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Less than 24 hours after Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon told local reporters Monday the team was “still working through” the injury status of James Conner, the running back was placed on reserve/injured Tuesday and will miss at least the next four games.
Conner suffered a knee injury after a 35-yard second-quarter run Sunday that led to a touchdown and a short-lived 14-10 lead for the Cardinals. Dr. David Chao of sicscore.com believes the injury is a sprained MCL, which can sideline players anywhere from 2-to-6 weeks.
Gannon met with the media after it was known the team had claimed running back Tony Jones Jr. on waivers from the Saints. When asked what that might mean for Conner, Gannon said, “It doesn’t mean anything for James right now, but he (Jones) is just a guy that we felt could possibly help us. He’s an instinctive guy and powerful; a good player.”
Gannon was then asked about safety Jalen Thompson, who left the game against the Bengals with an injured hamstring and also said, “We’re sorting through that one too. I’m not trying to be coy with you guys. It just takes a little bit of time to figure out injuries and opinions from people, and what’s the best thing to do with everybody. We’re still sorting it out.”
Less than 30 minutes later during his weekly segment on the team’s flagship radio station, ArizonaSports 98.7, he provided more information.
He began with the “we’re kinda still working through that,” description and then added, “I just told the media I’m not trying to be coy; we’re still working through that. James will be back at some point, but honestly just wanted to add another back for some depth there to make sure that we’re OK there for practice and for the games.”
Then, when asked if there was a decent chance Conner would miss some time, Gannon said, “I’m not quite sure yet, but it looks like a little bit of time.”
That “little bit” turns out to be at least four games and unfortunately continues a pattern that started when he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2017 draft.
In four seasons with the Steelers, Conner missed 14 of a possible 64 regular-season games (21.9 percent). That was largely why the Cardinals were able to sign him to a 1-year, $1.75 million contract in 2021 about a month after the start of the league year. Injuries to Conner in the second half of that season contributed to the team’s decline after a 7-0 and 10-2 start, but he was signed as the 2022 league year opened to a three-year, $20.97 million deal that included $13.5 million guaranteed.
He had missed six of a possible 34 games (17.6 percent) in 2021 and 2022 and now that figure will jump to at least 10 of 43 games (23.2 percent) through Week 9. His career total after Week 9 will be 24 missed games of a possible 107 (22.4 percent). Last season, he missed four games and also left two others early because of injuries.
For at least the next month, which includes games against the Rams, Seahawks, Ravens and Browns, the Cardinals will have to cobble together a ground game with rookie free agent Emari Demercado, who caried the load Sunday after Conner left the game; Keaontay Ingram, who has missed the last two games because of a neck injury but is said to be “trending” to being able to play; Jones and Damien Williams, who was signed to the practice squad last week.
Wide receiver Rondale Moore could end up being deployed as a runner even more. Moore has rushed for 116 yards on only eight attempts with runs of 41 and 45 yards with the latter a touchdown.
Gannon said, “He can be electric with the ball in his hands. You use different ways to get him the ball. He’s a big-time player for us. And we always try to figure out how to get him the ball in space.”
Corey Clement is also on the practice squad, but he didn’t play any offensive snaps the last two games despite the injuries to Ingram and Conner.
While there was some raised eyebrows when the Cardinals didn’t add experience to the running backs room in the offseason, they did have interest in Williams, who was a free agent throughout the offseason, but didn’t sign with any team until Aug. 11 with the Raiders. They also signed Marlon Mack on Aug. 4, but he quickly suffered a torn Achilles and was placed on reserve/injured Aug. 9.
Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday, “I trust everybody in that room.”
Demercado scored his first NFL touchdown against the Bengals and Petzing called him “very unflappable.” Demercado totaled 57 yards from scrimmage on 10 runs for 45 yards and one reception for 12.
“He was prepared, he’s ready and he’s going to go out there and make his plays,” Petzing added.
Gannon said Monday, “He was ready. He’s been playing a little bit on third down (where his protections have been good), so he’s ready to step in there and play football. I kind of gave him a little chat on the sideline and he was good to go. It was impressive to see honestly.”
Cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr. was a surprise starter after playing a total of 14 defensive snaps in the first four games, while rookie Kei’Trel Clark had missed only three of 275. Hamilton played 66 of 82 snaps (80 percent) against the Bengals and it would have been more had he not left the game twice and returned after suffering an ankle injury and being evaluated for a possible concussion. Clark played only 40 snaps (49 percent). Meanwhile, cornerback Marco Wilson played every snap.
Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday, “Ham is gonna continue to contribute for us. He’s a really good player and he and all the other guys in that back end can help us win and play at a high level.”
Asked about Clark, Rallis said, “It’s a week-to-week thing. I feel really good about both Ham, Kei’Trel, any of those guys going out there and playing at a high level and we wanted to get those guys contributing if we feel that guys can help us win. You really want the more guys playing because then you’re fresher. And so, that was something we always talk about week-to-week how roles can change and that’s we decided for last week.
Gannon wouldn’t be specific about Clark, saying only, “He’s just got to practice every day and keep improving. It’s things that he needs to improve, and he’ll be a player for us for a long time.”
The one reality of the ongoing Kyler Murray saga is hoe reporters try to ask questions in different ways trying to elicit information that is different from the reams of rumors and speculation from those that are only guessing.
So it was Monday that Gannon asked when conversation s will take place regarding when he will being practicing. He said, “We have serious conversations every day. When he’s ready to go he’ll go.”
Those seven words have been said repeatedly over the last seven months.
Then, during his 98.7 segment, he was asked pointedly how Murray is and whether it could be this week or next week.
“I’m not quite sure yet,” the coach said. “We’ll see how the next couple days go, but comfortable where he’s at. He’s getting better every day. I know he’s champing at the bit.”
And what was next? Here we go: “Kinda sound like a broken record, but when he’s ready to go, he’ll go. So feel good about where he’s at though.”
Finally, to the question of whether he feels Murray will play “a decent amount of games this season,” Gannon said succinctly, “I do.”
Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)
*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams
OFFENSE (57 snaps, 18 players)
Quarterbacks: Joshua Dobbs (57/100)
Did not play: Clayton Tune
Reserve/physically unable to perform: Kyler Murray (eligible to practice)
Running backs: Emari Demercado (44/77), James Conner (12/21), FB Jesse Luketa (1/2
Did not play: *Corey Clement
Inactive: Keaontay Ingram (injured)
Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (52/91), Michael Wilson (43/75), Rondale Moore (38/67), Zach Pascal (10/18), Greg Dortch (1/2)
Tight ends: Zach Ertz (43/75), Geoff Swaim (22/39), Trey McBride (19/33)
Inactive: Elijah Higgins
Offensive linemen: LT D.J. Humphries (57/100), C Hjalte Froholdt (57/100), RG Will Hernandez (57/100), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (57/100), LG Elijah Wilkinson (43/75), LG Trystan Colon (14/25)
Did not play: C/G *Keith Ismael, T Kelvin Beachum
Inactive: T Carter O’Donnell
Reserve/injured: G Dennis Daley (designated for return/practicing)
DEFENSE (82 snaps, 20 players)
Defensive linemen: DE Kevin Strong Jr. (47/57), DE Dante Stills (42/51), NT Leki Fotu (40/49), Ben Stille (33/40), Roy Lopez (27/33)
Inactive: DE Jonathan Ledbetter (injured)
Reserve/injured: DE L.J. Collier (eligible to return after Week 5), DE Carlos Watkins (eligible to return after Week 6)
Linebackers: ILB Kyzir White (82/100), ILB Josh Woods (68/83), OLB Zaven Collins (46/56), OLB Dennis Gardeck (38/46), OLB Victor Dimukeje (29/35), OLB Cameron Thomas (29/35), OLB BJ Ojulari (22/27), OLB Jesse Luketa (10/12)
Did not play: ILB *Krys Barnes, ILB *Owen Pappoe, ILB *Ezekiel Turner
Reserve/injured: OLB Myjai Sanders (eligible to return)
Defensive backs: S K’Von Wallace (82/100), CB Marco Wilson (82/100), S Andre Chachere (79/96), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (66/80), CB Kei’Trel Clark (40/49), S Jalen Thompson (35/43)
Did not play: S *Qwuantrezz Knight, CB *Starling Thomas V
Reserve/injured: S Budda Baker (eligible to return after Week 6)
Reserve/non-football injury: CB Garrett Williams (designated for return/practicing)
SPECIAL TEAMS (27 snaps, 29 players)
LB Ezekiel Turner (24/89), LB Jesse Luketa (24/89), WR Zach Pascal (18/67), LB Victor Dimukeje (18/67), LB Owen Pappoe (18/67), S Joey Blount (18/67), CB Kei’Trel Clark (17/63), LB Krys Barnes (16/59), RB Corey Clement (13/48), S Andre Chachere (13/48), WR/RS Greg Dortch (12/44), TE Geoff Swaim (10/37), LB Dennis Gardeck (10/37), NT Leki Fotu (9/33), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (8/30), K Matt Prater (7/26), P Blake Gillikin (7/26), LS Aaron Brewer (7/26), TE Trey McBride (7/26), CB Starling Thomas V (7/26), DE Dante Stills (6/22), LB Cameron Thomas (6/22), LB BJ Ojulari (6/22), G Elijah Wilkinson (3/11), C Hjalte Froholdt (3/11), T Paris Johnson Jr. (3/11), C/G Trystan Colon (3/11), C/G Keith Ismael (3/11), RB Emari Dermercado (1/4)
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