Joe Tafoya’s second stint with the Cardinals is turning out to be much more notable than the first. Tafoya, who had a cup of coffee with the team in 2004, is now slated to split duties at Bertrand Berry’s vacated defensive end/linebacker spot with Darryl Blackstock.
Berry is out for the season with torn a triceps.
Tafoya, a former star at Arizona — he started 38 games for the Wildcats, finishing in 2000 — spent three days at training camp in Prescott and played in one exhibition game in 2004 before he was released.
“I never made it to the locker room” in Tempe, where the team has its training camp and headquarters.
He played for Chicago from 2001-03, then hooked on with Seattle in ’05-06.
He’s started two games in an NFL career that has spanned six seasons plus training camps with three teams in ’04 (he ended up out of football that season).
“This is the first time the guy ahead of me has gone down for good,” says Tafoya, who has survived so long because he’s played on special teams.
In fact, special teams “has been my label. I’ve played it out to the best of my ability.”
Just how the time is divided between Blackstock, now in his third season with the Cardinals, and Tafoya remains to be seen.
“I approach it the same whether I’m playing 40 snaps or none,” Tafoya says. “I have to be prepared to step in and do whatever I can to help the team.
“We definitely can’t go backward at this point because we’ve gained some momentum. I’m definitely not going to be the weak link.”
Because he hasn’t played much, he’s relatively fresh at a point in the season where many players are beat up.
His strength, he says, is having solid football instincts.
“I’m the type of player who just is always going to be around the ball. ...
“I’m not really one of the most athletic guys out there. I’m not the strongest.
“I’m not the best of anything. I never claimed to be.”
Yet, “You can’t be in this league for as long as I have been and not have some ability.”
As for Blackstock, this is his second chance to play regularly this season.
When linebacker Chike Okeafor, expected to be the team’s main pass-rushing threat went down in training camp, Blackstock competed with Calvin Pace to replace Okeafor.
Blackstock talked confidently of winning the job.
But Pace won out, and Blackstock has served as his backup since.
All in all, Blackstock has had a quiet 2 1/2 seasons with the Cardinals since being drafted in the third round out of Virginia in 2005.
“It was a two-year learning experience,” he says.
“Obviously, everybody wants to play. It didn’t work out for me. ... I took what they gave me. I accepted my role and ran with it.” And, of course, “If I wasn’t doing anything right, I wouldn’t be here.”
Blackstock says he likes Berry’s spot more than Okeafor’s because he gets to charge straight ahead at the quarterback. In his previous spot, he also had to concern himself with pass coverage.
He made a splash Sunday, coming up with his second career sack.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help our team win. Fill the spot and keep things rolling like he (Berry) never left.”
“I’m ready to rock and roll. It will feel good to contribute to some wins.”
Coach Ken Whisenhunt, while expressing disappointment for Berry’s situation, says, “I’m excited for Joe and I’m excited for Darryl Blackstock. I’ve seen flashes from both guys.”
The coach will have to figure out how best to mix and match their abilities.
Neither has had much regular playing time up to this point. Now is their chance.