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The 2017 Cardinals: Is Arizona better now than last season?

The time is near.

On July 21, the Arizona Cardinals will report to training camp with their first official practice coming the following day at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

From there, the team will build the foundation for what it hopes will be a playoff-caliber campaign with a reshaped roster bouncing back from the disappointment that was 2016.

In the days leading up to the opening of camp, we thought we would ask our Arizona Sports panelists a series of questions related to the Cardinals and their prospects for 2017. There are five in total.

Before we get into today’s, here are the published editions:

Who must step up in training camp?

• Biggest strength and greatest weakness

• What kind of QB is Carson Palmer now?

• Which departed free agent will they miss most?

Are the 2017 Cardinals better than the 2016 team that finished 7-8-1? Why or why not?

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

Absolutely. Despite losing Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson from that defense the Cardinals will be much improved just by showing up. They lost five games by eight points or less and tied a game. Special teams missed a 47-yard field goal that would have beaten New England, imploded against Buffalo with several mistakes and gave up a 47-yard punt return that led to the Rams’ winning score. The Cardinals had a field goal blocked, a punt blocked and a 24-yard field goal miss in overtime vs. Seattle while also missing an extra point on a high snap. They missed a 41-yard field goal and had an extra point blocked and returned for two against Miami and last, but not least, missed a field goal of 55 yards and an extra point — and Justin Bethel was offsides on a Saints field goal attempt that gave New Orleans a first down that they turned into a touchdown. Needless to say, special teams was a disaster and can’t be any worse.

Mike Jurecki, co-host of The Blitz with B-Train and Jurecki as well as Cardinals insider

Yes. Last season, special teams coach Amos Jones’ unit went through two long snappers, three punters and an inconsistent kicker in Chandler Catanzaro. They also lost at least five players on injured reserve that affected the coverage teams. For the upcoming season, backup RB T.J. Logan may be the kick returner and could help tilt field position. During training camp, Patrick Peterson, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson will also compete for the punt returner position. One of the underrated signings this offseason was the addition of 42-year-old kicker Phil Dawson, who has made a lot of clutch kicks throughout his career. So, their ability to win close games this year will result in a better overall record than the previous season.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley and Marotta

I think the Cardinals are better in two of three phases. Special teams has to be better than that unit was in 2016. The offense, with a healthy John Brown and Michael Floyd no longer here should be more consistent. I have big questions on defense with Campbell and Jefferson now wearing different uniforms. I tend to believe that their roster isn’t as strong as it was last season, but their win total, by virtue of an improved special teams unit, should be higher.

Craig Grialou, Arizona Sports reporter

It’s hard to imagine the 2017 Cardinals being worse than the 2016 team, barring injuries of course. A healthy John Brown and Troy Niklas should alleviate some of the attention and focus on David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald offensively; if Tyrann Mathieu can be Tyrann Mathieu once again then the defense should be able to force more turnovers; and of course, special teams should be much improved, if for no other reason than the signing of veteran kicker Phil Dawson.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns and Gambo

This is a weird one. On paper? No, they’re not. They can’t be when they lost two guys like Jefferson and Calais. But I do think they will be better with a renewed emphasis and return to health on special teams and on resting and maximizing Carson Palmer. The roster is not as good. There is no denying it but I feel like the reasons why they lost games in 2016 have been addressed.

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug and Wolf

I don’t know. It completely depends on the level of responsibility B.A. accepts for creating camp pillow fight last year and for holding his players to a higher level of accountability than his coaches. B.A. is the right coach for this team, but we’ll see if he learned from 2016.

Adam Green, Arizona Sports reporter and co-host of Arizona Sports Saturday

In terms of raw talent on the roster, they are not after the offseason saw them part with the likes of Campbell, Jefferson, Kevin Minter, D.J. Swearinger and Marcus Cooper, all of whom were key for their defense. However, additions were made to counteract those losses, and upgrades in other areas — most specifically, special teams — as well as a better bounce or two could easily lead to a better overall record. Put another way, they probably were not 13-win good in 2015 nor 7-win bad in 2016, so a kind of course correction is likely in store.

Craig Morgan, Arizona Sports reporter and columnist

It’s difficult to assert the Cardinals are better, talent-wise, although there is hope that some younger players will take a step forward in their development. Arizona lost critical parts of its defense in Campbell and Jefferson. Campbell averaged 61 tackles and 7.5 sacks and missed just five games over the last six seasons. Jefferson averaged 67 tackles and missed one game over the last three seasons. While the Cardinals believe they have replaced the two players’ leadership qualities in the locker room with Karlos Dansby and Antoine Bethea, leadership is a quality that must develop organically, and from a high level of play that earns respect.

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