Burns and Gambo pick the five biggest Cardinals camp storylines
The Arizona Cardinals wrapped a very long training camp Thursday with optimism that their goals are close to being accomplished.
From the outside looking in, however, some stories that captivated Cardinals fans heading into camp remain.
Elsewhere, new topics of interest have appeared as players battle for starting spots, injuries hit and performances — good and bad — in preseason games change the narrative. The Cardinals still have two preseason games to play, but Arizona is done with its official camp that offensive lineman D.J. Humphries not so subtly likened to a jail.
Thursday on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, Burns and Gambo went over the top five storylines of camp.
Here are their rankings followed by an explainer.
1) Jared Veldheer’s thoughts of retirement
2) John Brown’s health
3) Rise of Blaine Gabbert
4) Scooby Wright’s hit on David Johnson
5) A mature Robert Nkemdiche
1) John Brown’s health
2) Jared Veldheer’s thoughts of retirement
3) Rise of Blaine Gabbert
4) A mature Robert Nkemdiche
5) Justin Bethel takes No. 2
Brown is back?
A cyst was removed and a sickle cell trait diagnosis was made last season. John Brown entered camp healthy as ever, and Arizona needed him to be.
The team missed a deep threat at receiver a year ago, but after Arians praised his receiver room in spring, he expressed disappointment in it during camp; this came after Brown found himself sidelined with a quad injury that has been slow to heal.
“I must’ve been seeing things back in the spring when I said we have 12 guys who can play in the NFL,” Arians said. “I think we might have two. But we’ll look around, see who’s available.”
Brown stood firm he wouldn’t push himself to return before healthy. Larry Fitzgerald took much of the blame, even though Arians specified that his veteran wasn’t at fault.
All of this provided drama for a unit that can’t perform as poorly as it did last year. And unless Brown is healthy or Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson take it to another level, the receiving group remains the big thing to watch.
Veldheer contemplates retirement
While there was enough tape to reason why the Cardinals called D.J. Humphries the starter at left tackle, moving the former starter Jared Veldheer surely was change to watch.
Veldheer looked just fine playing right tackle and accepted his role all along, but a practice day off in which it was revealed he contemplated retirement could linger into the season.
Does Veldheer perform well in his new role?
If he does, all is well.
If not, his commitment to football could be questioned, putting him into an odd place. Looking beyond his production, it’s a wonder whether a backup is needed to produce sooner rather than later.
Rise of Gabbert
When’s the last time Cardinals fans have talked this much about the third-string quarterback during camp?
It’s because there was thought Gabbert could win the second-string job over Drew Stanton. But to be fair, how many times in franchise history has Arizona been so attached to its aging starter that worry has begun to set in about how to properly replace him?
Gabbert’s debut went well and his preseason only helped grow the notion that maybe, just maybe, he has a place on the Cardinals’ roster down the line. It might not matter if Palmer doesn’t call it quits this coming year.
It certainly won’t if Palmer stays healthy. This matters because that’s not a given in the NFL.
Second-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche promised he’d learn how to become a professional.
The Cardinals’ coaching staff said he’d grown since his rookie year. Now it was just about consistent production.
By all accounts, Nkemdiche was taking all the steps needed as Arizona looks beyond the Calais Campbell era. He was a bruising presence on the defensive line in practices and preseason games before a calf injury threw a twist into his solid offseason.
He’s out 2-3 weeks with a calf strain. Arians doesn’t seem too concerned, but it’s still a wait-and-see approach to how the Cardinals replace the beloved Campbell.
Finally healthy, Justin Bethel began camp as the favorite to land the starting cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson and ended as it — overcoming a minor injury and missing time.
Arians named Bethel the starter on the final day of camp and even said he’s comfortable with the depth behind him.
But while that might be settled in Arians’ mind, it could be the first thing fans panic about if opposing teams are slinging the ball around and beating the Cardinals’ secondary.
Scooby’s hit a no-no
Scooby vs. David Johnson. pic.twitter.com/KdY62i8oQf
— Adam Green (@theAdamGreen) August 15, 2017
Gambo chose Scooby Wright’s hit on David Johnson as a key moment, if only because there needed to be one defining one involving the long training camp practices.
During a goal-line play, the second-year linebacker accidentally made contact with Johnson, the franchise running back who might as well be covered in bubble wrap. Johnson’s lack of action isn’t even a storyline because we know what he can do.
Wright, the former Arizona linebacker, has dropped weight and put himself in the mix at the most questionable position group — inside linebacker, where the depth chart is made up of a rookie (first-round pick Haason Reddick), a 14-year vet (Karlos Dansby) and a surprise free agent pickup (Josh Bynes), among others.