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RB James Conner doesn't care if nobody believes in Cardinals: Exciting part is to 'prove people wrong'

Arizona's 2021 wild-card appearance feels like a distant dream.

One season after snapping a five-year postseason drought, the Cardinals regressed to 4-13 in 2022, which spurred changes at both the general manager and head coach position.

But if all the turmoil has fans dismissing the team's chances of bouncing back, that only gets running back James Conner going.

"Nobody believes in us, but that's OK," Conner said this week, via The Athletic’s Doug Haller. "That's the exciting part. To prove people wrong."

Conner's mission to invalidate the negative outlook toward the Cardinals' season will begin without key pieces alongside him. Arizona recently released three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on May 26, and quarterback Kyler Murray should miss a chunk of this season rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered in December.

Unless rookie Clayton Tune beats him out or the Cards throw in their lot with a different veteran option, that leaves the soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback Colt McCoy slotting in as the team's Week 1 starter, throwing to a wide receiver corps made up of Marquise Brown, Greg Dortch, Rondale Moore and third-round pick Michael Wilson.

McCoy has been with the Cardinals since their surprise 2021 just like Conner. He's made six starts over that span with a respectable 3-3 record, but in terms of entering a season as a team's QB1, he's done that just once in 13 years -- back in 2011. This will be a daunting undertaking, especially in Hopkins' absence.

"He was our brother and will continue to be," Conner said of the star wideout. "He's already had a heck of a career. And wherever he goes next, he's going to make plays for them. Wishing him the best, but somebody's got to step up."

Given the obstacles that may exist in the passing game, Conner is the prime candidate to do so on a squad that he believes will be "running the ball a lot."

The former Steeler reinvigorated his career by joining Arizona two seasons ago, where he scored 18 touchdowns and amassed 1,127 total yards during a Pro Bowl campaign. He followed that up by finding pay dirt only eight times last year due to the offense's diminished explosiveness as a whole, but he ran more efficiently, improving his yards per carry to 4.3 compared to 3.7 the year before.

Conner will have to build on that positive trend if he's to make a difference in the win column for this version of the Cardinals.

A 22nd-ranked rushing attack -- where the team placed last year -- won't be enough to shatter the notion of a rebuild and avoid the fate of NFC bottom feeder.

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