Rookies, vets given equal opportunity under Arians

The Cardinals drafted Deone Bucannon out of Washington State with the expectation that he would contribute immediately.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Safety Deone Bucannon is getting a quick lesson in how the Cardinals treat rookies at practice.

"They’ll go two fields and everyone will get a lot of reps and that’s kind of strange because you don’t get that with a lot of teams," the team’s first-round draft pick said with small wonder in his voice. "Everyone gets a good opportunity, and I like that."

When it comes to equal opportunity employment, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is at the leading edge of the curve. Last season, Arians moved safety Tyrann Mathieu into the starting lineup in Week 4 when Rashad Johnson severed a fingertip, and Mathieu stayed there until he was lost for the season with a torn ACL and LCL in his knee on Dec. 8 against the Rams. 

Running back Andre Ellington, the team’s sixth-round pick, finished with 1,023 yards of offense, and left guard Jonathan Cooper, the team’s first-round pick, would have started had he not broken his leg in the preseason. 

"With the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), it’s easier because we can get so many more reps and get ’em taught so they can play fast and it’s their skill-set vs. another skill-set," said Arians after the first day of rookie camp Friday at the team’s practice complex. "Don’t care how you got here, when you got here — if you’€™re the best guy you’€™re going to play."

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The new CBA, which went into effect for the 2011 season, restricts the amount of workouts in which veteran players can take part, thereby opening the door for rookies to get more reps and more chances to develop. There are restrictions on how much rookies can practice, but they are far less stringent. 

That fact has played a role in rookies seeing increased playing time — and those rookie contracts, in turn, save teams money vs. veteran contracts.

But Arians goes a step beyond in his willingness to play rookies. That willingness was born from experiences as an assistant in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers employed a handful of rookies with success on offense, and in Indianapolis, where he was both an assistant and the interim head coach.

"As long as we can play fast, age is not a problem. I learned that in Indianapolis," said Arians, who was forced to use rookies with the Colts due to multiple injuries. "It was a special situation, but we had seven rookies out there at a time winning games. It can be done."

Former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t fond of playing rookies. He didn’t trust their experience level, but Arians has a different philosophy.

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"Sometimes you can have too much experience," he said. "Your legs aren’t as good as they used to be, and young, fresh legs will get ya’ as long as they know what they’re doing."

That approach is music to the ears of this year’s rookie class.

"It definitely does get you excited because you know you have an opportunity, and that’s all you can ask for," Bucannon said.

I’m coming here expecting to play," added defensive end Kareem Martin, the team’s third-round pick out of North Carolina. "I finally got the playbook down. We’ve done about four or five installs and I have those down pretty good. The biggest thing for me is to learn those as quick as I can so I can play as fast as I can."

Wide receiver John Brown, the team’s other third-round pick, sat out Friday’s practice with hamstring tightness. Arians said the team will be cautious with Brown and did not put a timetable on his return. … Second-round pick (TE) Troy Nikolas is still sitting out while he recovers from hernia surgery.

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