Somers: Eno Benjamin, the local kid the Arizona Cardinals think is about to make it. Finally

Cardinals' Eno Benjamin (26) jumps into the end zone to celebrate a touchdown against the Cowboys during the second quarter at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Aug. 13, 2021.
Kent Somers
Arizona Republic

Earlier this week, the Cardinals' digital content department posted on the team’s website a two-minute video compilation of interesting things a “mic’d up” coach Kliff Kingsbury said or did during a practice early in training camp.

The in-house censors apparently wielded a heavy hand, because Kingsbury spends a good portion of the video yelling “Let’s Go!” and “Here we go!” and “Good Job.”

But a conversation between Kingsbury and owner Michael Bidwill makes it worthwhile viewing, because it revealed how much Kingsbury’s opinion of running back Eno Benjamin had changed over the last two years.

“How about ‘26’ getting reps with the ones today?” Kingsbury said, referring to Benjamin by his number. “I learned my lesson. He just keeps getting better and better.”

The lesson learned is not to give up on a player until you have to. Sometimes, they mature and learn lessons themselves.

Not that Benjamin has arrived, but the Cardinals think his ETA is imminent. That's newsworthy because through a good portion of Benjamin’s first two seasons, coaches wondered if that day would ever come.

ASU running back Eno Benjamin carries the ball against Stanford safety Malik Antoine during the first half of the Pac-12 college football game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe on October 18, 2018.

Drafted in the seventh round out of Arizona State in 2020, Benjamin was inactive in every game as a rookie, played in only nine a year ago and has carried the ball only 34 times in the NFL.

But to hear Kingsbury tell it, the only thing that hasn’t changed about Benjamin over the last year or so is his uniform number.

“I think early on, I didn’t know if he could figure it out,” Kingsbury said. “You know, professionalism, work ethic, understanding his role and all those things. And this year, he has just got progressively better. One of the hardest workers on our team now. Always upbeat, always into it, always knows his assignments. He’s just really come a long way.”

Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) runs a drill during training camp at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on July 27, 2022.

Benjamin is now the No. 2 running back, behind James Conner, and is expected to fill a role left vacant when Chase Edmonds left via free agency for Miami.

Benjamin should receive ample opportunities to show everyone else how much he has improved. The Cardinals want to limit Conner’s workload in an effort to keep him healthy all season. And as Kingsbury noted, the offense was at its peak last year when both Edmonds and Conner were healthy.

Both suffered injuries in the back half of the season. That wasn’t the only reason for the offensive regression that led to five losses in the last six games, but it played a role.

Kingsbury isn’t expecting Benjamin to post the numbers Edmonds did when healthy. Edmonds averaged 5.7 yards a carry before suffering an ankle injury in week nine.

“I’m not sure we can replace Chase like that,” Kingsbury said.

But the hope is that out of a group that includes Benjamin, veteran Darrel Williams and rookie Keaontay Ingram, someone emerges to complement Conner.

Right now, Benjamin is the leading candidate.

“My confidence is through the roof,” Benjamin said. “It’s year three and things have definitely slowed down for me.”

Moore: Kliff Kingsbury should not make James Conner a 3-down back

Aug 8, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, U.S.;  Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) performs a drill during training camp at State Farm Stadium.

To coaches, Benjamin looked both over and underwhelmed in his first year and into his second. At ASU, he was a star running back who never had to play special teams. In the NFL, he had no role on special teams, was inconsistent at practice and an unreliable pass blocker.

Through it all, Benjamin smiled, which made some people in the organization wonder if he was bothered all that much by not playing.

Adjusting to the NFL took time, Benjamin said. In college, three or four hours of his day were devoted to football. In the NFL, it’s eight or more.

“The mental part is the big difference,” Benjamin said. “Being able to stay focused for so long.”

Cardinals notebook: Rookies and reserve players able to get valuable reps during veterans' days off

In his last two years at ASU, Benjamin rushed for 2,725 yards and scored 30 touchdowns. During the draft, fans clamored for the Cardinals to take him earlier than the seventh round. The thought then was the Cardinals got a bargain by selecting him with their final pick.

But then the local team didn’t play the local player for a whole year, and people wanted to know why not.

Asked if it would have been better to play somewhere other than Arizona, Benjamin said no. It has helped him, not hindered him, because “the people that are rooting for me is another reason I go so hard. A lot of people know what I am capable of. Now it's up to me to show that."

Read more: New Arizona Cardinals linebacker Nick Vigil primed for key role on defense

It’s also possible Benjamin’s local ties led to the Cardinals giving him more time to develop than a seventh-round pick from somewhere else. 

Both things can be true, and neither one really matters at this point. What does is that after a long delay, Benjamin’s day as a contributor is about to arrive.

Reach Kent Somers at Kent.Somers@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday at 7:30 a.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.