James Conner up for the challenge of college teammate Aaron Donald

Oct 2, 2021, 7:45 AM
James Conner #6 celebrates with DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals after a touchdown duri...
James Conner #6 celebrates with DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals after a touchdown during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Cardinals defeated the Titans 38-13. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Cardinals are only three games in, but running back James Conner is proving to be just what the team had hoped for when Arizona signed him this offseason.

The running back has brought a physical presence to the team’s ground game as he continues to get a feel for what head coach Kliff Kingsbury is running in the desert.

Sunday’s 31-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was a solid example of Conner’s progression in the offense, scoring the first two touchdowns of his Cardinals’ career to go along with 46 yards on 11 carries. He also made an impressive one-handed catch for 10 yards.

It’s a testament to his work ethic.

“Just straight workman’s attitude each and every day,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday. “Doesn’t say anything, just goes to work. Practices hard, plays hard. I think he’s running really physical, running downhill.

“I think he’s still, obviously, getting accustomed to how we do things here in our offense and our style of play but I thought he really had a nice game last week and I expect him just to get more and more comfortable.”

That physical presence will be needed against a tough Rams defense, headlined by defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

While it’ll mark the first time Conner has gone up against Donald, he knows full well what to expect in the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year having spent a year together (2013) during their college days at Pittsburgh. That season Donald made 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles, career highs as a Panther.

Conner and those around him knew right away they were playing with greatness. That’ll happen when it’s a challenge to run inside each and every practice due to Donald’s ability to get in the backfield in a hurry.

“He’s a big brother to me so I’m just looking forward to just playing versus him,” Conner said Friday. “Everybody knows who he is, his accolades. It’s no secret, he comes to play every game.

“It’ll be exciting, it’ll be the first time getting to play versus him so it’s pretty special. I know he’s gonna bring it, try to slam me, try to all types of different things so I’m coming with it too.”

As for any insider tips on how to block one of the best defenders of our generation?

“Just be ready,” Conner said with a smile. “I’ll be there to help.”


– Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Sean Kugler on Conner:

“Physically tough, mentally tough, outstanding. Gets the tough yards, some of the runs he made down there [Sunday] on the goal line, there’s a million bodies in there. He’s one of these kids that’s just not gonna be denied. What a great mentality, what a great kid. Love working with him.”

Arizona Cardinals

Budda Baker #3 of the Arizona Cardinals returns an interception against the San Francisco 49ers at ...
Alex Weiner

Cardinals safety Budda Baker selected to PFWA All-NFC team

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker made the Professional Football Writers of America All-NFC team for the second straight year.
1 day ago
Owner Michael Bidwill (R) and general manager Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals look on during tr...
Arizona Sports

Arizona Cardinals engulfed in offseason chatter early on

It's been quite the roller coaster of conflicting reports since the Cardinals were bounced from the NFC Wild Card game just over a week ago.
1 day ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the NFL game ...
Dan Bickley

Lessons the Cardinals need to learn from 49ers-Rams NFC title matchup

To the Valley’s dismay, the NFC Championship game will be a showcase for two NFC West teams, neither of which are the Cardinals.
1 day ago
Larry Fitzgerald looks on during Capital One's The Match at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin on July ...
Arizona Sports

Larry Fitzgerald named executive chair of Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee

Larry Fitzgerald was named the new executive chair for the Arizona Super Bowl host committee on Monday for the 2023 game.
2 days ago
Arizona quarterback Will Plummer (15) is pressured by Southern California linebacker Drake Jackson ...
Jake Anderson

Cardinals take USC edge rusher Drake Jackson in PFF’s latest mock draft

The Arizona Cardinals have something that no other NFC West team has in the 2022 NFL Draft: a first-round draft pick.
2 days ago
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandon Powell (19) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Cur...
Arizona Sports

Rams-49ers matchup in All-NFC West conference championship game

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers will meet in the first NFC West-only conference championship game since the 2013 season. 
3 days ago
James Conner up for the challenge of college teammate Aaron Donald