Then and now: Cardinals DBs have much to prove after 2019
The Arizona Cardinals believe they’ve plugged holes and built depth. On paper they look improved, though they’ve yet to hit the practice field due to the coronavirus.
They speak about flashes of offensive brilliance last year, the growth of quarterback Kyler Murray and a thinly manned defense’s improvements to end 2019 as reasons to be optimistic about 2020.
But the biggest reason for optimism is the upgraded roster. How different does this 2020 roster really look compared to the one that began the first training camp under head coach Kliff Kingsbury?
By position, here’s a then-and-now comparison of the roster last offseason next to the current 2020 Cardinals team based on our 2019 July preview series leading into 2019 training camp.
2019 projected starters
CB: Patrick Peterson (suspended first six games), Robert Alford
S: D.J. Swearinger, Budda Baker
Nickel: Tramaine Brock Sr. / Byron Murphy
CB: Brandon Williams, Chris Jones, Deatrick Nichols, Nate Brooks
S: Deionte Thompson, Josh Shaw, Rudy Ford, Jalen Thompson, Tyler Sigler, Jonathan Owens
Biggest storyline: Robert Alford is the No. 2 corner, but he’s No. 1 for six games to start
X-factor: One of Murphy and Brock will need to step up
CB: Patrick Peterson, Robert Alford
S: Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson
Nickel: Byron Murphy
CB: Chris Jones, Kevin Peterson
S: Deionte Thompson, Chris Banjo, Charles Washington
Last year was a reminder that training camp comes with its unexpected pitfalls.
While we already knew Patrick Peterson would miss the first six games of the year, we’d no idea Robert Alford just might be capable of holding down the fort. We also had no idea he would be lost to injury for the entire season, further pressuring defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to survive with unproven young players and a veteran who was waived midway through the season.
There’s a lot for each of the starting corners to prove.
Alford hasn’t been healthy for two years. Peterson is on two years running of becoming a headline for the wrong reasons, whether it be his PED test, a trade demand or poor play.
There’s no reason they shouldn’t be motivated. Both of them living up to expectations north of 30 years old (when the season starts) — considering their recent performance history — is easier said than done.
I have no idea here.
Can we include Isaiah Simmons in this discussion as a nickelback? Does he pry snaps away from true DBs like second-year pro Byron Murphy?
What if Murphy finds himself locked into the role as nickelback and shows out?
Budda Baker is entering the final year of his rookie deal and finally gets to settle in under one defensive coordinator. He could make negotiations tough with another productive season.
Maybe second-year safety Jalen Thompson is the most under-the-radar. The supplemental draft pick was thrown onto an NFL team weeks after deciding to leave Washington State, but he got his chance to play after the dismissal of D.J. Swearinger, Josh Shaw’s preseason injury (and later his gambling suspension) and stepping ahead of the fifth-round pick Deionte Thompson in the pecking order.
As the offseason went on through free agency and the draft, it became more clear how much the Cardinals loved Jalen Thompson’s development. Can he break out as a playmaker?
Take your pick about what to be excited about. That’s a good thing for the Cardinals, because Tramaine Brock and a rookie cornerback being forced to start surely wasn’t the most sexy X-factor topic a year ago.