TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — First-year Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks has wanted players to separate themselves in the crowded competition at wide receiver.
Christian Kirk and Chad Williams seem to have done just that.
Both youngsters had impressive nights in the Cardinals’ 20-15 preseason victory at New Orleans on Friday night.
Kirk, a second-round pick from Texas A&M, caught four passes for 49 yards, including a 13-yard dart in traffic from fellow rookie Josh Rosen for a touchdown. Williams, a third-round pick from Grambling State in 2017, caught three for 44 yards.
“Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, the way they performed. Tough catches, yardage after with Chad,” Wilks said after the team returned to practice Sunday. “I thought those guys stepped up. I thought they created a little bit of separation. It’s ongoing in that room so I’m looking for guys to continue to get better.”
Kirk and Williams took advantage of the absence of wide receiver Brice Butler, out with a foot injury. Butler had been listed as the No. 2 receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald on the depth chart but Wilks had declared the positon “pretty wide open” during training camp.
“With Brice being out, there’s more opportunities to go out and show what we can do,” Kirk said. “I’m really excited with how we played and looking forward to another good week of practice and getting out there in Dallas and do it again.”
Kirk, who grew up in suburban Phoenix as a Cardinals fan, made his presence felt the first time he touched the ball, returning a punt 38 yards in Arizona’s first preseason game, a 24-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. He would have had a touchdown, most likely, had he not slipped making a move on the final would-be tackler, the punter.
Now he’s trying to show that he’s not just a specialist but a reliable big-play threat as a receiver.
“You’ve just got to learn week by week, whether it’s the speed of the game, the playbook, I mean it all just comes more natural the more reps that you get,” Kirk said. “You get used to the looks that you’re seeing. It’s getting a lot easier. I feel like I’ve made bounds and strides from when I first stepped in here.”
Wide receiver is a big question mark for the Cardinals, with no truly proven players — except perhaps Butler — beyond Fitzgerald, who enters his 15th NFL season with career statistics among the greatest in the game’s history.
So the showing of the youngsters was welcome news.
That might be particularly true of Williams, who struggled through a difficult rookie season, appearing in only six games with three catches for 31 yards.
Has the light come on?
“He’s just such a competitor,” Wilks said. “He understands exactly what he needs to do. He wasn’t satisfied with some of the things that happened last year, the inconsistency, so I think he’s ready to step up.”
Williams said he’s much more at ease.
“I feel like it’s sunk in and I know the way of going about things,” he said, “and it just comes natural now.”
The Cardinals wrapped up their relatively brief training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Wednesday. They will work out Monday, have Tuesday off, then practice Wednesday through Friday in preparation for their Sunday game at Dallas.
“This was always in the plans because really I wanted those guys to get acclimated to how we’re going to do it during the year, to get away from the University of Phoenix Stadium and get back here and get down to the routine,” Wilks aid. “Routine is so important to me.”
Notes: Wilks said there will be no rush to get DT Robert Nkemdiche back after the former first-round draft pick left Friday night’s game with a foot injury. “I really don’t have a timetable on it right now,” Wilks said. “Just taking to the trainers, we’re just going to take it day to day and see how it goes.”