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What to watch for in the Cardinals’ dress rehearsal vs. Vikings

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) scores on a 1-yard touchdown run ahead of Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Arizona Cardinals expect to put together their most serious dress rehearsal for the 2019 season on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Two weeks into the preseason, they’ve shown glimpses of success and flashes of concerning play from starters on both sides of the ball.

Position battles are ongoing on the immediate roster. But as cautioned by general manager Steve Keim a week ago, many more will be playing for their jobs with Arizona giving the Aug. 31 waiver-wire a hard scan because Arizona is atop the claim order.

We’re keeping an eye on a few things for the Week 3 matchup against the Vikings. First, the necessities.

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. MST

Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station

TV: NFL Network / 12 News (NBC)

First-team offense operations

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It would be good for the Cardinals to simply get their snaps off without interruption.

Quarterback Kyler Murray was flagged twice for false starts last week because of his apparently “abrupt” clapping motions. The Cardinals have said they believe that issue is ironed out with officials.

Still, penalties have shot the first-team offense in the foot beyond that. Remember in the first preseason game against the Chargers, when rookie receiver KeeSean Johnson caught a pass by the sticks but had stepped out of bounds prior to making the reception? Last week against the Raiders, Johnson was flagged for offensive pass interference on another big gain.

The offensive line has gelling to do. Left guard Justin Pugh is healthy after missing most of this month with a shoulder issue, and Saturday represents a chance for the Cardinals to put their starters on the field together for the first — and possibly only — time.

Nobody knows whether Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive “wrinkles” will include more pre-snap confusion, more pushing of the tempo or what have you.

The Cardinals aren’t likely to show much more than they have, but they certainly want to nix the heavy doses of penalty flags.

Front-seven production

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona knows that it needs to help its cornerbacks. More on that in a bit.

That said, the play from the starting front-seven needs improvement after a mixed bag through the first few games. Failure to contain quarterback runs bit the Cardinals in their first preseason outing, and a few too many holes led to chunk runs in both games.

On the interior, rookie end Zach Allen has yet to record a tackle; granted he’s not played a whole lot of snaps. A lot is riding on him with the loss of Darius Philon (release) before the second preseason game.

From a wider angle, the interior linemen and outside linebackers haven’t had the most promising first impressions containing the edges or consistently stopping the run.

At linebacker, run fits and coverage breakdowns have burned Arizona in the ground and passing games, respectively.

Even though starting inside linebacker Haason Reddick could potentially return by the regular season, the depth there is a concern. Eyes will be on Dennis Gardeck, Joe Walker and Zeke Turner as Arizona evaluates its depth behind Reddick and fellow starter Jordan Hicks.

Receiver standouts

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Let the Trent Sherfield show commence. Maybe the second-year wideout has already done enough to solidify himself on the 53-man roster.

With or without him in that conversation, there’s lots to be sorted out at the receiver position with Arizona’s addition of Michael Crabtree this week.

The number of roster spots depends on whether the Cardinals carry six or seven receivers, but it also matters what happens with rookie wideout Hakeem Butler’s hand injury. If it leads him to the IR, there’s another spot. Tight end and running back numbers matter, too, but forget about all these factors right now.

The real question for Arizona is this: Do younger vets like Pharoh Cooper, Damiere Byrd and Sherfield bring a different dynamic to the team?

Cooper has punt return juice, but what if Christian Kirk or rookie Andy Isabella — two roster locks — handle those duties anyway? Same goes for Byrd in the return game with running back T.J. Logan and Isabella offering an experienced option there.

Byrd is a zippy slot player, the type you can imagine will be used to draw eyes with pre-snap motions in Kingsbury’s offense. Is he a game-changer?

Cooper hasn’t been disappointing as a wideout but just hasn’t gotten as many reps.

Sherfield has made highlight catches in practices and games, can play any position and, as Larry Fitzgerald said, is playing like “his cup is always empty.” That’s why it looks like he’s got the lead in this competition.

Auditioning DBs

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The microscope will go on when Patrick Peterson is no longer on the field Saturday. After that, veteran Tramaine Brock Sr. will be joined by rookie Byron Murphy and second-year pro Chris Jones.

With Peterson (PED suspension) and Robert Alford (leg injury) out when the regular season begins, it’s about finding the right combination.

Keim could very well find depth at cornerback when the 53-man roster cuts come, but it’d make him feel a lot better about his current team if the trio plays well. Brock appears locked in at cornerback until either Peterson or Alford return midseason, at which point he could potentially transition to nickel.

Jones has only practiced at corner but has looked good using his rangy build and smooth stride to contest balls.

Murphy is the most interesting player to watch. Does he play mostly in the slot? Does he switch to corner at any point?

The Cardinals might rely on Murphy to move positions by the snap come the regular season to get their best players on the field, depending on packages. Does that hurt his comfort-level at either position?

Jones’ development also could become very attached to Murphy’s own. Is the second-year pro limiting Murphy’s development opportunities at corner, or is he there in the first place because Murphy might be more of a slot defender?

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