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Dealing Cards: Countdown to cut-down begins after preseason ends

From left; Arizona Cardinals free safety Harlan Miller (34), linebacker Cap Capi (42), free safety Harlan Miller linebacker Alex Bazzie (54) and cornerback Jarell Carter (39) celebrate a safety caused by Alex Bazzie against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The extended preseason is finally over for the Arizona Cardinals and now cutting the roster down to 53 players is all that remains before preparations for Week 1 can truly begin.

“Feel really, really good about this team,” Bruce Arians told the media on Friday. “I think the one thing that we set out was to prove our intelligence as a football team. I saw that come to fruition all through camp, in a lot of situations. We were much, much better than we have been in the past.”

Of course, Arizona stumbled to a forgettable 7-8-1 record in 2016, amid expectations that the team would be a Super Bowl contender. Those expectations are gone now, in terms of public perception on a national level, but they remain internally among the Cardinals organization.

“This team is totally different, I think, than last year’s team in that they’re very serious about their work,” Arians explained. “But they have a lot of fun and enjoy competing against each other. Last year was a lot of business. Work got done, but it was more of a business, because this is what’s expected of us. This year, there’s more of a chip on their shoulder – and there should be.”

Backfield shaping up

When discussing players that may have helped their chances of making the team during Thursday night’s preseason finale in Denver, Arians singled out both Elijhaa Penny and Rudy Ford.

In Penny’s case, that makes the race for roster spots among running backs that much tighter. David Johnson and Kerwynn Williams are locks at this point, but that essentially left a trio of Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington fighting for what was likely two spots.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Friday that Arizona had released Johnson, putting the decorated running back’s NFL future in limbo.

Penny’s 17-carry, 77-yard performance against the Broncos may have sealed the deal and landed him on the 53-man roster.

The release of Johnson suggests the Cardinals have their backfield unless they decide to have three running backs instead of four.

Wide receivers on the bubble

Arians followed up his positive comments on Penny and Ford by noting that some guys “went the opposite way” with their performances on Thursday night.

Arians could have been referring to wide receivers Jeremy Ross and Aaron Dobson, who both had drops in the preseason finale. The two were reportedly released Friday.

The wide receiver position has been up and down throughout the entire preseason. And while the prevailing feeling is that the Cards will hold on to six, Arians cautioned against assuming that was a done deal.

“It could be five,” he reminded everyone. “It could be seven.”

Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams are all in. Brittan Golden didn’t play Thursday and appears to be the leader for a sixth spot. Ross and Dobson would have been the primary contenders for the seventh spot, though they were reportedly let go.

Finding a routine

In the past, the Cardinals have had Mondays off, before ramping up on Tuesday for the next game. Arians noted on Friday that some of the vets had approached him about switching things up so Tuesday could be the off day this season.

“We did a bunch of sports science stuff about practicing four days in a row,” Arians explained. “I think it’s better for learning, four days in a row, but it might not be best physically. Especially going to the east coast and playing at 10 o’clock.”

So that’s the plan – for now, at least. Arians did point out that he reminded his guys that such a change means Monday is now gameplan day, so they can’t forget it all, then expect to just start back over on Wednesday. No one can afford wasted days like that now that the regular season is here.

Versatility is key

Blaine Gabbert’s impressive preseason has all but guaranteed him a roster spot moving forward, meaning Arizona will be one of the few teams around the league that keeps three quarterbacks. That means the Cardinals will have to be a little thinner at another position though, whether that’s outside linebacker, offensive line or somewhere else.

That makes for some difficult decisions in the coming hours, but having guys who can move around and be effective in numerous roles gives Arians and his coaching staff some much-needed flexibility.

Some of those decisions have alredy been made, as the team reportedly let go of offensive linemen Jonathan McLaughlin and Givens Price.

“We have a lot of versatility,” he said. “That’s the one thing, I think, that sticks out for this team is guys can play multiple positions and give us quality depth if and when those injuries are going to occur.”

For example, Haason Reddick is currently lining up as an inside linebacker, but he’s capable of playing outside too. Arians doesn’t want to pile extra responsibility on the rookie right now, seeing as how he’s already got enough on his plate with the possibility he may need to start Week 1. That versatility, however, is something the team will keep in mind when deciding just how thin they can go at certain positions as the final cuts are made on Saturday.

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