With most of the Arizona Cardinals' first stringers expected to sit out Thursday's preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers, head coach Bruce Arians said tailback Zach Bauman will see an expanded role.
Whether it turns out to be a chance to make the Cardinals' 53-man regular-season roster, or it's simply an audition for another NFL team looking to bolster its backfield, the Chandler native and Northern Arizona alum is excited for one last opportunity to prove himself.
"I'm looking forward to it. This is what I've been waiting for -- just an opportunity to show what I can do on the football field," he said.
What message does Bauman want to convey on the field?
"Just that I'm a great football player," he said. "I'm able to make plays when maybe something is not there, and small creases I'm able to get through. Just reiterate that I'm great in pass protection and catching the football, running routes -- just showing that I'm an all-around football player."
Bauman made the most of his first taste of real-game NFL action in the Cardinals' preseason opener against the Houston Texans. In the Cards' second exhibition game, he had one of the most bizarre touchdown runs you'll ever see.
Arians said he likes what he's seen from Bauman thus far, but there are things he'd like to see him improve upon on Thursday.
"I think the big thing for him is to run the ball inside, quit bouncing everything outside like he did in college and outrunning people. Everybody here can run," Arians said.
"He's done a good job of pass blocking. He's got a few of those on tape. He's not afraid to stick his face in the fan, and he'll just continue to do what he does. He needs more opportunities, which he should get in this game."
Bauman recognizes there's room for improvement, and after watching the footage of his preseason performances to date, he knows he can do better.
"I'm my own biggest critic. I watch the tape and I'm thinking, ‘That's not me,'" he said. "The speed of the game increases a little bit, and that's your first live action. You're thinking so fast...
"Running between the tackles is what I love to do, so I think that's just going to come naturally in this game."
Critics may look at Bauman's diminutive frame as a disadvantage. Bauman sees it as just the opposite.
"On paper, that doesn't look great, but I have leverage," he said. "In football, the low man wins, and I start low, so I'm always winning that battle."
On that point, Bauman and Arians are on the same page.
"He's short, but he's strong," Arians said. "There's a lot of backs in the league that are a little bit shorter than him that are strong.
"I don't judge them by height; it's the strength in which they strike a blow to take on a linebacker."
With at least three tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, Bauman's chances of advancing to the Cardinals' regular-season opener against the Chargers on Monday, Sept. 8 may be slim.
But regardless of whether Bauman makes it that far, he's relishing one last chance to show Arians and the rest of the Cards' coaching staff what he's got -- and he'll have a lot of people close to him rooting him on against the Chargers in San Diego on Thursday.
"I actually have family out there, so my mom and my dad should be there, my grandma and grandpa, my aunt and uncle, my little sister. I'll have a pretty good showing out there," he said.
"It's been great. This is what I dreamed about since I was six years old. I remember writing in kindergarten or first grade what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I just said, ‘football player.' I'm living the dream right now, and hopefully this is the start of something great."