ARIZONA CARDINALS

Cardinals’ Jonathan Ward ‘digging deep’ amid competition for 3rd RB spot

Aug 25, 2021, 4:33 PM | Updated: Aug 26, 2021, 8:34 am
Cardinals Jonathan Ward runs through drills during training camp Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Glenda...
Cardinals Jonathan Ward runs through drills during training camp Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Glendale. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE — Second-year running backs Jonathan Ward and Eno Benjamin are close off the field and on the depth chart.

Both have shown elevated growth from a year prior and now find themselves in a close battle for the No. 3 running back spot on the Arizona Cardinals roster.

Each are hoping for much more opportunities in 2021.

“Our competition between each other, we know it’s business and we know that somebody’s gonna have to occupy that third spot, but it’s to the best man that wins,” Ward said after practice Wednesday. “Whoever ends up getting it deserved it.”

Of the two backs, Ward was the only one to see playing time last season, with Benjamin a healthy scratch all year. The undrafted rookie was mainly used on special teams over the course of 14 games but did finish off the year with an 11-yard touchdown on his first career reception in Arizona’s season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

His score was a surreal moment for Ward, who said he couldn’t really grasp the emotion of it all in the moment. In fact, it didn’t really sink in that he scored his first-ever NFL touchdown until an hour into the team’s plane ride home.

It was a culmination of the hard work and strong mindset the “eighth-round pick” attacked each day with.

“I felt like I just had something to prove,” Ward said. “It was a real heartbreak last year with COVID, not really having a pro day or getting invited to the Combine or nothing like that. It was just a chip on my shoulder to show that I deserve to be in the league, I can make a team some way somehow.

“It was just taking that every day to practice whatever my role was, whether that was scout team or that was on special teams. I was just gonna give it my all.”

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t been shy in talking about the improvement he’s seen in both Ward and Benjamin. Each possesses a different style of play and “are effective in their own way.”

But while all signs point to the team likely keeping four running backs on the 53-man roster — Ward currently sits ahead of Benjamin on Arizona’s depth chart — nothing’s certain in the NFL.

Luckily for both backs, they’ll get a prime opportunity to show their worth in the team’s preseason finale Saturday against the New Orleans Saints.

“[The evaluation for the third RB spot will] be comprehensive throughout camp, but for both those guys to get the biggest share of touches for the first time probably since their college days is going to be important to them and to see how they handle it and how they respond,” Kingsbury said.

Preseason may not mean much to the starters, but for players like Ward, what they do in the exhibitions can significantly alter the trajectory of their careers.

Ward more than understands the importance, having talked with veterans last season about the impact the preseason can have on those fighting for a roster spot.

“Honestly, [I’m] just taking it one day at a time, just taking ever day for preparation, not only to make the roster for this team but just to put the best film that I can show out there for the whole league to see,” Ward said.

EXTRA POINT

– Kingsbury on his team’s improvement offensively at practice this week:

“All we had to do was move the ball about a yard forward and that was improvement. We’re not talking about much but they definitely were focused and understand what we want to be about. I think they responded well this week.”

– Kingsbury on rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore’s number swap with veteran punter Andy Lee:

“He had to pay for it and he does not like spending money at all, so it hurt him. He was very happy to get the number. … I don’t think he’s spent another dollar outside of [buying his mom a house and paying for his number].”

– Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green on Larry Fitzgerald’s recent comments about not having the urge to play football right now:

“When he says he doesn’t have the urge right now, it’s still in the back of his head so that’s what I took from that. If he said he was done then I would have believed him. … ‘Right now,’ was the keywords. So it’s still back there.”

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