TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals entered the final days of the preseason thinking they had their cornerbacks room locked in.
That feeling was quickly tossed out the window by the time the initial 53-man roster cuts were made, with free-agent signing and projected starting cornerback Malcolm Butler placed on the retirement list.
Needing to add depth behind the likes of Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson and Robert Alford, Arizona went out three days later and signed two corners to the practice squad. One of them was Antonio Hamilton.
Fast forward to the regular season, and Hamilton has played in every game so far. While he was used more as a special teamer at the start of the season, Hamilton has started to garner more defensive reps.
In the Cardinals’ 17-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Hamilton saw a season-high 63 defensive snaps (97%) with injuries to both Murphy and Wilson thrusting him into a starting role. The corner finished with six tackles, tied for the most on the team Sunday.
“He’s a good pro,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “From Day 1, he’s always been fully engaged and attentive. He’s intentional in his work, so we knew he was gonna play well once he got a chance to play. … Watching him play corner in practice and watching him play nickel, I wasn’t surprised he played well in the game on Sunday.”
Hamilton and the rest of the secondary dug their feet in, not allowing a touchdown through the air and less than 200 yards passing in the win.
Not bad for a cornerback that originally had aspirations of being a wide receiver until his junior year in college.
“It’s just about taking advantage of the opportunity that I’m given,” Hamilton said Wednesday. “I’ve been in the league for awhile now and I’ve played in a number of games where these circumstances have came about.
“It’s just taking advantage of the opportunities that I’m given and understanding the defense … enough so when I go out I can execute at a high level as if the starters were out [there].”
Hamilton got his NFL start as an undrafted free agent with the then-Oakland Raiders in 2016. His stint in Oakland lasted just two seasons before joining the New York Giants (2018-19) and Kansas City Chiefs (2020).
Hamilton was also a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad this offseason before eventually signing with the Cardinals. Prior to Sunday, he’d been listed as a starter only twice throughout his career.
“The competitive aspect of it, it’s still something that I’m steady getting better at every day,” Hamilton said. “The good thing is this is Year 6 and I’m steady growing each and every year.
“I’m kinda classified as a older guy just by the number of years I’ve been in the league, but I’m still experiencing things like a young guy and I’m still learning and I’m still getting better, so my best game is yet to come.”