New era notes: Cardinals’ Dante Stills impressing as snaps pile up

Oct 2, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: Oct 6, 2023, 4:00 pm

TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals’ youth movement remains in full swing four games into the season.

Paris Johnson Jr. makes it look easy at starting right tackle, wide receiver Michael Wilson has the look of a No. 1 wide receiver and cornerback Kei’Trel Clark continues to pick up valuable learning experiences and reps against premier receiving threats.

But while the three are headlining Arizona’s 2023 draft class heading into a Week 5 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, fellow rookie Dante Stills is flying under the radar as he slowly but surely gets the chance to prove himself with injuries impacting the defensive line rotation.

After being a healthy scratch in Arizona’s season-opening loss to the Washington Commanders, Stills got his first taste of the regular season in a Week 2 loss to the New York Giants behind 18 defensive snaps (26% of available reps).

In Arizona’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, that number jumped to 33 (41%).

Then came Week 4, where Stills picked up the first start of his NFL career in addition to another 33 snaps (60%).

And what he did with them caught the eye of head coach Jonathan Gannon.

“I thought honestly that Dante probably had his best game in my opinion,” the head coach said Monday after reviewing the tape. “That’s a tough scheme for a defensive lineman to go against, because they put you in some conflict and do some different things.”

For a team that has no problem throwing their rookies into the fire if the coaching staff deems them ready, it’s a good sign Stills is on the right track as he works to cement his role along Arizona’s trenches now and in the future.

That’s not to say, however, there aren’t areas Stills and the rest of the defensive line can improve upon moving forward, especially after watching 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey rip off 106 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

“I think collectively coming out of meetings today they know they’ve got to play a little bit better and a little bit cleaner,” Gannon said. “I talked to them today (and told them) the effort is there, the motor is there but our pad levels have got to be a little bit better.

“We’ve got to put our hands on the right people all the time and get aligned right all the time, but I thought they did a good job. They came in and battled.

Where was Barnes?

Cardinals linebacker Krys Barnes was not among the team’s inactives in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers after dealing with a hand issue picked up the week prior.

But despite his availability and the team’s depth at inside linebacker with starter Josh Woods out due to an ankle issue, Barnes saw just five special teams snaps (23%) in Week 4.

“Health related,” Gannon said when asked about Barnes’ limited showing.

Trending up

Speaking of Woods, Gannon is holding out hope that the linebacker and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter (finger) can suit up against the Bengals.

“We’ll see. They’re trending the right way, but we’ve got to go through the week of practice and see,” the head coach said Monday.

Tillman Scout Player of the Week

For his efforts in last week’s prep for the 49ers, offensive lineman Jackson Barton was named Pat Tillman Scout Player of the Week.

He will don the No. 40 jersey throughout practice this week.

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