The Fight for 53: One last chance for several Arizona Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Come Saturday afternoon more than 1,100 players will be looking for work. Such is life in the National Football League, “one of the few businesses that hire 90 just to fire 37,” according to Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
The goal, of course, is to not be one of those 37, and for several Cardinals players, their last chance to make an impression — and preferably a good impression — will be Thursday in Denver.
The preseason finale may determine up to a half dozen roster spots, and maybe a handful more.
Will the Cardinals keep six or seven wide receivers? Who lands the third and fourth running back positions? How does the depth at offensive line shake out?
Defensively, both inside and outside linebacker have openings. In the secondary, could the Cardinals decide to keep a fifth safety?
And what about punter?
Those would appear to be the biggest questions the Cardinals still need to answer.
Earlier in the week, Arians hinted at a larger wide receiver room for 2017, which would seem to bode well for players like Aaron Dobson, Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross.
A hamstring injury sidelined Dobson for much of training camp, but “he had a great spring,” Arians said.
At 6-foot-3, Dobson is a big target with big-play potential.
“I’m a deep threat,” he said. “I feel like I can take the top off the defense.”
That was evident in Atlanta, where if Drew Stanton doesn’t slip on a second-quarter throw, he and Dobson connect on one of Arians’ patented home-run shots down the field.
Golden, because of his special teams play, may already have a spot on the team. Just don’t tell him that.
“Because you never know what can happen,” he said. “Going into the last one (game), you got to treat it like every other year I’ve been playing. Just make sure you’re ready to go and can do what you can do to put film out there.”
The Cardinals are expected to keep four running backs. David Johnson and Kerwynn Williams are locks, which leaves Andre Ellington, Elijhaa Penny and Chris Johnson.
Penny might be the most intriguing one of the three.
After spending the entire 2016 season on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie free agent, Penny arrived in training camp with a better grasp of the offense, improved blocking skills and nearly 15 pounds lighter. He was also challenged by Arians: To be the guy to replace Stepfan Taylor, an excellent special teams player who would occasionally see time backfield.
“You got to play special teams in order to make a roster. You can’t just be an offensive guy,” said Penny, who is now tipping the scales at 234 pounds. “I didn’t do any special teams in college before I got here; didn’t do it in high school, didn’t do in college. Here was the first time I actually did it and it’s actually pretty fun. I like it. It’s cool.”
With the offensive line, the Cardinals figure to dress seven on gameday and carry up to nine on the 53-man roster. A year ago, 10 different linemen started at least one game.
At the linebacker position, eight, between inside and outside, might be enough. The question is whether that number is split in half or perhaps tilted to one position. Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler are veteran inside backers hoping to make the team, while Scooby Wright is a second-year player who can impact special teams.
Cap Capi flashed last week in Atlanta with a team-high seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits, which may have just been enough to edge the injured Jarvis Jones out of a backup spot at outside linebacker.
Harlan Miller plus rookies Rudy Ford and Ironhead Gallon are trying to convince the Cardinals to keep a fifth safety.
And the punter?
“It’ll come down to this game,” Arians said, referring to Matt Wile and Richie Leone.
It can’t be easy, not knowing. One minute you’re on the roster and the next minute you’re unemployed. For that reason, there figure to be some anxious moments inside the Cardinals locker room, and why their effort and performance against the Broncos is of the utmost importance.
“I’ve been through this a couple of times. I’m just going to go out there and be confident in what I can do,” said Dobson, who has been released three times in his four seasons. “Coaches reiterate all the time, there’s 31 other teams that’s going to be watching this film. I’m playing for this team, I’m playing for 31 other teams so I just got to make the most of my opportunity.”
Every NFL team must have their rosters finalized by 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s the worst day in the year. I really can equate to death in the family sometimes,” Arians said. “You get so close to these guys, you work so hard with them and you know it’s a dream that hopefully is not ending. It might continue with another team but a lot of them it’s ending. So, yeah, it’s a very hard day.