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Kingsbury, Rhule renew friendly rivalry at the NFL level

Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury are set to match coaching strategies again — only this time at the NFL level when the Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

The two former high-profile college coaches met twice in the Big 12 with Kingsbury’s Texas Tech Red Raiders beating Rhule’s Baylor Bears in 2017, but Rhule gained a measure of revenge the following year with a victory that directly resulted in Kingsbury being fired with two years left on his contract.

“Just to tell you the kind of man he is, he literally texted me an hour after the game as it was coming out I had gotten fired just saying, ‘Sorry about that,'" Kingsbury said. “And he was genuine about it. He really felt bad I had lost my job because they had beat us.”

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP PhotoRoss D. Franklin)

The two have since forged a friendship.

When Rhule was considering leaving Baylor earlier this year to take the Carolina job, he called Kingsbury for advice.

“I was sad for him at the time because I think he’s a really good coach, I think he did a great job at Texas Tech and when he was leaving I just wanted to call and let him know if there was anything I could do for him, just like I know he would do for me," said Rhule, who won his first NFL game last Sunday. "So when he got this opportunity in Arizona, I got fired up for him. Every time I get a chance to see him I make sure to reach out.”

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera, right, greets Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury after an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 30-15. (AP PhotoRoss D. Franklin)

Said Kingsbury of Rhule: “He’s a phenomenal coach and an even better person too. He’s one of my favorite people I’ve met in coaching.”

Here are some things to watch in Sunday's Cardinals-Panthers game:

SHORT AT SAFETY

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP PhotoJason Behnken)

The Cardinals’ depth in the secondary should be tested since the team’s top three safeties will likely be on the sideline.

Budda Baker (thumb surgery), Jalen Thompson (ankle) and Chris Banjo (hamstring) are all hurt, which should mean a bigger role for Deionte Thompson and Charles Washington.

It could also open up more playing time for No. 8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons. The do-it-all defender has focused on linebacker so far during his rookie season but Kingsbury acknowledged the 22-year-old could help fill the hole in the secondary.

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule adjusts his headset during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP PhotoJason Behnken)

“Isaiah is a guy who played multiple positions, obviously, there at Clemson,” Kingsbury said. “He has a feel for some of that, and with those bodies being down, we may have to look into that.”

WHAT BROWN CAN DO FOR YOU

Speaking of Simmons, the Panthers passed on him with the No. 7 pick so they could take Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, a move that surprised many. After struggling to get his feet wet the first two games, Brown began to emerge as a solid run defender last week against the Chargers and had three tackles for a loss and is beginning to look like a player with big-time potential.

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP PhotoJason Behnken)

In fact, Rhule described the play of the 335-pounder as “dominant” last week.

What would also help Brown is if two-time Pro Bowler Kawann Short can return to the lineup. Short has missed the past two games with a foot injury, and his presence would force the Cardinals to decide which defensive tackle to double team.

SOPHOMORE SUCCESS

Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis (28) celebrates after a touchdown catch against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP PhotoAshley Landis )

Cardinals second-year receiver Andy Isabella is finding a role in the team’s offense after a disappointing rookie season.

The second-round pick had four catches for 47 yards and a career-high two touchdowns last weekend against the Lions. The 5-foot-9, 188-pounder is known for his straight-line speed and has proved a good complement for DeAndre Hopkins, who leads the NFL in receptions.

“He had a great camp and really did some nice things, and to see him transition that to the playing field was great,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a guy who can really run. He’s worked really hard at it, very conscientious in his preparation, so it was great to see him have that success.”

Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis (28) runs into the end zone with for a touchdown after a reception during the first half of an NFL football game Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP PhotoAshley Landis)

Isabella had just nine catches his entire rookie season.

GREAT FIT

The Cardinals hoped that adding Hopkins during the offseason would give second-year quarterback Kyler Murray an elite No. 1 option to anchor the offense.

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2020, file photo, Arizona Cardinals' Isaiah Simmons (48) and Evan Weaver (50) run drills during NFL football training camp in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals, who play the San Francisco 49ers this week, have added a dynamic No. 1 receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and a versatile defensive playmaker in rookie Simmons. (AP PhotoMatt York, File)

So far, it’s worked out even better than anticipated.

Hopkins leads the NFL with 32 receptions, 356 yards receiving and also has an NFL-high 21 catches that have resulted in a first down.

DAVIS GETS ANOTHER CHANCE

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, left, runs past Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons (48) to score during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (AP PhotoJosie Lepe)

Carolina's Mike Davis will get the start again at running back again Sunday with Christian McCaffrey on short-term injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. McCaffrey is expected to miss at least four weeks.

In his starting debut with Carolina, Davis was effective as both a rusher and passer, amassing 91 yards and a touchdown.

FANS ALLOWED

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (17) runs in for a touchdown after the catch as Detroit Lions cornerback Darryl Roberts during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP PhotoRick Scuteri)

The Panthers will be allowed to have about 5,200 fans in Bank of America Stadium for Sunday's game under new state guidelines. There were no fans allowed for the team's home opener.

AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Glendale, Arizona, contributed to this report.

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (17) celebrates his touchdown against the Detroit Lions with tight end Darrell Daniels (81) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP PhotoRick Scuteri)

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella (17) celebrates his touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP PhotoRick Scuteri)