The 5: What to watch in first Cardinals preseason game (beyond Kyler Murray)

Aug 8, 2019, 11:49 AM | Updated: 2:47 pm
A.Q. Shipley #53 of the Arizona Cardinals walks onto the field prior to the game against the Philad...
A.Q. Shipley #53 of the Arizona Cardinals walks onto the field prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 8, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

All eyes will be on Kyler Murray as his Arizona Cardinals era begins in the first preseason game Thursday.

But what else can be gleaned from the new-look Cards?

Here are five non-Kyler Murray-related questions to keep an eye out for.

The game begins at 7 p.m. on Channel 12 News and 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Where does Mason Cole line up? (And other questions about the O line)

Mason Cole and A.Q. Shipley were expected to battle for the starting center job after Cole was the guy last year while Shipley was hurt. But with a recent shoulder injury to Justin Pugh, Cole’s versatility could be tested elsewhere on the line. So, does Cole line up at center at all on Thursday night? And otherwise, is he at guard or tackle?

The Cardinals’ issues at offensive-line last year are well-documented, and the importance of having stability there going into the regular season is huge.

Cole has experience on the left side. He played his first 25 collegiate games at left tackle, then moved to center, then back to left tackle, ESPN’s Todd McShay said after the Cardinals drafted him last year, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Also keep an eye also on Korey Cunningham and other depth players on the line — especially if Marcus Gilbert (groin) is limited.

Cleaning up the wide receiver group

The wide receiver group comes with two large questions.

One: Can one of the rookie receivers pull ahead of the pack and become a rotation piece? So far, KeeSean Johnson has impressed the most in camp, but second-rounder Andy Isabella has missed some time due to a knee injury. Hakeem Butler, a fourth-rounder, has made some impressive catches, but he hasn’t performed consistently enough to get ahead of Johnson on the Cardinals’ unofficial depth chart.

Two: Which of the others will get a spot on the roster? Assuming the rookies will make the team – which, of course, is no guarantee – Kevin White, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper are fighting for spots. White and Byrd both came into the league in 2015 but have not been able to prove they belong, though White’s extensive injury history has played a role for him. Sherfield was the third-most productive wide receiver last year, but the barometer was low for that group. Cooper has an edge for special teams reasons, and playing well at receiver would help his cause.

Can any of them get in the Cardinals’ good graces Thursday night?

Can any linebackers step up?

Last year, the Cardinals had the worst run defense in the league, allowing an average of 154.9 yards per game (No. 32), 4.9 yards per attempt (T-30) and 25 touchdowns (32).

At the center of improving those numbers is the linebacker room. Offseason additions Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks appear to be locked in as starters, while former Atlanta Falcon Brooks Reed, second-year Pete Robertson, and 2018 special teams regulars Dennis Gardeck, Zeke Turner and Joe Walker are options among players trying to get a role.

The three aforementioned returners led the team in special teams snaps last year, but only Turner saw any action on the defensive end – and that was just 18 snaps. Turner had an excellent finale last year against the Denver Broncos, after which he promoted himself as a “Swiss Army Knife,” but that didn’t translate regular season playing time on defense.

Can one of them secure a spot early in training camp?

Getting the DBs situated

There’s plenty to watch for when the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive backs take the field Thursday night. Budda Baker is moving to safety, star corner Patrick Peterson is going to be suspended for the first six games of the season and Robert Alford is new to the bunch. Also, there’s new guy to the group in rookie Byron Murphy.

With Peterson’s suspension in the equation, the Cardinals may have to have a “1” and “1a” group for the with- and without-Peterson scenarios they’ll face this season. How does that affect Murphy?

The Washington alumnus could be jostled between two spots on the field, depending on whether Peterson’s out there. Whether he’s in the slot or at corner, watch for where he plays and how defensive coordinator Vance Joseph uses him. Also, will there be growing pains for a rookie learning more than one position?

So, perhaps Murphy will be at corner when Peterson isn’t on the field, and then switching to slot when the veteran’s out there. What about nickel coverage? We’ll see.

Does Zane Gonzalez look sharp?

Going into this season, it’s officially Zane Gonzalez’s job to lose. Phil Dawson served as the kicker for the first 10 games last year and then missed the rest of the season with a hip injury. Dawson announced his retirement on Aug. 1.

How does the former Arizona State star do heading into a season in which he looks to establish himself as a legit NFL kicker?

As 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Kevin Zimmerman wrote recently:

Kingsbury is not concerned with kicker Zane Gonzalez, who missed three 40-plus yard field goals during the scrimmage Saturday. The head coach pointed out that one of those misses might have been a make; there was not a referee placed under the pylon that the ball may or may not have been kicked over.

While Gonzalez hasn’t exactly inspired confidence over his short NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Cardinals, in his five games in Arizona, the only two field goals he missed from from beyond 50 yards. He went 7-for-9 in FGs, making all five attempts within 50 yards. He made five of six PATs.

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The 5: What to watch in first Cardinals preseason game (beyond Kyler Murray)