With Kenyan Drake trade, Cardinals do another round of catching up RBs

Oct 28, 2019, 4:15 PM
Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins after defeating the New England Patriots 34-33 at Hard Rock ...
Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins after defeating the New England Patriots 34-33 at Hard Rock Stadium on December 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals running backs Zach Zenner and Alfred Morris got the long story short of the Kliff Kingsbury offense last week.

Signed to back up Chase Edmonds and active in case of emergency, the Cardinals were required to break the glass and put Zenner into the thick of things once Edmonds went down with a hamstring injury during the loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Now, after reports indicate both Edmonds and starter David Johnson will not be able to play on a short week, it’s Kenyan Drake’s turn to get the quick lesson on the NFL version of the Air Raid offense.

“I think Coach (James Saxon) does a great job (catching players up),” Kingsbury said Monday. ‘We really just try to keep it to what’s in the gameplan for that week and really limit it to what their plays are going to be. We try to simplify it as much as possible.”

Drake, who was acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins on Monday, is reportedly expected to receive the bulk of the carries based on how little experience Zenner and Morris have on him and his resume.

He’s rushed for 1,532 yards, 4.6 yards per tote and nine scores since the Dolphins took him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

For Kingsbury, going into a divisional game on a short week with three backs that as of Monday were less than a week into learning his offense is, of course, not an ideal scenario.

“It’s tough,” Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray said. “Chase is the only back that’s been here that (was) playing. It was a one-two punch with him and Dave and then Dave being hurt, our guy, him being down is definitely tough. Guys got to step up.”

Drake, however, will at the very least force Arizona’s Thursday night opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, to gameplan around him.

“He’s explosive, I know that. (A) playmaker,” Murray said. “I think we’ll be fine. I trust the guys to step up and make plays and I think they will.”

The 25-year-old Drake also can bring a touch of what Johnson and Edmonds did as pass-catchers out of the backfield.

The Alabama product has 936 receiving yards in his three-plus-year NFL career thus far. Last season in Miami, he accounted for 477 receiving yards on top of his 535 rushing yards, scoring five of his nine touchdowns on passes.

“Played against Kenyan in college when he was at Alabama and, you know, he’s a dynamic player, tough guy, and can kind of do it all,” said receiver Christian Kirk, who played against Drake in the SEC at Texas A&M. “I think he’ll bring a dynamic kind of spark for us.

“I think Kenyan can come in and do some things that we need right now.”

One worry is that a running back learning on the fly isn’t ideal to pair with a young quarterback like Murray in the backfield. It comes down to concerns about the franchise quarterback’s own safety if there’s a mix-up in pass protecting or in the zone-read game.

Such a miscommunication showed Sunday, when Murray needed to put on the jets to elude a pass-rusher after he and Zenner went the opposite way on a potential hand-off attempt.

“I think more than anything it was loud, the atmosphere,” Kingsbury said. “Zach is a very smart football player. They were (talking) just making sure they were on the same page.”

Catching players up to speed on the offense with such frequency is a new thing for Kingsbury, the first-year NFL coach who has only been a head coach and play-caller in college.

“In college you’re like nine deep so you just keep rolling through,” Kingsbury said.

The Cardinals don’t have much choice.

After losing Johnson and Edmonds, and before sending third-stringer D.J. Foster to the IR with a hamstring injury, they dealt a conditional draft pick for Drake.

He’s a capable running back acquired the day before the trade deadline. High cost or not, it gives Arizona a better chance of pulling off the short-week upset of a 7-0 San Francisco team that just pelted the Carolina Panthers by a score of 51-13.

That’s the harsh reality of the NFL that Kingsbury, like Drake, will be learning on the fly this week.

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With Kenyan Drake trade, Cardinals do another round of catching up RBs