7th-round pick Cunningham now Cardinals O-line starter

TEMPE, Ariz. — The overall struggles of the Arizona Cardinals have cleared the way for opportunities for the youngest players on the roster.

Add Korey Cunningham to the list of 2018 draftees who are playing big roles for the team.

As a seventh-round draft pick, Cunningham overcame big odds to rise to a starting spot on the offensive line. Cunningham held his own while filling in for injured left tackle D.J. Humphries the past two games. Now he’s been installed as starting right tackle following the release of veteran Andre Smith this week.

Cunningham certainly looks the part at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. He played basketball in high school and was a tight end at Cincinnati before switching to tackle.

“He’s an offensive line coach’s dream because you can mold him out of clay,” said quarterback Josh Rosen, a fellow rookie. “He’s strong as hell. He wants to learn.”

Cunningham said he weighed 225 pounds out of high school and slowly bulked up through weightlifting through his four years of college.

He was the 254th overall pick in the draft but doesn’t dwell on that.

“I try not to think about it, me being a seventh-round pick,” he said, “because once you get in the building it’s a clean slate. I just wanted to come here and not think about that. I’m just another guy in the room.”

A very big guy who slowly got the attention of the coaching staff that was dealing with injuries and ineffective play on the offensive line.

Cunningham was inactive seven of the first nine games this season. The other two he suited up but didn’t play. Then, two games ago against Oakland, he was the starting left tackle.

With Humphries expected back this week, the Cardinals moved Cunningham to right tackle, replacing Smith, who had been ineffective much of the season.

Coach Steve Wilks said Cunningham’s past in basketball and as a tight end makes him an intriguing prospect.

“He’s progressing and moving in the right direction,” Wilks said. “I think when you look back at his skill set, his ability playing basketball, his footwork, his agility, coming in as a tight end at Cincinnati, I think all of those skill sets have allowed him to be able to perform well on the outside.”

Cunningham said he’s getting lots of advice from the talkative Humphries, whose route to the starting lineup was quite different.

Humphries was a first-round draft pick in 2015 but didn’t play at all his rookie season.

“He was telling me he was a first-round draft pick having to come in and sit his whole rookie year,” Cunningham said. “That’s how I started out, then I was thrown in the fire. He was like, `You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.'”

Rosen said Cunningham is the funniest guy he knows.

“I try to keep the rookie meetings entertained,” Cunningham said. “It will be late in the afternoon. People want to go home. It’s kind of good to keep people in good spirits.”

It’s a close group of rookies who have filled big roles, including wide receiver Christian Kirk, center Mason Cole and running back Chase Edmonds.

“We started May 11 during rookie minicamp,” Cunningham said. “We were just new kids on the block, like freshmen in high school. To see where we are now, it’s a blessing to see how far we’ve come.”

The challenge is to stay positive on a team that’s 2-9 heading into Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

“Just keep earning the coach’s trust, just keep learning, learning, learning,” Cunningham said. “You can never know enough. Just keep staying in the playbook and keep doing what you have to do.”

NOTES: The Cardinals signed CBs Dontae Johnson and Quinten Rollins and released CB Chris Jones.