GLENDALE, Ariz. — No matter what happens Saturday between the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans, none of it will really count.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing to be gained from the team’s preseason opener, but it does mean whatever happens at University of Phoenix Stadium this weekend should be viewed through a certain type of lens.
“Preseason’s preseason,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “You want to go out there and get sharp and make sure you’re ready for the first week of the season, and you can’t get to the first week of the season without preseason.
“But it breaks up the kind of the monotony of training camp, allows you to get to hit some other people, go against some different people, and that’s always fun.”
Of course, preseason is different for a veteran of Fitzgerald’s caliber than it is for some of the younger players on the roster, many of whom are fighting for roster spots.
As head coach Bruce Arians has said over the last couple of weeks, he’s interested to see which players shine under the lights. The idea is to stand out — in a good way.
“The twos and threes [second and third string players] are going to play 90 percent of this game, so this is their first exposure,” he said Thursday. “They’re not just trying to make our ball club; they’re putting themselves on tape for 31 other teams to watch.”
Arians said the starters will likely see around 15 snaps, though that could change depending on how things unfold during the game. But if all goes according to plan, backup quarterback Drew Stanton will play the majority of the first half and a little into the third quarter. From there, the offense will be run by rookie Logan Thomas.
“I’m excited for it,” Thomas said. “I’m ready to go. Living out a dream, for one, and just having the opportunity to do it — especially with the guys that I’ve been around for this training camp and into the spring.”
In a lot of ways, though, the chance to go against someone other than a player in red and white is something the team relishes. By this point in camp, players are tired of beating up on teammates and are instead ready to hit someone on a different team and move the ball against an opponent’s defense.
For a team whose biggest question mark would appear to be the offense, Saturday’s exhibition offers a chance to show how much it has improved.
“This is the first time you go out there for live fire, the first time you’ve been hit since December, the first time you’ll be able to actually really hit somebody since December,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to be a great test for us against a wonderful defense and (defensive coordinator) Romeo Crennel.”
Things to watch for
– Arians said the thing he would most like to see from Thomas is if he’s making the proper reads an throwing the ball to the right receiver. Doing so would be a sign the quarterback, who entered the NFL as a talented but raw prospect, is improving.
– Number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is set to play Saturday, and he’ll likely be matched up against right tackle Bobby Massie. Massie, who is trying to earn the job, figures to have his work cut out for him.
– Arians said John Brown’s hamstring has continued to improve and should be fine Saturday. Brown has spent the majority of camp burning Arizona’s secondary. Can he do it in a game situation against a different defense?
– Jake Ballard’s surprise retirement put a dent in the team’s tight end depth but didn’t deplete it. Will Darren Fells, who has had an excellent camp, step up and earn a spot?
– This will be guard Jonathan Cooper’s first game action since breaking his leg in the third preseason game last year. He’s had his ups and downs in camp — even getting called out by Arians last weekend — but seems to have responded well.
– It’s been a while since we’ve seen Kevin Minter actually play linebacker. Saturday will be a good chance to see if he has progressed enough to handle his new role.
– The Cardinals are very deep at wide receiver, meaning there will likely be some talented players who end up not making the roster. Chances may be limited in preseason games, meaning it would be a bad idea to have an off night Saturday.
– Among other things, preseason games are known for vanilla defenses. That said, no one would be upset if the Cardinals defense — which is expected to once again be one of the league’s best — finds a way to impose its will over the Texans.
– Arians said the kickers will alternate games, with their performances in the preseason contests determining who gets the job. Rookie Chandler Catanzaro will get all the reps Saturday, meaning he could, pun intended, get an early leg up on Jay Feely for the final spot.