CARDINALS CORNER

Cardinals Corner podcast hands out the hardware during Arizona’s bye week

Dec 10, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: Dec 11, 2023, 3:31 pm

Trey McBride #85 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure...

Trey McBride #85 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Just because the Arizona Cardinals are on a bye, doesn’t mean the work stops over at Cardinals Corner, an Arizona Sports podcast.

To help get you through a week without Ron Wolfley’s unique commentary, Dave Pasch’s play-by-play prowess, Kyler Murray scrambles, Dennis Gardeck hits, 50-yard boots from Matt Prater and everything else surrounding the franchise, Arizona Sports’ Cardinals reporter Tyler Drake and do-it-all contributor Lauren Koval are here to hand out some hardware.

Let’s get down to it:

Mr. Cardinal

Drake: This award goes to the player who best embodies the new regime and the mentality it brings to the table. This one was a tough to decide on. Two names stood out above the rest in linebackers Dennis Gardeck and Kyzir White.

But given the way he consistently made an impact game in and game out in addition to his overall leadership and desire to play with a torn bicep for a handful of plays, White gets my vote.

Koval: The one player who has stood above the rest and represented the organization through numerous Cardinals coaching staffs has been Budda Baker. Selected by the Cardinals in the 2017 NFL Draft, he has only ever played for the Cardinals, which is a feat in itself in today’s NFL. Under new head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, Baker has remained that consistent, yet violent presence.

Cardinals offensive MVP

Drake: No one else is more deserving of this honor than second-year pro Trey McBride.

He’s not only improved his blocking exponentially, the tight end is also flashing his pass-catching abilities. Through 13 games played, McBride leads the team in catches (56), receiving yards (574) and yards after the catch (311). He’s tied with Hollywood Brown in first downs (32) to go along with two touchdowns.

And when you can make a veteran like Zach Ertz expendable, you know you’re doing something right.

Give McBride all the flowers. He’s earned it.

Koval: Is there anyone else who even comes to mind for offensive MVP besides Trey McBride? A true standout of this season, he has cemented his role as lead tight end for the Cardinals but is also showing the NFL exactly what he’s made of.

It’s fair to say McBride is past the “breakout game” and expectations are high for this second-year tight end to finish off the season strong.

Cardinals defensive MVP

Drake: White very well could have taken home this award had it not been for his season-ending biceps injury.

Instead, I’m rolling with safety Jalen Thompson. The veteran has been one of the most consistent defenders for defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, amassing 62 tackles, a sack, three interceptions, a forced fumble and five passes defensed across 11 games played on top of being a valued leader.

He’s first among Cardinals defenders in picks, tied for the team lead in passes defensed and trails only White (90) in tackles.

Koval: Since this is a bye week hardware handout — even though it is Week 14 in the NFL — I am going with Kyzir White. A player who came in with Gannon from Philadelphia, White has been a defensive leader this season, showing everyone the ropes of a Rallis/Gannon defense. He leads the team in total tackles and snagged a game-sealing interception against the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, he is out for the season with torn biceps, so hopefully the defensive MVP award changes hands before the end of the season.

Most surprising Cardinal

Drake: This one is really tough for me. It comes down to three rookies in Garrett Williams, Kei’Trel Clark and Dante Stills.

Williams has quickly inserted himself into a meaningful starting role at nickel after having to battle back from a torn ACL he suffered last season. Clark showed out from the beginning, starting five of his first six NFL games only to get benched for the next five before fighting his way back into the starting lineup of late.

Then you have Stills, who is becoming a consistent presence in the middle of the trenches after climbing the ranks throughout training camp and the regular season thanks to his improved play and opportunity due to injury.

Each one is very deserving of the award, but since there are no co-winners here at Cardinals Corner, I’m going with Stills. The 2023 sixth-rounder has racked up 3.5 sacks in 12 games (six starts) and continues to gain the trust of his coaching staff and teammates.

Koval: Back to the defense I go for the most surprising player, rookie pass rusher BJ Ojulari. Ojulari was sidelined for nearly all of training camp with a knee injury, so we were not able to see all that Ojulari had to offer, nor did he get the valuable reps that come with camp.

The Atlanta Falcons game was his breakout performance behind two sacks and eight total tackles. I’m eager to see his play in these final four games of the season. The other more obvious pick for the surprising player is McBride, and because we as fans now have grown accustomed to seeing his success, let’s not forget that he started the season as TE2 to Zach Ertz.

The comeback Cardinal

Drake: Williams again is an honorable mention here, but this award belongs to quarterback Kyler Murray. The signal caller has worked his way back into the starting lineup after his own rehab for a torn ACL and is picking up the offense in a rapid fashion despite no training camp or offseason reps with coordinator Drew Petzing.

And above all else, he’s providing general manager Monti Ossenfort and Gannon with added looks ahead of an offseason filled with question marks and a whole lot of draft capital.

The product has been far from perfect, but it’s a process and there seems to be more improvement than regression four games into his return.

Koval: Kyler Murray has had the most impressive comeback of any player on this team. With the expectations and drama surrounding his return from a torn ACL, I felt the weight of the franchise was dependent upon his play. All eyes were on him Nov. 12 as he stepped on the field for the first time in 2023, exceeding most expectations. All eyes will continue to be on him as the season wraps up.

Will they stick with Murray or move on?

Cardinal not getting enough love

Drake: This one belongs to rookie offensive lineman Paris Johnson.

The life of a lineman can be unglamorous, where positives usually come in the form of what isn’t being said more than what is.

Johnson has had some growing pains but has maintained his role in the starting lineup and hasn’t missed an offensive snap through 13 games. With every passing week, he looks more and more comfortable in the trenches, regardless of who is on the other side.

There’s not much more you can ask of a rookie.

Koval: As a safety in the NFL, you rarely hear praise. It’s more “look how many yards he gave up?” Or “where was his defense on this touchdown?”

With Jalen Thompson, more times than not you don’t find yourself saying those things. He needs more love for that. His season has been far from quiet stacking up the second most total tackles (62) on the team and leading the team in interceptions with three. Lined up across from Baker, it is hard to find a better safety tandem in the NFL.

Most improved Cardinal

Drake: Stills, come on down!

After keeping his head down throughout offseason work, training camp and the beginning of the regular season, Stills has found himself in a big-time role in Year 1.

The energy the 2023 sixth-rounder brings cannot be understated and his 3.5 sacks, 39 tackles, five of which were for losses, five quarterback hits and a fumble recovery are proof he’s making an impact.

Koval: Looking back at last season, Dennis Gardeck has already passed his total tackles and has four more recorded sacks. Gardeck is having the best season of his career and doing so without much recognition. He missed a few games last season with an ankle injury and the season before after he tore his ACL, but you would never know it. The linebacker has created problems for opposing teams’ quarterbacks and recorded a solo tackle in every game except last Sunday versus the Steelers. Gardeck is making his presence known weekly and continues to blow past his numbers from last season. And his leadership on a young team cannot be understated.

Cardinal we need to see more of

Drake: Marco Wilson is the obvious answer here, but given his fall from grace in recent weeks, I think his time in Arizona is coming to an end sooner rather than later.

Hollywood Brown is another one, but again, the unknown surrounding his future leaves him out this discussion.

With that thinking, I am turning my attention to rookie linebacker Owen Pappoe.

In no fault of his own, he joined an inside linebackers room with a lot of trusted veterans and has seen very minimal playing time defensively because of it.

But with White sidelined, the door has cracked that much more for Pappoe. It’s on him to seize the opportunity before the year comes to a close.

Koval: For two different reasons here, my answer is Michael Wilson. A rookie who dealt with injuries during his time at Stanford is going through it with the Cardinals after starting off the season really well.

Hopefully he can overcome the injury bug and prove how he can become a WR1-type player for the Cardinals. The door is open with the poor season Hollywood Brown is having. During his time out on the field for the Cardinals, Wilson has shown not only his size but also his versatility.

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Cardinals Corner podcast hands out the hardware during Arizona’s bye week