The Arizona Cardinals have yet to put injured cornerback Robert Alford on the injured reserve as of Tuesday morning, but his torn pectoral muscle certainly means they need a replacement for the foreseeable future.
Nickelback Byron Murphy could switch back to corner, where he played often as a rookie. Young vets Chris Jones and Kevin Peterson will also be considered after they played significant snaps in 2019. Arizona surely will scour the free agent wire or perhaps look at adding veterans at the cut deadline in less than a month.
What’s certain is that losing Alford hurts in myriad ways after the cornerback acquired to be the perfect Patrick Peterson running-mate could miss his second straight season.
“He’s everything you want in your organization,” said Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who watched Alford thrive by bringing physical and boisterous energy last training camp before he suffered a season-ending leg injury. “He worked his ass off to get back and it’s just everybody is heartbroken for him here.
“We got to have the next guy step up and that’s what we’re working through now. Murphy got a ton of snaps out there last year. He’s obviously a guy that can slide out there. KP, Chris Jones are a few names we’re going to work through. Whoever’s opposite of number 21 we know is going to get a lot of action so we have to get somebody we know can handle that.”
The Cardinals aren’t sure if Alford injured himself reaching to knock down a pass in practice Sunday or if he hurt it falling to the turf. Because the team wasn’t in pads and there was yet to be contact, Kingsbury said he’s not sure there is any way to prevent such an injury.
Immediately, Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph must consider the in-house replacement options. He will take into account Murphy’s previously expressed enthusiasm about sliding into a more natural slot role.
“Byron is competitive,” Kingsbury said of Murphy moving back to corner. “He’s a team-first guy. He felt really comfortable at the nickel where he feels he can make plays and we can use him in some different ways, but he wants to win and he wants to help this team win.”
Joseph also must think about what gives him the best chance to play the defense he wants. Patrick Peterson and the other starting cornerback being able to play a press man-to-man defense allows safeties and linebackers to be used more creatively.
“V.J. I thought last year had to make some adjustments, not having Pat P early, having some other significant injuries … I think that kind of prepped us all for a worst-case scenario. We’ll be able to adjust if we need to,” Kingsbury said.
Murphy moving to corner would lead Kevin Peterson to play as a nickel against slot receiver matchups.
How first-round pick Isaiah Simmons learns the defense could give Arizona the option of using his speed and cover skills alongside the two starting inside linebackers, De’Vondre Campbell and Jordan Hicks. But the Cardinals, with a shortened offseason, want to bring Simmons along without overloading him. Maybe he can help more midway through the year.
In the coming days, Arizona will determine what Alford’s outlook is for this year. Historically, a pectoral injury has a recovery timeframe of four to six months, Kingsbury said.
A four-month recovery would put Alford’s return at mid-December. The Cardinals have a Dec. 13 game against the Giants and play the Eagles, 49ers and Rams the next three weekends.
“We’ve had that discussion (about putting Alford on IR), still working through it, kind of what the next step is,” Kingsbury said. “Just disappointed for Rob. Nobody works harder.”