GLENDALE, Ariz. – Once they get done playing soccer and the pads come on, Arizona Cardinals players either get exposure or get exposed, as head coach Bruce Arians likes to say.
Linebacker Markus Golden never has to worry about the latter.
In fact, Golden may get more exposure here in year two.
Coming off a rookie season in which he led the team in quarterback pressures and finished second in quarterback hits, Golden is just one of the many reasons the Cardinals believe their pass rush will be improved in 2016.
Yes, there’s the offseason additions of linebacker Chandler Jones and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, but what also has the Cardinals excited are their internal options, namely Golden, their 2015 second-round pick.
“He’s not thinking. He’s playing fast,” Arians said Tuesday. “He’s always had a high, high motor, but now he’s doing it the right way and he’s always in the right spots. He’s turning into a heck of a player.”
Golden flashed his talent in 2015 with 37 tackles, four sacks, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 15 games, including six starts. That and more is expected this season.
Five days into training camp, Golden is already feeling light-years ahead of his 2015 self.
“Way better,” he said. “Just knowing the plays, moving faster, not thinking when I get the plays and just going out there and competing and being myself.”
The speed in which Golden is now playing at has more to do than just knowing his assignments, where to be and what to do.
The game has slowed down for him, certainly. Golden has also slimmed down.
“I lost a little weight,” he said. “Last year, I played at, like, 258. Now I’m between 252 and 255 every day, so really I’m able to move faster, more explosive. I just worked a lot on pass-rush, a lot of sprints in the offseason. I feel way more faster and may more explosive.”
Golden, 25, was among those who stood out in the first padded practice.
“It felt good out there. It felt good just to get in pads,” he said. “You know, your first day, you be anxious just to get out there and compete. I was just ready, and I’m just ready to keep going every day.”
While many eyes were on Jones once the pads went on, and rightfully so, it was Golden who also caught the attention of GM Steve Keim.
“Markus Golden has vastly improved,” he said on Doug & Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM earlier in the week. “Some of the things that Markus has done with learning the inside spin move from Dwight Freeney. He’s gotten quicker, more explosive. And the thing about Markus is he doesn’t quit. I mean, you’re going to have to kill the guy to stop him. He plays with an unbelievable motor and that’s good for Chandler. Those guys feed off of each other early on.”
And spend quite a bit of time around one another. When you see one, you’re likely to see the other.
Jones is what Freeney was last season for Golden: A mentor, someone he can lean on and ask questions to.
“Chandler is a hard-working guy,” said Golden, who still texts Freeney. “He’s got a lot of moves. Really just a leader. He brings a lot. I listen to him a lot. I feel like if the guys double him, then it’s going to be a better opportunity for me to get some 1-on-1s.
The Cardinals hope so, too.
“You would think if Calais (Campbell) and Chandler are on the same side, (the offensive line is) going to slide that way, so those other (linemen) are 1-on-1,” Arians said. “It opens up a lot of opportunities for them.”
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