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Cardinals what to watch: who will run? can defense stop the pass? planting flowers; really?

Howard Balzer Avatar
October 14, 2023

As the Cardinals travel to SoFi Stadium to play the first of two games this season against the Rams, this will be the first of at least four weeks without running back James Conner, who suffered a knee injury (believed to be a MCL sprain) last Sunday against the Bengals.

As coach Jonathan Gannon said, “We’ll mis him. He’s one of our main leaders.”

But they, of course, will play despite his absence with a cast that includes Emari Demercado, Keaontay Ingram and Damien Williams.

Demercado carried the load against Cincinnati after Conner exited and with Ingram inactive for the second straight game because of a neck injury. Clement was elevated from the practice squad for the second time, but had no offensive snaps. Williams was signed to the practice squad late last week, while Jones was claimed on waivers from the Saints Monday.

Ingram will play and probably could have last week, but the team wanted to be cautious in his recovery from a stinger. Williams was elevated from the practice squad Saturday.

Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said, “All those guys in that room are going to have some role in this football game and moving forward in this offense, because I think they all do certain things a little better than the other guy. Or they have slightly different roles or runs they like or things they see well.”

“Whoever we have up playing, they’ll get their touches and kind of go from there,” Gannon said. “I’m excited for them, honestly. You gotta be ready to go when your number’s called.”

Demercado grew up not far from SoFi and earned a spot on the roster after being signed as an undrafted free agent this year.

Right from the jump, he impressed the coaching staff.

On what stood out early in the process, Gannon said, “Ability, effort, playmaking ability, and a good teammate. He handles his business like a pro all the time. He prepares if he’s gonna get five snaps or 35 snaps. I’m excited for him.”

Petzing said, “Very unflappable, like it was whatever the role was, whatever was asked of him, the stage was never too big. He was always ready, always prepared. Then when the first game comes, you would never know it was his first year out there. And I think you felt that way when the ball was in his hands on Sunday. It was just kind of like, ‘Hey, he’s prepared. He’s ready. And he’s going to go out and make plays.'”

One of the biggest adjustments for young running backs is handling the physical and mental challenge of protecting in the pass game. Gannon acknowledged, “(I was) impressed how quickly he picked that up. He started his role as that third-down back. That plays into the mental part of it and to the skillset part of it. He’s done a really good job with that. Normally, that’s a thing that guys first year, second year, third year they struggle with that and he has not struggled with it.”

Demercado said being a backup at TCU prepared him for that skill.

“I was never the guy in college, so I had to find my role,” he said. “That’s helped me at this level. I was the third-down guy in college just being able to translate that, it was familiar to me. This level, it’s a little more complex with different looks, but just being able to already process things helped me.

“I had the knack for it and putting in the extra time with film, just trying to learn the looks, what they’re trying to present they might want to show one thing and bring another thing; being able to process all that.

He said this week is no different than any previous week even though he knows there will be opportunity with Conner out.

“I prepare every week like I’m going to play,” he said. “Same thing in college as the backup running back. You have to be ready when the moment comes because you never know when it will come.”

And now it’s here.

He got some advice from fellow rookie, right tackle Paris Johnson Jr., who said, “I told him, ‘You’re not here to be JC. You’re here to be Emari. That’s why they brought you in. You do you.’ We fully believe in the backs we have until JC gets back.”

Petzing said, “Nobody’s going to fill James’ shoes perfectly. I think all those guys are going to step up and take a part of that role and I’m excited to see them do that. I trust everybody in that room. AD (running backs coach Autry Denson) does a great job of getting those guys ready and I think you saw that when he went out of the game. The next guy in has gotta step up, got to know his role, got to understand the offense and what we’re trying to accomplish. Emari did a great job with that and I expect everybody in the room to pick up the slack and fill in when needed.”

As for the challenge of getting newcomers as ready as possible, Petzing said, “I said this to the staff, I said this to AD, that’s our job as coaches. That’s what we get paid to do is make sure no matter how long they’re here, they’re ready to go out and perform and play at a high level. Certainly, that’s going to require some extra time in the meeting room after practice, before practice; just trying to get them up to speed.

“It’s a different language, it’s different players around them. We may be doing things slightly different, so we’ve had to really ramp that up in a much shorter timeline than maybe we would if they were here in preseason, in the offseason. But I think they’ve done a nice job of embracing that and putting everything they have into learning the playbook, learning our offense and getting themselves ready to go.”

Petzing noted, “They’re doing a good job. The protection things of that position are critical so that’s a big learning curve when you get in here, when you’re trying to play quick for those guys. But they’re both intelligent. I like where they’re at.”

There will be communication as coaches learn more about what players can do.

“The most valuable input you have into the game plan are the players,” Petzing said. “And not saying they get to pick their plays; I‘m not saying that. But it’s our job to make sure they feel comfortable and know exactly what to do, what we’re trying to get out of those calls from all 11 out there and they have to feel good about that.

“Some of our best calls have been from players and some of the worst calls our guys didn’t feel comfortable with them and that’s on us as coaches. We gotta always keep that dialogue going on a daily basis because they’re the ones in between the white lines; not us.”

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs surely knows the importance of the running game being effective and the challenge it will be without Conner.

“Guys will have to step up to answer for that production,” Dobbs said. “It’s a challenge on that room. I’m excited to see them step up to that task and help us. They start running the ball effectively, it’ll help our pass game as well.”

Letting the flowers grow

It’s a given that coaches take something from every job they have as they navigate the journey that is a part of the profession.

Gannon has consistently preached that while winning is obviously important, what’s crucial now is for players to understand the importance of the process, embrace it, and continue staying the course even when losses pile up.

So it was earlier this week that when Cardinals linebacker Josh Woods was asked about that philosophy, he relayed something that defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said.

Woods said, “He got it from someone else, but it said, ‘When a flower is growing, the roots grow first.’ So like even though you might not see the outcome, the result you want, the beautiful budding flower, just know that the foundation is being set. That’s what we’re hanging our hat on, that’s how we’re coming in every day, to just trust the process, build this foundation.

“I’ve been a part of something very similar to this over in Detroit and those guys are rolling right now. You just trust the process, continue to get better, do your part to get better, and it will turn round.”

That someone else was Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, who went to Philadelphia in 2021 and hired Rallis and Gannon for his staff. That season, the Eagles started 2-5, and as the Philadelphia media corps questioned him (no, not the calm Philly media), Sirianni actually revealed he showed the players a picture of a flower sprouting through the surface with the roots growing underground.

He said, “The results aren’t there right now, but what’s going on here is there’s growth under the soil. Everybody wants to see results. Nobody wants to see results more than us. We want to see results too, but it’s really important that the foundation is being built and that the roots are growing out.

“The only way the roots grow out every single day, and they grow stronger and they grow better, is if we all water, we all fertilize, we all do our part. Each individual coach, each individual player, everybody in the building that we do our part to water to make sure when it (flower) does pop out it really pops out and it grows.”

Sirianni added, “I’m always thinking of different messages to give to the team that either really fit to the situation, that I’ve gotten before in a situation from another head coach, from my dad or whatever. That was my message today because we are going through tough times and everybody wants to see results. But just keep doing what we’re doing, keep watering, and look at yourself first. Are you watering and are you fertilizing every day?”

When Rallis was told what Woods revealed, he said, “The Sirianni analogy? Good analogy.”

He was then asked if he has optimism that this group can grow like the Eagles. Rallis said, “I do. We talked about it the other day of, ‘Don’t be extreme. Don’t be emotional with your decisions. You’ve gotta find ways that we have to get better.’ Schematically, technically, physically. All of it. We have to continue to improve and we have to find, ‘What are the those incremental changes that you do need to make in order to win those close games?’

“It’s not an issue of effort, or playing with intensity, violence. I thought we tackled well (against Cincinnati). But it’s one of those little changes whether that’s the plan or the execution of the plan that we need to do to get better and if you keep doubling down on that and believe in it and be convicted, then you will start to see those results.”

Another defensive challenge

Two weeks ago, the Cardinals didn’t have an answer for 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who caught six passes for 148 yards (24.7 average) with plays of 20, 25, 34 and 42 yards, three of which were in the second half.

Last week, the carnage continued when Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase had 15 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns, one of which was for 63 yards and gave the Bengals a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.

In Week 2, the comeback by the Giants was jump-started by a 58-yard play to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt on the first play of the second half. Hyatt added a 31-yard catch, while wide receiver Darius Slayton had a play of 29 yards and tight end Darren Waller one for 25, all in the second half.

Overall, the Cardinals have allowed 13 pass plays of at least 20 yards and 11 have been in the second half. Through five games, quarterbacks have passed for 1,372 yards with 439 (32.0 percent) on those explosive plays. In the second half, opponents have 641 passing yards with 365 (56.9 percent) on plays of 20 yards or more.

Sunday, a secondary playing without safeties Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, will be tasked with finding a way to stop a Rams passing game that has quarterback Matthew Stafford as the trigger man and features wide receivers Cooper Kupp, who returned from injury last week to catch eight passes for 118 yards, and rookie phenom Puka Nacua, who leads the NFL with 46 receptions and is second in yards with 572.

The emergence of receiver Tutu Atwell (24-279-11.6-2) along with tight end Tyler Higbee (18-216-12.0) led to the trade this week of wide receiver Van Jefferson to the Falcons.

Nacua has totaled at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards in each game this season. If he does that Sunday, he will become the fifth rookie in NFL history to record at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards in six consecutive games, joining Odell Beckham Jr. (nine in 2014), Aiyuk (six in 2020), CeeDee Lamb (six in 2020) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (six in 2021). He would join Lamb as the only two to do it in each of their first six career games.

A fifth-round pick, Gannon said the Cardinals were very aware of Nacua’s ability in the run-up to the draft.

“What we thought is showing up,” Gannon said. “What is impressive to me is his route-running ability. The intricacies of that. Getting open. He looks like an eight-year vet. He did that well in college (along with) the detail of how he runs routes, the different releases that he has. His body language. His eyes. How he comes in and out of the cut. I’m sure the quarterback helps him with that. I’m sure Cooper helps him with that, so it was a strength of his game that got stronger and that’s why he’s doing a good job.”

Rallis said, “It’s a good group of skill, from the tight ends and receivers and obviously the quarterback and play-caller (coach Sean McVay) are the best of the best. You want to talk about adaptability; he’s adapted since he first got there until now, which says a lot because he’s had success since the beginning. You can see they’re putting new wrinkles in constantly like what’s new in 2023.

“We’ll go check out what that tree is doing; McVay, (Kyle) Shanahan, those guys and you’ll see the motions that they use; it presents challenges to the defense. Right now, they’re playing at a high level. The quarterback’s obviously an elite player. Can put the ball anywhere, and he’s willing to put the ball anywhere. Knows how to get it out of his hand fast. Kupp has a huge route tree that you gotta account for.”

Rallis added about McVay, “It’s impressive what he’s done in his career. What I really liked when I watched the tape is he is not, ‘This is what I’m running because I like to run it.’ He adapts and evolves weekly, yearly. I think he does a really good job of putting his players in positions to make plays with what they do well. That’s very evident as you watch the tape.”

Nacua has 10 plays of 20 yards or more this season, while Atwell and Higbee have three. Kupp had one last week. Overall, the Rams have 20 pass plays of at least 20 yards.

The Cardinals will try to slow that passing game down with a secondary that has cornerbacks Marco Wilson, Antonio Hamilton Sr., Kei’Trel Clark, who didn’t start for the first time last week, and Bobby Price, along with K’Von Wallace, Andre Chachere and possibly Joey Blount Kwuantrezz Knight at safety. Price was elevated from the practice squad Saturday. Knight wore the No. 40 jersey in practice this week as the Scout Team Player of the week in Week 5.

Clark said of not starting, “It was something I expected. I accepted it, played my role, and when my number was called, I was ready to go.

“Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had the will to battle adversity and to fight through any situation and be resilient. That’s what you got to do, especially at the position that I play.”

Rallis knows the challenge that will occur this week, especially limiting the big plays. Stafford does have five interceptions and only five NFL quarterbacks currently have more.

The task for the secondary, said Rallis, is “you have to know within each call where you get into the call. If he beats us on this call, so be it. But he can’t beat us on this. We gotta play our leverage the correct way, we gotta be consistent with our technique, we gotta be in the right spot, our eyes have to be right and they gotta know how they fit into each call and try to help negate them a little bit.”

It will be important for Wallace to rise to the occasion. Claimed on waivers from the Eagles in August, he played 70 percent of the snaps in Week 1, but hasn’t missed any in the last four games.

Gannon said he knew what the team was getting and Wallace’s ability: “He played some meaningful snaps in Philly for us. For a number of different reasons, he started some games for us, but he can play winning football back there for us. Glad we have him.”

Added Rallis, “Intensity. Good tackler, good energy; he loves football and I enjoy coaching K’Von a lot. He has brought some spark in that sense and he’s always, as long as I’ve been around him, had that to him. He’s got to continue getting better in that safety spot with technique, execution of the scheme. As he continues to do that, I’m excited to see where he’s going to continue to go. He’s definitely been a valuable piece for us since he got here.”

Improving the kicking game

Against the Bengals, new punter Blake Gillikin had a 54.8 average on four punts, but with a net of 37.8. There was also a missed extra point in the second half.

Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers characterized Gillikin’s outing as “like a lot of first games. Couple of good punts, location, distance couple others he’d like to be a little bit better on, but I didn’t think there was anything too drastic with the punt situation. So worked through the holding thing. We were kinda off in all three areas on that one. The snap wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as clean as it could have been. Blake expects to get that ball down which we did; we just didn’t get it turned (and) missed it so still working through that.”

As for the net punting average, he said, “Everything ties in with location on punts, distance on punts, hangtime on punts guys’ ability to get downfield. Obviously, there’s a protection element to it, returner return style, how they’re aligned. Down and distance has something to do with it. Sometimes when you’re fourth-and-2, you may have more guys in the box and the gunners can run. If it’s fourth-and-longer down and distance, those guys are (engaged) so some of those things build on each other, but I’d just say it was a pretty average day in that regard.”

Rodgers said there were probably about 100 snaps Gillikin caught during his first three days of practice and said, “It’s a rep thing. All three parts have to be worked out. It’s a combination of things. Holder’s not used to catching it from that snapper. He’s got to see a bunch of those things.”

The walking wounded

The Cardinals listed eight players as questionable on Friday’s injury report, but many are expected to play: wide receiver Hollywood Brown (illness), defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (finger), linebacker Jesse Luketa (shoulder) and inside linebacker Josh Woods (ankle). Running back Keaontay Ingram (neck) and outside linebacker Cameron Thomas (thigh) had no game status noted.

Brown missed practice Wednesday and was limited the following two days. As a precaution, he was wearing a mask in the locker room Friday.

Gannon said Woods had “a little bit of a nick” on the same ankle that sidelined him for three games, but added, “He should be good.”

Ledbetter has an injury to the pinky on his left hand, and it’s still swollen and bent, but he can flex his fingers fine and he said he hopes to play with a wrap that doesn’t restrict his tackling ability.

On Ingram, Gannon said Friday, “It was a physical day yesterday. He looked good.”

Guard/tackle Dennis Daley, who was on reserve/injured and began practicing last week, was activated Saturday. Left guard Elijah Wilkinson has shared snaps with Trystan Colon the last three weeks, so it’s possible Colon will be inactive against the Rams and Daley will be part of the job-share.

Petzing said earlier this week, “One of the things that makes Dennis such a valuable player aside from being a good player, is his versatility. He’s played tackle in his career, he’s played guard. He’s played on both sides of the line, so just getting him back healthy, making sure that he’s where he needs to be physically, and getting him ready to go has been our priority over these last couple weeks so it was great to see him get out there.”

Rallis was glad Woods was able to play last week. He said, “I was pleased with the way Krys (Barnes) and Zeke (Turner) played when Josh was out and obviously you want to have all your players available. It’s good to have Josh back. Josh is playing the best football of his career right now. There’s things he knows he needs to get better at, but I love the motor and the effort that Josh plays with. Definitely you can feel his intensity, you can feel his leadership on the sideline as well.”

Woods said, “I missed it. I missed it so much. It felt good to be back out there with my guys. It’s a blessing and you realize how quickly it can be taken away from you, so just appreciative of the training staff and everybody allowing me to get back. Just happy to be out there.”

Finally, asked if Baker might begin practicing next week, Gannon said, “We’ll see. Trending in the right direction. But kinda day-by-day.”

Myjai returns

Outside linebacker Myjai Sanders, who missed time during training camp because of a thumb injury and opened the season on reserve/injured, was designated for return Thursday and began practicing.

Gannon said Friday, “He had a good day yesterday and we’ll keep getting him reps and get him back going here. A little bit out of shape even trying to get his football lungs. I’m confident he’ll get caught up pretty quick and get his lungs back.”

“I’m just ready to come back and take on my role and just be the best player I can be,” Sanders said. “Any way I can get in or fit in to be able to play right now and get back on the field and get activated this week, that’s what I’m doing.

“When I came back practicing today, I almost had all the reps. It was fun getting my wind back and just being able to run and actually pass-rush again. I’m just loving being back and taking all my meetings day by day.”

Sanders wasn’t activated Saturday and cornerback Garrett Williams also was not activated after completing his second week of practice.

Another “war daddy”

Before this week, Gannon had referred to Cardinals linebacker Kyzir White and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa as war daddys. It’s no surprise he added Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald to that list this week.

The dictionary defines a war daddy as “a player with extraordinary ability and exceptional toughness.”

No argument there.

When Gannon was asked about Donald, those were the first two words he said. He then added, “Obviously, one of the best players in the NFL. We gotta do a good job with him. You gotta make sure the different protections, different run game, all the different things that you want to do, he doesn’t allow you to do some of those things. So, we gotta be smart about attacking their defense. It’s a really good defense. Not just him.

“They’re well-coached, they play fast. They’re in the right spot. They’re violent. People haven’t run it great vs them partly because of Aaron and partly because of the other guys too, so we got our work cut out for us.”

Said Dobbs, “I’ve watched him from afar for a long time in the league. Being in the AFC, I haven’t crossed paths with the Rams, so now obviously in the NFC, it’s a little bit different playing him twice a year. He can wreck a game really fast. Crazy player. I remember watching videos of him while I was in Pittsburgh doing the indoor training with knives.

“He’s a dynamic player and has been a dynamic player in this league for a long time. As we’ve had to do throughout the year when we face dynamic players, we’re going to have to obviously recognize that talent across from us, have a plan and go out and execute it.”

When McVay was asked this week about Donald constantly working to get better, he said, “I think it’s cool when you really talk to him because again, you mentioned that when he speaks everybody really listens and their ears kind of perk up, but his nuanced understanding of the game and being able to echo and articulate exactly what’s going on is something that I think the best have and he understands that. He knows based on where he’s located, he’s able to get keys and tells and tips and reads pre-snap on offensive linemen. If you ever just talk to him about personnel and, ‘Hey, how do you evaluate this offensive line or even some of our own guys?’

“The amount of depth that he can provide. Some of the best learning that I’ve had is from these great players and he certainly checks those boxes. He loves this game. He loves competing and I think when you love something and you’re passionate about it, you’re always trying to continuously take your game in a direction that’s positive and moving forward. That’s not exclusive to physically, that’s mentally for him and I think he understands and appreciates that at a level that is one of the many things that makes him super rare.”

That fourth-and-1 fail

Petzing was still kicking himself Tuesday over the missed fourth-and-1 from the Bengals 16-yard line with 1:49 to play in the third quarter and Cincinnati leading, 24-20. Linebacker Germaine Pratt blew up the play and Dobbs was dropped for a 1-yard loss. The Bengals then went 83 yards on a 15-play drive that lasted 8:55 and took a 31-20 lead.

“They had a really nice adjustment there on defense. Bringing the safety through the C gap created some issues in the backfield there that made the play messy from the beginning and the linebacker had a nice play coming over the top on Dobbs so that was a big play in the game,” Petzing said. “As I watched that and looked through the scheme, I thought, ‘Should I have called this, should I have done that? Was it the right call?’

“That’s something that certainly keeps me up at night, that night, moving through the week, but we gotta flush it, we gotta move on to the next week. But certainly try to figure out what could we have done, what is a better play, what could the situation have been that we would have succeeded in that area.”

When it was noted that no one will ever know if a different play-call would have worked, he laughed and said, “I try to tell myself that, but it doesn’t help. There’s always, ‘Hey, did he see something, did we give something away? Was I too predictable?’ All those things kinda roll through your mind if you look at what you’ve done in those situations to try to make sure that, hey you are being hard to defend and you are not being predictable and you’re giving those guys a chance to succeed.”

A fine mess

Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore was fined $10,491 in the season opener for lowering his head when a defender approached him on the sideline on a 31-yard pass play. Moore said he was simply defending himself and appealed. Four weeks later, he still awaits a decision.

Safety K’Von Wallace was fined $5,611 in that game for an alleged incident that occurred after a play. He told PHNX the fine was dropped after an appeal.

However, he said he was fined in last week’s game for wearing a towel hanging from his pants. He laughed and said, “They keep trying to take my money,” while adding, “They could have warned me.”

His fine was not listed Saturday among the 29 fines from Week 5, but that is because it was for a uniform violation and not for breaking game rules.

What the Rams are saying

Kupp on Nacua: “I learn from so many guys. I’ve been joking with him. He keeps coming up to me and asking me how to run routes. I’m like, ‘Puka, if you ask me to run the route, like you tell me how you want to run the route. I’m trying to learn how you just did that.’ There’s a give and take there and he’s been great. It’s fun to play off of guys and just see guys play games and come from different backgrounds and have different tools. It’s fun. It’s hard because even just this last week, there’s been so much turnover in seven years, but it has been a blessing. Every person that has come through has been a huge part of making me the player that I am. I hope the guys that come in and left here too with some tools to use going forward and not just football, but just in life being grown men and handling your business the right way. I feel very lucky in that regard.”

Donald on Dobbs: “Another mobile guy. I think he’s playing good football for them right now, doing a lot of good things. They got some good quarterback runs and he was able to make some big plays, hurt them with their feet, making some good throws. Like every other quarterback in this league now, they’re all mobile, right? So, got to try to find a way to slow them down, keep them in the pocket and get after them.”

McVay on the Cardinals: “I’m seeing a really impressive operation in all three phases. I think Jonathan Gannon has done an excellent job. You can just see they’re really sound schematically. They put a lot of pressure on you in some of the different situational things that come up throughout the course of the game. I think they do a really good job of being able to mix personnel groupings on both sides of the football that creates different dialogue and conversations that you have to be able to work through. I’ve been really impressed with their ability to identify their players’ skillsets and consistently try to get them in situations where they can replicate that. I’ve been really impressed when you look at the tape. I don’t get too caught up in some of the numbers. I think the tape is where the real truth is and seeing a lot of really good football in all three phases and we got to be ready to go and we’re looking forward to it.”

McVay on welcoming a baby soon: “In terms of if he comes during a game or something like that? I won’t be at the game. It’s coming up here in the next couple weeks (Oct. 24 due date), so could be any day now. Really feel fortunate that it’s been a smooth pregnancy. My wife has been incredible and so it hasn’t quite hit me yet. I know he’s active right now and it seems like he’s ready to come at any moment. What a blessing that’ll be and what an amazing job my wife Veronika has done in terms of just handling the pregnancy. She’s a stud and so this gives me a total gratitude and appreciation and newfound respect just kind of watching it unfold in real time and when the little guy comes here, it’ll be such a blessing for us.”

The quotebook

Petzing on the addition of running back Tony Jones Jr.: “He brings a lot to the table in terms of helping us as an offense. I think (general manager) Monti (Ossenfort) does a great job of looking around the league and making sure that we’re always doing whatever we can to get better at every position, and so I was excited to get him in the building.”

Dobbs on wide receiver Michael Wilson not getting a target until the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game: “We’ll get back on track. There’ll be plays for him and opportunities for him. I wish he had more opportunities on Sunday. I literally texted him after the game. I was like, ‘Hey man, my first target to you can’t be in the fourth quarter.’ Just with the production that he’s had and the growth that he’s had over the last couple weeks. He knows that and he had a great attitude about it, which is what I love about Mike. Anything for the team.”

Dobbs on if he believes in UFOs and aliens: “I do not believe in UFOs and aliens. It was funny though, when I got traded; this is a crazy story. I was sitting in my apartment. Me and my friend Trey Smith, who’s a really good offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs, he’s a VFL (Vol for Life) and we started a little podcast where we talk ball and talk about stuff off the field. He’s a believer in UFOs and aliens. I’m not. We were having a very tense debate for one of our podcast episodes, even to the point where we had Congressman Tim Burchett, because he’s from Tennessee and he’s a Vols fan.

“We had him on and he’s giving us the inside scoop with the questions he’s been asking. Literally an hour into this podcast, that’s when I got a call from (Browns general manager) Andrew Berry that I was getting traded. I was like, ‘Hey, y’all we’re going to have to finish up this conversation a little bit later.’ I’ve still got to get some more information, but no I’m not a believer. I’ll save that discussion for another time, but I’m not a believer.”

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