Open competition at Cards cornerback
The quarterback competition is getting all the attention at the Arizona Cardinals training camp.
The battle at cornerback is equally intense.
Patrick Peterson has one cornerback spot nailed down. The other is the only position up for grabs on a defense that is considered the strength of the team.
Among the candidates are Greg Toler, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, free agent signee William Gay, former starter A.J. Jefferson and promising rookie Jamell Fleming.
Michael Adams, a special teams standout who saw considerable time at the nickel position, is in the mix as a possible backup.
''There's going to be a player or two that we're going to have to release that's going to be able to play for another team,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said Thursday. ''That's not something that we've always faced in the last few years, but we'll see how it all pans out.''
There have been many times in past seasons, Whisenhunt noted, that the team has had to scramble to find cornerbacks if one or more went down with an injury. This year appears to be different.
''I feel very good about the quality of cornerbacks that we have competing for spots out there,'' he said. ''We've got some very good young players, we've got some strong leaders. I think not necessarily just the corners, but the secondary in general has got a chance to be a strength for us.''
Toler had been thought of as a starter before he tore his left ACL in training camp a year ago. The 6-foot, 190-pound defender had made great strides after coming in as a raw rookie in 2009, a fourth-round pick out of tiny St. Paul's (Virginia).
He is being brought along cautiously in the early days of camp. Toler said he tried to talk trainer Adam Reed into allowing him to remove his knee brace, but failed.
Still, just being able to practice was invigorating.
''This takes the cake,'' he said. ''Training camp always brings the best out of guys.''
Whisenhunt said that after such a serious injury, Toler has to get comfortable at one of the most challenging positions in the game.
''It's a process for him,'' the coach said. ''I think especially at that position, with as much turning and stopping and starting that you have to do as a corner, that he's got to get a feel back for it.''
The team practiced in pads for the first time on Thursday.
Before the workout, Gay said that his experience over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the way the Cardinals have molded their approach after his former team, helped lure him to Arizona.
''Coming from Pittsburgh, you want to be around a family-oriented organization that cares about the players,'' Gay said. ''I got that vibe coming over here and visiting. I just felt it was something like Pittsburgh.''
He knows the system, and is very familiar with defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who was his defensive backs coach with the Steelers before coming to Arizona last year.
''He raised me,'' Gay said. ''He taught me everything. He drafted me.''
Gay played in all 16 regular-season games for the Steelers last season, 15 as a starter. He had 61 tackles and two interceptions.
''He's a good football player and he knows this scheme,'' Whisenhunt said. ''You can't have enough of those type of guys that are smart, that understand the defense, that are physical. They bring a feel to the defense that's important. He's a very good team player, understands that. I think he's good for Patrick, I think he's good for Greg. I think he's good for a lot of guys, but on top of all that, he can play.''
Jefferson could face an uphill fight. He was a starter when last season began but lost his job and saw his playing time diminish. He faces competition from Fleming, chosen in the third round out of Oklahoma. The rookie immediately got attention for some spectacular plays in the offseason workouts.
''It will be a real test for him when we get into some of these preseason games and see how he does,'' Whisenhunt said.
''But he came from a very good college program that played in some big-time games and was a good player for them. I'll tell you what, a lot of times when you see him consistently making plays through the spring like he did, you like to think it would translate when we put the pads on and play the game.''
Toler, as would be expected, said he welcomed the competition.
''All of us have got exceptional talent,'' he said. ''We're going to keep pushing each other. Competition is always good at any position, so we've just got to work one day at a time. The next guy pushes you, so we can both be better.''