafted in April.

Meanwhile, second-rounder Andy Isabella also missed Thursday’s contest with a knee issue. And fourth-rounder Hakeem Butler mustered just six yards on one reception.

It seems unlikely that any of that trio would be left off the roster when Week 1 rolls around, barring a complete meltdown. Johnson has looked good, and the team just invested high picks in Isabella – essentially the player they turned Josh Rosen into – and Butler.

Throw in Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, and that’s already five roster spots likely tied up at receiver. Even if they do dedicate seven slots to the position, that just leaves two for guys like Sherfield, White, Pharoh Cooper, Chad Williams and Damiere Byrd to fight over.

Of course, they could also go out and sign someone too. The Michael Crabtree saga earlier this week was a firm reminder of that option. So this race is just getting started.

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