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The 5: Arizona Cardinals I’m excited to watch in 2013

I’m not going to lie…I can’t wait for football season.

While I love baseball, basketball and hockey, football season is the by far the best time on the sports calendar.

And for the first time in a while, there is optimism surrounding the Arizona Cardinals. A front office makeover, hiring the reigning NFL Coach of the Year and a massive roster overhaul will do that to a fan base.

With the beginning of training camp days away, I’m no longer able to contain my excitement for the upcoming Cardinals season. Sure, they were 5-11 last year, but everyone’s tied for first in late July.

Here are the five players I’m excited to see play for Big Red in 2013.

5. Bobby Massie – Right tackle – Massie’s first half of 2012 can’t be sugar-coated — he was terrible. Okay, more accurately, the then-rookie out of Ole Miss wasn’t ready to play. Just look back at film of the Miami game where Cameron Wake treated Massie like a turnstile on his way to 4.5 sacks of Kevin Kolb. But in the second half of the season, after reading about how bad he was on Pro Football Focus, Massie became a reliable tackle. In fact, the same website has labeled Massie a “Secret Superstar” heading into the 2013 campaign. Superstar or not, Massie’s continued development is crucial to keeping quarterback Carson Palmer upright and helping Arizona wake up a dormant running game.

4. Darnell Dockett – Defensive tackle – 9-0 wasn’t very visible in former coordinator Ray Horton’s defense in 2012. The man who had three sacks in Super Bowl XLIII ranked tied for tenth on the team in tackles and only registered 1.5 sacks — his lowest sack total since 2005. But Dockett is excited to play in new coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme, because it frees up the down linemen to make more plays. A refreshed, motivated Dockett only makes the Cardinals’ defense better.

3. Tyrann Mathieu – Defensive back – Two years ago, Mathieu starred for LSU as one of the most unique defensive players college football has seen in quite some time. Of course, last year things didn’t go so smoothly for Mathieu, who was booted off the team for multiple positive drug tests and an arrest. The Cardinals took the “Honey Badger” in the third round of the NFL Draft and will rely on his close friend and mentor Patrick Peterson to keep him on the straight and narrow. I’m not trying to sound like a pessimistic Frank Sinatra, but if Mathieu can’t make it here, he can’t make it anywhere.

2. Patrick Peterson – Defensive back/punt returner – Sure, Peterson failed to reach the end zone on punt return duty last season after taking four to the house as a rookie in 2011, but he has developed into arguably the best cornerback in football in just two seasons. Peterson was ranked as the 33rd-best player in football in NFL Network’s annual countdown. I still refuse to believe there are 32 better football players on the planet, but what are you gonna do?

1. Carson Palmer – Quarterback – It’s been a long time since there was any optimism about the Cardinals’ quarterback position heading into a training camp. But this year, there is. The Cards acquired veteran Carson Palmer from Oakland in an offseason trade and he’ll look to get the offense back on track. I’m not saying that Palmer is a Pro Bowler, but he’s a HUGE upgrade over what we’ve seen in the last three seasons. Seriously, perennial Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald played in every game last season and had less than 800 yards receiving. That’s like having a Ferrari in the garage and only driving it to the corner to get the mail. Palmer’s presence will give the Cardinals the ability to use their best offensive weapon again, although I’d be lying if I said seeing Palmer wear jersey number 3 won’t give me cold sweats and Derek Anderson flashbacks. Some things are just hard to shake.

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