The 5: Questions at the conclusion of Arizona Cardinals mini-camp
And now, the last of the offseason is upon us.
The Arizona Cardinals wrapped up their three-day mini-camp Thursday, and when it was all over, head coach Bruce Arians had nothing but good things to say.
“I thought it was a good mini-camp,” he said. “I thought our veterans really improved, especially all spring. The young guys have a ton of talent and they just have to learn what the hell they’re doing.”
Arians noted the team’s younger players will still be around the next couple of weeks, and the hope is the extra practice time will have them better prepared for when training camp starts in July.
But what all came out of it the work the team put in over the last handful of weeks?
In this edition of The 5, we take a look at five areas of note as the Cardinals head into their summer break.
Do they have enough at inside linebacker?
In Karlos Dansby, the Cardinals have a veteran who knows the ropes and can produce. Next to him right now, however, are question marks. With Deone Bucannon recovering from ankle surgery — Arians said he will probably begin training camp on the PUP list but is ahead of schedule — lining up next to Dansby has been rookie Haason Reddick.
While talented and coming in with high expectations, Reddick is a converted defensive end learning the middle linebacker position, so it’s fair to question how ready he is. After him are younger players in Scooby Wright, Gabe Martin and Alani Fua, who have all impressed on special teams but have never handled a significant role within an NFL defense.
“Those guys had great springs,” Arians said of Reddick and Wright, specifically. “They got all the reps. We know what Buc can do, we’ve just got to get him healthy.”
The question for the Cardinals now is how long that will take and, once Bucannon is able to practice again, how much time he will need to get into game shape.
How good, really, is the WR depth?
Now, this is a tricky position to analyze, because while the Cardinals may have a dozen players who belong in the NFL, they seem rather short on top-tier talent at the position.
You have Larry Fitzgerald, yes, and after him John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown have all shown an ability to make plays. But John Brown has struggled to stay healthy, Jaron Brown is coming back from a torn ACL and Nelson is still on the smaller side.
Yet, there has been nothing but confidence professed in the group, which also includes Brittan Golden, Jeremy Ross, Chad Williams, Larry Clark, Marquis Bundy, Carlton Agudosi, Aaron Dobson and Krishawn Hogan.
The question is, does the team have strength in its numbers?
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer believes so.
“Brittan Golden’s been here forever and when his number’s been called has made play after play; Jaron Brown has made play after play,” he said. “They haven’t been on the field a lot, but if you look at the touches or the blocks or just the touches per play per game, it’s probably pretty high.
“J.J.’s, he’s gone up the best in the league and had huge games, so there may not be a ton of experience. The first guy I think of is Chad in he doesn’t have experience, but he’s that type of player — he can go in and make a big impact on a game. It’s not catching 12 balls, maybe catching three.
“So it’s a very good group and really happy with — Aaron Dobson, I mean, Aaron Dobson hasn’t been here long, but he learned the offense, it felt like, in OTA No. 2. So that’s probably the most competitive battle going into training camp.”
Could Justin Bethel actually be the guy?
Asked if Justin Bethel had shown him anything different this offseason or anything he was hoping to see, Arians pointed to something a bit unexpected.
“Yeah, he practiced,” the coach said. “He hadn’t practiced for two years on that broken foot so that’s the best thing, the best news, is he’s healthy. He’d been struggling with that foot for two years and he looks extremely healthy right now, knock on wood.”
Could it be that simple?
Arians said Bethel had come up with five or six interceptions over the course of OTAs and mini-camp, and for the 26-year-old, that’s big. Bethel has all the tools to be an effective cornerback — 6-foot, 200 pounds, outstanding speed — but has been unable to establish himself as more than just a special teams ace.
Bethel believes things are turning around for him.
“I think I’ve been doing really well. I’ve been able to make some plays on the ball. I’m grasping the position and the technique of it all a lot better,” he said. “I’m excited to take these next couple of weeks, keep working and working and working and then go into training camp and implement all those things that I’ve been doing here and then when we get pads on and go into preseason games and just moving forward with it.”
Arians did not say Bethel has locked up starting cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson, but it is evident he has the early lead for the job. The Cardinals may need Bethel to take a step forward because after him there is second-year pro Brandon Williams, the untested Elie Bouka and rookies Rudy Ford and Sojourn Shelton, as well as Jumal Rolle and potentially Harlan Miller.
Are the tackles ready for their new spots?
In Week 1 of the 2016 season, Jared Veldheer was the Cardinals’ left tackle while D.J. Humphries was the right tackle. In 2017, they will switch places.
Humphries was a left tackle in college and played some of that spot last season after Veldheer got hurt; Veldheer, on the other hand, is playing right tackle for the first time in his career.
So, how do they look?
According to Arians, as good as they can in shorts.
“I think he’s very athletic and he did all those things at the end of the season before the concussion,” Arians said of Humphries. “Jared’s progressed nicely.
“It’s hard for them in pads to really show anything run-blocking wise, but pass-protection wise, between Chandler (Jones) and Markus (Golden) and Jarvis Jones, we’ve got different guys giving them different looks. Once we get the pads on, we’ll get Haason (Reddick) out there rushing off the edge, also.”
The tackles will be tested, no doubt.
Humphries said he thinks things are coming together for him, that he has been piecing things together that he was missing early in OTAs, and with a renewed focus on each snap, is solely focused on getting better.
That, more than the pressure of his new position, is what drives him, and is a mentality he admittedly used to lack.
“Last year I developed that mental state to where it’s ‘I’m on the grass — I’m not doing anything but getting better today. I’m not thinking about getting out of here.’ No, I’m on the grass right now about to get better, I’m about to perfect my craft, I’m about to do something better than I did yesterday. We’ll look at the tape and do it again tomorrow.”
What may still be needed?
Chances are the team that walked off the field Thursday will go through a handful of changes by the time they get to University of Phoenix Stadium for training camp.
But as the Cardinals get through the final weeks before training camp, it’s not necessarily obvious what positions the GM may address or which players he may look to bring in.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Doug and Wolf earlier Thursday that he and team president Michael Bidwill have talked about six to eight players still available who could potentially help them.
“As we know from the past, it’s not all about just whether that player fits schematically. It’s when does his value come down, when do we feel comfortable about making the addition,” he said. “But we’ll continue to be aggressive — we’ll leave no stone unturned.”
It would be irresponsible not to, though there is not exactly a long list of impact players still looking for work.
Chris Johnson is still available if the Cardinals decide they want a veteran behind David Johnson, and John Clayton brought up cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Alterraun Verner as well as linemen Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin and linebacker Perry Riley as possibilities when talking with Doug and Wolf Friday.