TEMPE, Ariz. — Prove it.
The Arizona Cardinals’ preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers will be a stage for players to prove they deserve a roster spot or prove they are healthy enough to play. Therefore, you can expect a heavy dose of backups with the occasional starter-returning-from-injury sprinkled in.
To wit: Neither of the team’s top two quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, are expected to play. If all goes according to plan, it will be the Logan Thomas show from start to finish.
At this point in the offseason, the coaches have seen all they need to from the players it plans on relying on the most, and would rather not risk an injury just more than a week out from the regular season opener which, incidentally, is also against the Chargers.
“We’ll go with a lot of young guys and see who can make the roster,” coach Bruce Arians said of the plan for Thursday. “They have plenty of opportunities on special teams, now it’s an opportunity to play and show that you’re more than capable, mentally and physically, to do the job.”
Arians gave an emphatic, ‘No” when asked if any starters will see action Thursday night, though that does not include players like Tyrann Mathieu, Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter and Alameda Ta’amu, all of whom are working their way back from different ailments.
According to the coach, Minter is ready to go while Cooper and Ta’amu are likely to play some.
And Cooper, who has gone from the assumed starter at left guard to battling for his role, is ready to get back to work.
“Some great play,” he said of what he expects from himself Thursday night. “I’m optimistic. I’m looking to be technically sound and just play hard, play to the whistle.”
As for Mathieu, the coach said he is “day-to-day” but added if the Honey Badger does not play Thursday, he will not play in the season opener on Sept. 8. So, it stands to reason the defensive back will do everything he can to be on the field Thursday night.
But unlike most of the other players who will play, Mathieu is not fighting for a role or roster spot. Arians said there are “at least five” roster spots still up for grabs, and they will be determined by what happens in this game.
“There’s competition for at least five spots with different guys, so it’s highly competitive and it’s a big night for a lot of them,” he said.
One of those players likely fighting for a spot is running back Zach Bauman. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Northern Arizona University knows he will get his chance to impress the coaches Thursday. For Bauman — and many like him — it may be their last chance.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot, it’s what I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “Just an opportunity to show what I can do on the football field.”
Things to watch for
– Though he won’t have the advantage of playing with the first team offensive line or receivers, the fact that Logan Thomas will play the entire game should prove to be an advantage. When asked, Arians said it should help the rookie relax because he knows he’s on the roster and he knows he’ll see plenty of snaps.
– Mathieu said he’s not worried about his knee as much as he is the mental part of the game. Still, if he does play, how he holds up physically will certainly be something to watch.
– Jonathan Cooper has not played in a game since looking fairly average in the preseason opener. Coming off an injury, an impressive performance would go a long way toward reestablishing confidence in his ability.
– Five wide receiver spots appear to be set, with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn, Jr., John Brown and Jaron Brown looking like locks to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Walter Powell, Brittan Golden and maybe Dan Buckner vying for what is likely the sixth and final spot.
– Bradley Sowell did enough over the last couple of weeks to convince the coaching staff to part with veteran tackle Max Starks. That said, things could always change and Sowell must make sure he gives the staff no reason to question their decision.
– Chandler Catanzaro won the kicker job over Jay Feely, but keeping it is a separate matter altogether. He must continue to put kickoffs into the back of the end zone while being accurate on field goal attempts.