The 5: Cardinals position battles heading into training camp
Cardinals training camp begins this Saturday. With it and throughout the preseason, Arizona will not only be developing togetherness in how they function as a single unit.
Bruce Arians and his coaching staff will be auditioning players new and old, determining if they are good enough to earn starting roles or contribute at all.
Taking an exercise from the Doug and Wolf show on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, here are the top five Cardinals camp position battles. Hosts Doug Franz and Ron Wolfley agreed on four of five position battles — see Doug’s picks here and Wolf’s here — but we’re excluding one pick out of their combined six to get it down to five.
We’re nixing the Wolf’s No. 1 position battle to watch at linebacker because Deone Bucannon is on the PUP list, as of now, and won’t be able to fend off rookie Haason Reddick until healthy.
So to create an order of importance, we gave five points to each of Doug’s and Wolf’s most important position battle, four points for the second-most important one, so on and so forth.
Second CB: 4 + 4 = 8 points
While there will be intrigue at safety, where veterans Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea may end up fighting for the spot Tony Jefferson left behind as a free agent, the second cornerback position remains the more concerning hole to fill.
Justin Bethel said he’s healthy for the first time in a few years after a foot injury that began nagging in 2015. Second-year pro Brandon Williams, a third-round pick still new to the corner position, believes he’s come a long way from being thrown into the fire too early to begin last year.
Those are the two favorites to play opposite Patrick Peterson, and each comes with enough concerns after the Cardinals failed to sign a proven veteran corner in the offseason.
Right guard: 5 + 3 = 8 points
While the Cardinals’ main storyline along the O-line involves shifting former left tackle Jared Veldheer to right tackle and handing the keys to D.J. Humphries on QB Carson Palmer’s blind side, the right guard job is the biggest wonder. And it’s the most unproven position.
Second-year pro Evan Boehm spent OTAs running with the first team, and after learning both guard and center as a rookie appears to be the favorite. There’s competition of course.
Fellow 2016 draftee Cole Toner is in the mix at guard, while the Cardinals’ 2017 fourth-round pick, Dorian Johnson, and veteran do-it-all offensive lineman John Wetzel provide even more depth.
WR room: 2 + 2 = 4
Forgetting Larry Fitzgerald’s age doesn’t make the wide receiver corps any less worrisome as Arizona hopes to recreate the deep passing game magic of 2015.
Michael Floyd’s ugly departure after a disappointing 2016 and DUI arrest opened the door for a new No. 2 to complement Fitzgerald, who led the NFL in receptions last season. Speedster J.J. Nelson took hold of his oppotunity then, but only to the extent of 568 yards and six touchdowns.
Meanwhile, John Brown hopes to recapture his form lost in 2016 to the symptoms of a discovered sickle-cell trait and a cyst in his back. And behind him, can Jaron Brown recover from an ACL injury that ended last season following a stellar training camp?
Aaron Dobson brings NFL experience as a free agent pickup, but the depth will be tested, especially if injuries hit.
Nkemdiche vs. himself: 0 + 3 = 3
Franz believes defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is in a battle with himself. That’s fair considering Arians once said that talent wasn’t the Ole Miss product’s issue.
For Nkemdiche, who in five games produced no tackles as a rookie, learning how to be a professional after being the team’s first-round pick in 2016 might not be quite enough. Despite the defensive line losing Calais Campbell, the Cardinals have been sounding confident one or a few players will step in.
Nkemdiche is the obvious guy who must step up in training camp, but the praise surrounding Josh Mauro has seemingly gone under the radar. Mauro recorded 32 tackles in 15 games last year.
Will there be a clear-cut winner?
Backup QB: = 1+1 = 2
If Carson Palmer goes down, the expectations surrounding the Cardinals changes dramatically.
And with that, maybe it matters a bit that Arizona signed former 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who didn’t take long to acclimate himself to Arians’ offense.
Backup Drew Stanton, however, has himself a huge fan in Arians. It would take a bit to unseat him, even considering he went 19-of-48 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and three picks in 2016.