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The 5: Players to watch as Cardinals host the Raiders

Though the Arizona Cardinals have already played one preseason game — a 20-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game — most around the organization see Saturday’s tilt with the Oakland Raiders as their true exhibition opener.

The starters are actually going to play a bit.

Head coach Bruce Arians said the goal is for his starters to play roughly 15 snaps — or the first quarter — though performance and game flow could alter things.

“I’d love to see what our offense did last week,” he said of his hopes for the offense. “Take the ball down and have a really good drive and score points. The last thing you want to see is 3-and-out, 3-and-out. And it’s a good challenge. That’s an excellent defense. We’ll see a different style defense than we see in practice, so it’ll be a good challenge for the offensive line.”

As for the defense, coordinator James Bettcher offered that the plan is for his starters to begin the game on the field, too.

“We’ll see how we’re playing and how long we play from there,” he said.

The guess here is that you will see less than a quarter from the team’s starters, or at least veterans or players with tenuous injury histories. But that’s all it is, a guess, and with that here are five players to watch for when the Cardinals host the Raiders Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Cardinals FootballQB Carson Palmer

Based off the second half of last season as well as what has transpired in training camp, it appears talk of Palmer’s demise is a bit premature. While the 37-year-old is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the veteran still seems plenty capable of leading the Cardinals back to the postseason — assuming the team around him holds up.

Now, what happens Saturday will likely not have too much bearing on Palmer’s 2017 season, but it would still be nice to see him play well given how he struggled last year during exhibition games and ultimately the offense was never really able to get on track. An efficient and productive opening drive would go a long way toward easing some peoples’ concerns, unfounded or otherwise.

Cardinals FootballCB Justin Bethel

Of all the concerns the Cardinals had entering training camp, who will be starting at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson is certainly one of the greatest. And while the team went out and signed veteran Tramon Williams, it is Bethel who has stepped up and earned solid reviews in camp.

Now healthy, the sixth-year pro appears to be on the verge of making good on the potential that led the Cardinals to believing he could be a starting cornerback, though he still has a ways to go before anyone can truly feel good about him on any kind of an island. Making some plays Saturday would be a step in the right direction, though.

Cardinals FootballDL Robert Nkemdiche

The hype train is moving at a good pace — will production continue to keep up? The second-year pro was a colossal disappointment last season, and while the team is not expecting him to step into a huge role, it is hoped the 2016 first-round pick will prove to be a useful and effective rotation player on the defensive line.

Coaches and teammates have not been shy about praising Nkemdiche, who showed well last week against the Dallas Cowboys. The defensive lineman received reps with the first-team defense in practice, showing that the coaches believe he may be ready for more responsibility. Consistency will be key for him, meaning it’s important to build off his recent success with a strong effort against the Raiders.

Blaine GabbertQB Blaine Gabbert

You know how people tell you not to overreact to preseason games? Try not to forget that as you watch the QB who last week tore up the Cowboys to the tune of 11-of-14 passing for 185 yards. Sure, Arians said he doesn’t care what level of opponents the QB did that against because he was still reading the defense and making accurate throws, but a player of Gabbert’s experience should do that to second and third-string players.

That said, Gabbert has looked good in training camp and if he continues playing well in games, the coaches may have something to work with. The former Jacksonville Jaguar and San Francisco 49er is unlikely to see the field until the second half, and when he does finally enter the game, it will be interesting to see if he can look as good as he did last week when he started.

VeldheerOL Jared Veldheer

First he had to rehab from an injury, and then a position switch came about. Then, we learned, he contemplated retirement. Veldheer has come through all of it and is slated to see his first career game action at right tackle Saturday against the Raiders, who just so happen to have some of the best pass rushers in the league.

Veldheer’s ability to make the transition from left to right tackle has kind of been a given, though until he proves he can handle the switch, it’s reasonable to maintain at least a bit of doubt. Even if he only sees a handful of snaps Saturday, this game will offer the lineman a good chance to see how far he has come and, conversely, just how much further he has to go.

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