ARIZONA CARDINALS

Cardinals’ Lawrence working smarter in Year 2; Door left open for Butler

Sep 1, 2021, 6:48 PM | Updated: Sep 2, 2021, 1:08 pm
Cardinals DL Rashard Lawrence goes through drills during practice Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Tempe. ...
Cardinals DL Rashard Lawrence goes through drills during practice Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Tempe. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals’ Rashard Lawrence was among a group of young defensive linemen determined to get back to work two days after last season came to its unceremonious end.

With the help of strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, the batch of defenders returned to the team noticeably different, looking to continue the momentum it had built this offseason.

Lawrence may not see much change physically, but has felt much more growth in another department compared to when he first stepped onto the Cardinals practice field as a rookie in 2020.

“[I’m] a lot smarter … in the understanding of pro football,” Lawrence said Wednesday. “Coming in last year, we didn’t really have the chance to get preseason games or get the OTA reps like we would have liked to.

“But now having a chance to see different types of offenses in the league and everything, it definitely helps as far as knowing what’s coming and also knowing this what you can expect Sunday after Sunday.”

Lawrence played nine games last season (one start), making nine tackles. After playing just 15% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2020, the lineman now finds himself as the starting nose tackle on the team’s most recent depth chart, ahead of veteran and late signing Corey Peters.

The depth chart could certainly change come Week 1, but it’s a strong sign Lawrence is on the right path.

“Just gotten bigger, stronger, faster. There’s no doubt,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “He’s really one of those guys along with [Michael] Dogbe, Zach Allen that have changed their body.

“Buddy did a great job with those guys throughout the offseason and it’s paid off. I think [they’ll] take big steps this year.”

Line of communication “always gonna be open” for CB Malcolm Butler

The aftermath of Cardinals cornerback Malcolm Butler’s sudden retirement has left Arizona with more work to do over its four-day break.

Instead of having a seemingly locked cornerbacks room, the Cardinals now have the task of adding another capable body to the fold as they prepare for their season opener against Julio Jones, A.J. Brown and the Tennessee Titans.

“We’ll work through that throughout the next 24 hours with all the claims and waivers and things of that nature, but that’s an ongoing process,” Kingsbury said of the team’s current game plan for adding depth at corner.

Despite how abrupt Butler’s decision was and the spot it puts the Cardinals in, they are still leaving the door open for dialogue with the cornerback.

“[A line of communication is] always gonna be open,” Kingsbury said.

But just because the Cardinals will take a look at outside options, that doesn’t mean they lack confidence in the players still on the roster.

“I think we have three guys we feel really comfortable with starting outside at corner,” Kingsbury said.

The three Kingsbury is talking about are Byron Murphy, Robert Alford and rookie Marco Wilson.

Murphy continues to evolve as he enters his third NFL season after recording 129 tackles, an interception and 18 pass deflections over his first two years in the league.

The other two present a few question marks, however.

Alford has shown he can be effective as a starting cornerback, recording 10 picks and 85 passes defensed in six seasons with Atlanta, but has yet to see a live NFL snap since 2018 due to two season-ending injuries the past two training camps.

He’s now under COVID-19 protocols and has missed significant practice time.

Wilson has turned a number of heads prior to his first regular season, but will most likely endure rookie growing pains as the season wears on. How he handles his thrown-in-the-fire moment in Week 1 will speak a lot to his development as an NFL corner.

EXTRA POINT

– Lawrence on his family and those impacted by Hurricane Ida:

“They’re doing OK. It’s definitely a tough time in Louisiana. I think that with how everything is set up, it’s just so tough for the people there, always getting hit by different things. But one thing I know about Louisiana is that they are strong people and we’re always going to come together and help out in any way we can.”

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