The 5: Preseason questions surrounding the Arizona Cardinals
And just like that, preseason football is upon us. The regular season is on the horizon.
But before we start looking ahead to the Arizona Cardinals’ Week 1 battle with the Tennessee Titans, there’s still three exhibitions to get through.
With Arizona kicking off play with a home matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Friday night, let’s take a look at some of the questions surrounding the team this preseason.
Which starters will play and how much?
This season, the NFL expanded its regular season schedule to 17 games. With the additions came the subtraction of a preseason game, with teams playing three instead of the traditional four.
Head coaches are going to trek through the preseason a bit differently than years past, which will have an impact on just how much starters will play.
If there’s going to be an extended look at the Cardinals’ starters, it certainly won’t be coming against a Cowboys team Arizona will face again in the regular season.
“I won’t roll out much all preseason, honestly, but we’ll make sure … guys have a chance to be successful and play with an attacking mentality,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “But we’re not gonna show a whole bunch of offense.”
There’s also the “minor issues, things and deals” the Cardinals have experience this training camp to consider as preseason gets underway.
J.J. Watt and Jordan Phillips have yet to see the practice field, while A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins have all missed time due to slight injuries.
A series — maybe two — should be expected for whichever of the starters take the field on game day.
Who takes advantage of their reps in the wide receiving room?
Less starters on the field means more opportunities for backups and those fighting for roster spots to show their worth.
One area to keep an eye on is wide receiver.
Arizona’s likely keeping six receivers on the roster when cuts are all said and done. Hopkins, Green, Kirk and Moore are locked in, leaving two spots up for grabs.
KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella appear to be the leading candidates for the final two, with the former heading into Friday after stacking strong practices this week.
Isabella, however, finds himself back in COVID protocols for a second time this training camp.
The third-year pro’s potential unavailability for Friday’s tilt provides even more opportunity for players like Andre Baccellia to show off their skills to all 32 teams.
Baccellia, who has made a number of plays this training camp, is slated behind Isabella on the depth chart. JoJo Ward is another name to watch this preseason.
How does the starting right guard spot shake out?
Starting right guard spot has easily been the most open position along Arizona’s offensive line throughout training camp.
With a trio of Brian Winters, Justin Murray and Josh Jones all competing for the role, the preseason will be very telling as to who will solidify the right side of the line with Kelvin Beachum.
Winters and Murray seemed like they had an advantage entering camp, but have each dealt with minor deals, which in turn provided Jones with a lot more reps with the starters.
All signs point to Jones working out of the guard slot this preseason, yet he is still listed as a tackle on the team’s first official depth chart of the year, backing up Beachum.
How does the new-look secondary perform?
There’s quite a few new faces roaming the Cardinals secondary in 2021.
While the safeties room remains largely intact, the same can’t be said when looking at the cornerbacks.
Gone is Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, and in their place on the depth chart is Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford. They’re joined by rookies Tay Gowan and Marco Wilson and newcomers Shawn Williams, Daryl Worley and Darqueze Dennard.
Byron Murphy represents the only corner on the roster that started for Arizona last season.
Arizona got noticeably more physical at the position this offseason, but with Butler’s age and Alford’s injury history the past two years, there’s some skepticism as to how they will perform over the course of an entire season.
With Butler, Alford and Murphy expected to play limited snaps this preseason, the pair of rookies will be given more than enough opportunities to work their way up the depth chart.
Wilson enters Friday’s preseason matchup coming off a couple of strong showings in training camp this week.
“Marco’s a guy that came from a great high school program, played in the SEC, covered all those top wide receivers week in and week out, has a lot of confidence,” Kingsbury said Monday.
“Tay sitting out last year, still getting his football legs back under him, but has a ton of athleticism and so we like what both guys bring to the table.”
Can the early standouts of training camp continue their play?
A number of Cardinals impressed this training camp.
Moore seemingly kicked things off with an almost daily highlight-reel play throughout the first week of camp.
After spending a few days on the sideline with a minor issue, the rookie should see his fair share of preseason reps, especially with the team’s starters not expected to get much run.
Another name turning heads has been running back Eno Benjamin.
The second-year pro has clearly improved as both a runner, receiver and pass protector. The Cardinals have taken notice, throwing first-team reps at the former Arizona State Sun Devil.
He’s also getting work with the special teams unit, being utilized as both a return man and gunner.
What will we see from the young inside linebackers?
One extra question despite one less preseason game!
Easily one of the biggest storylines this offseason was the anointment of rookie Zaven Collins as the team’s starting MIKE backer alongside second-year ILB Isaiah Simmons, despite playing zero NFL football and two-year starter Jordan Hicks still on the roster.
Collins has received positive marks from his coaches and teammates, but still needs to work on refining the details of the position.
Their snaps may be limited, but a lot of eyes will be fixed on the young linebackers throughout the preseason.