Justin Pugh admits he didn’t actually get to see Christian Kirk haul in the 13-yard touchdown reception the rookie made for the Cardinals on Friday night. Pugh was busy blocking his man up front and the right guard had his back to quarterback Josh Rosen during the entire play.
Pugh’s one-on-one effort and that of the rest of the Cardinals’ offensive line gave Rosen an extra couple of seconds to survey things from the pocket before he zeroed in on Kirk. It was a ridiculous pass and catch into a ridiculous tight window and yet the two young first-year stars pulled it off with impeccable precision.
“Yeah, I was busy blocking there but I did catch a bit of it on the replay and I know he’s making plays,” Pugh said of Kirk, the Cardinals’ second-round draft pick. “He’s very impressive with how he gets open and makes plays. Even the punt that he returned and the one before that last week. Those are things that stood out for me. If he’s making an impact in multiple areas of the game, that’s a great player to have on your team.”
And then Pugh broke all reasonable protocol and compared Christian Kirk to one of the NFL’s most electrifying stars.
“It reminds me a little bit of another No.13 I used to play with in New York,” Pugh said, referring, of course, to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
So now there’s that.
Kirk, the standout from Scottsdale Saguaro High, hasn’t even played a down in a meaningful regular-season game yet and he’s already drawing comparisons to OBJ. Then again, he did almost score a touchdown the very first time he touched the football as a pro. It was last week against the Chargers when he tripped over his own two feet with only the punter to beat on a punt return.
Friday night in New Orleans, there were his team-leading four receptions for 49 yards and the circus-act leaping catch in the end zone for a score.
“I had to put it kind of high and away where it’s kind of a ‘him-or-no-one’ ball and he managed to snag it,” Rosen said. “Christian made some great plays.”
The former Texas A&M star got a chance to shine with the first-team offense against the Saints and he caught passes from both starter Sam Bradford and Rosen, impressing both quarterbacks, never mind their right guard.
“It seems like he has an extra gear on game days,” Bradford said of Kirk. “He’s got some burst. He’s got some speed and it’s really nice to see that.”
Kirk called his touchdown grab an “amazing” feeling, but made sure he gave Rosen virtually all of the credit.
“It was a great throw by Josh, putting it right where it needed to be,” he said. “It was the only place where I could go up and get it. It was just up to me to go make a play. I was able to do that and it felt amazing to get the first one.”
Of Rosen’s play overall, in which the fellow rookie completed 10 of 16 passes for 107 yards with the touchdown and no turnovers, Kirk said, “You can just see him week by week he’s settling in and getting better. You can tell he’s really getting comfortable back there and doing the things we all know he can do.”
The Cardinals can say the same thing about Kirk, who doesn’t practice like a rookie and hasn’t played like one yet in the preseason, except for maybe tackling himself on that could-have-been punt return a week ago. Coach Steve Wilks recently marveled at the rookie’s desire and effort to bring it with 100-percent conviction on every play, every drill – even the tedious ones.
“I thought Christian really stepped up,” Wilks said after Friday’s game.
Wilks had been waiting for one of his receivers to step up and separate themselves to win the job as the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 wide outs behind veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Against the Saints, Kirk and second-year man Chad Williams did just that, according to the coach.
Kirk wasn’t ready to anoint himself as one of the chosen ones, saying that with veteran Brice Butler out of the lineup because of a foot problem that “there were an opportunity for some of us younger guys to go out there and get more reps and be able to grow.”
Kirk knows he’s going to get his chances as the Cardinals’ primary punt returner, a job that he says “comes very natural.” He’s always had a knack for making tacklers miss in open spaces and gaining an edge once he starts to break free. But when it comes that easy for a wide receiver, it usually means he’s also going to get his shot to make things happen on end arounds and reverses.
The Cardinals haven’t showed much of that at all since they reported to training camp, but you know it has to be coming. Knowing what Kirk can do with the ball in his hands, it has to be in the playbook somewhere on at least a couple of pages, if not more.
Kirk just smiled and said of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who calls all the plays on offense, “We’ll see what coach dials up. I know he’s has some special stuff ready to dial up probably in the regular season.”
The possibilities could be endless with Christian Kirk, just like they were and still are with do-everything running back David Johnson, who can run the ball, catch the ball and if you forgot, used to return kickoffs as a rookie. Kirk hopes he’s the next in line for those kind of extra responsibilities, saying it makes him feel “super excited.”
“Those are the things I did in college and had fun doing them,” he said. “I threw the ball a little bit and I did reverses and stuff like that. I threw a touchdown in a spring game and one in a regular-season game, but it got dropped. I didn’t throw any picks, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to throw a pass or two at some point.”
Beckham’s done it. He’s thrown one pass in his NFL career, although it fell incomplete.
“I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do,” Pugh said of Kirk. “The dude just makes plays.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.