The 2017 Cardinals: Who must step up in training camp?

Jul 20, 2017, 7:05 AM | Updated: 12:23 pm
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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:

Biggest strength and greatest weakness

What kind of QB is Carson Palmer now?

Which departed free agent will they miss most?

Who really needs to step up and have a big training camp?

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

Robert Nkemdiche was a first-round draft pick and is one of the guys being counted on to replace Calais Campbell, so there is a lot on the line for him to play well and contribute. John Brown is a close second because without a productive season from him, they could be in trouble.

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

A disappointing rookie season for Nkemdiche began when he suffered a high ankle sprain early in training camp and never fully recovered going into the season. He played a total of 83 snaps on defense and six on special teams. In late December, Nkemdiche stopped making mental errors such as lining up in the wrong gaps and jumping offside in practice. Josh Mauro will likely replace Campbell as the starter, but the Cardinals are expecting Nkemdiche to play 30-35 snaps per game.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley and Marotta

I think Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams could be the answer here, but I’ll go with Nkemdiche. The second-year defensive tackle has enormous shoes to fill and by all accounts, has really worked on his professionalism and preparation, which is huge since most believe he’s got more than enough talent to be a force in the NFL.

Craig Grialou, Arizona Sports reporter

The spotlight is squarely on second-year defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. An injured ankle stalled his career and then slowed his progress once the season began. He only played in five games, seeing very few snaps. Especially with the loss of Campbell, the Cardinals need Nkemdiche to be that force they believed they drafted with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns and Gambo

D.J. Humphries. He’s replacing a very productive player in Veldheer. One who has done his job and done it well since coming here. Protecting Carson Palmer is perhaps the most important box that needs to be checked. Does the third year player have what it takes to check it?

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug and Wolf

Anyone playing in the secondary.

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

Never before has Bethel entered a camp with as much pressure as he is this one. Finally healthy, it would seem as though a starting cornerback job is his to lose. If the special teams ace plays well and keeps the job, then one of the team’s biggest questions will be answered. Add in that he is playing under a one-year contract and could turn a good season into a lucrative paycheck (and a poor season into a career on special teams), and it’s safe to say it’s now or never for the 2012 sixth-round pick.

Craig Morgan, Arizona Sports reporter and columnist

Nkemdiche. The Cardinals used their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) on him in 2016 and yet he appeared in just five games, with Arians citing work ethic as an issue last season. With Campbell gone, Nkemdiche is the most talented option to replace him. Some insiders believe he has already taken Arians’ critique to heart and is poised for a big season. Successful teams always have a succession plan in place when they know they are going to lose a key player such as Campbell. Campbell replaced Antonio Smith when he departed for Houston in 2009. Nkemdiche is the next man up.

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The 2017 Cardinals: Who must step up in training camp?