The 5: Things to watch in the Arizona Cardinals’ preseason opener
A new head coach. A new quarterback. A new defensive scheme. An actual long-term quarterback.
There is a lot of new in the Arizona Cardinals’ 2018 campaign, and with that comes more excitement than usual for a preseason debut.
Here are the five things to watch for in Saturday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers at 7 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
How many snaps are chosen for Rosen?
All eyes in Cardinals land will be on the quarterback of the future Josh Rosen, and it sounds like head coach Steve Wilks has a desire to see a lot of the rookie quarterback.
“We want him to play quite a bit and get him in the flow of the game,” Wilks said Wednesday.
Preseason performance is rarely indicative of much but it will be nice to see how Rosen handles his first NFL action.
Not Larry Fitzgerald, not Chandler Jones and not Patrick Peterson
The Arizona Cardinals have a Pro Bowler at wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback.
At this point in the season, though, the Cardinals lack depth at those positions and have battles underway alongside their three stars.
Brice Butler got the nod as the No. 2 wide receiver in the team’s first unofficial depth chart, but Chad Williams, Christian Kirk, Greg Little and J.J. Nelson will compete for the starting role.
With Markus Golden’s timetable for a return from a torn ACL a mystery, Benson Mayowa is listed on the opposite side of Jones. Arthur Moats and Jacquies Smith were both signed by the team at the end of July to compete for time as well.
The other cornerback outside of Peterson has always been hit-or-miss for the Cardinals with no long-term solution. That remains an issue for now. Jamar Taylor, the former Browns corner the Cardinals acquired in the offseason, is starting while Bene Benwikere and Brandon Williams are listed behind him.
All of those players have the entire preseason to prove why they should win their respective job, and that starts on Saturday.
Young, impact weapons on offense
Odds are the Cardinals will be desperate for some more playmakers outside of Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson.
It’s that way because a majority of the other names are young and inexperienced, but that doesn’t mean they lack upside.
Chad Williams saw under 100 snaps in his rookie season last year and is expected to take a step forward in year two to make plays at wideout.
Was Brice Butler underutilized in Dallas and due for a breakout year?
Tight end Ricky Seals-Jones sure did make plays last season, coming out of nowhere to finish with 28 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns over five games.
Running backs Chase Edmonds and T.J. Logan provide the shiftiness and elusiveness to be a nice change-of-pace option for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
Cardinals fans know wide receiver J.J. Nelson has the speed and experience, and second-round pick Christian Kirk brings a serious reputation of pass-catching production as an inside receiver.
That’s six different names that have a case for talent to make an impact. The question is if the Cardinals can bring that potential out of them.
Replacing A.Q. Shipley
The Cardinals couldn’t even make it to their first preseason game before suffering a significant loss via injury when A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL and left a hole at center.
Rookie offensive lineman and third-round pick Mason Cole will attempt to fill that void.
The good news is Cole has the track record. He made 104 consecutive starts between his high school days and his time as a Michigan Wolverine under former NFL coach Jim Harbaugh.
With how much the Cardinals are relying on a running game built around David Johnson and protecting quarterback Sam Bradford, if there was one young player you’d hope looks good in the preseason for Arizona, it would be Cole.
Steve Wilks’ 4-3 defense
You can’t help but get excited to watch the wrinkles of Wilks’ defense when you hear the way Patrick Peterson talks about it.
“Coach Wilks is just letting (DC Al Holcomb) do his thing, and I believe it’s just gonna allow us to line up and play fast football,” Peterson said in mid-June to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf.
Some of those wrinkles include getting the most out of specific players, which Peterson described in early July to 98.7 FM’s Bickley & Marotta.
“You got (safety Budda Baker) pretty much being the chess player — you don’t know what the heck he’s going to be doing. Obviously, you got Deone moving into that MIKE position right now, so we’re a little bit faster at the linebacker position … being a little bit more natural now for (defensive tackle) Robert Nkemdiche being in a 4-3 system, having him playing straightforward now.”
The man going under the radar in his system that was not mentioned by Peterson is second-year linebacker and former first-round pick Haason Reddick.
Part of the appeal in drafting Reddick was his versatility as a linebacker. He goes from playing defensive end in college, playing both inside and outside last season, to a more permanent role as strongside outside linebacker under Wilks.
Wilks, of course, has the track record in Carolina for getting the most out of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, two of the NFL’s best linebackers this decade.
If Wilks’ system can have a positive effect for the likes of Baker, Bucannon, Nkemdiche and Reddick, the Cardinals defense could explode to greater heights next season.