Looming questions for the Arizona Cardinals ahead of training camp
After getting through organized team activities and minicamp, the Arizona Cardinals now embark on training camp.
And while we have some sort of clarity behind starting center Rodney Hudson’s playing situation, there’s still quite a bit to keep tabs on as the offseason heads into it’s final phase.
So without further ado, let’s dive right into the lingering questions surrounding Cardinals camp:
Who takes over as the team’s No. 2 option in the backfield and who’s the odd man out?
When the Cardinals went out and nabbed former Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams this offseason, all signs pointed to him being the No. 2 option behind James Conner.
But a strong offseason from Arizona State alum Eno Benjamin has the RB’s name in the mix.
“For the young players, I’ve seen some great development from guys,” Kingsbury said. “Eno Benjamin’s been tremendous — another guy who never had an offseason — and he’s out there and looks like he could be a starting running back.
“The pass-catching ability, the (pass protection) has just improved dramatically,” the head coach added. “He was running to exhaustion every day he was here at OTAs. Really excited about what I’ve seen from him and how far he’s come.”
On top of naming that No. 2 running back, Kingsbury and Co. will also be tasked with making the tough decision at the end of the depth chart.
With five running backs in the room and the expectation the team keeps four, there’s likely going to be an odd man out.
Who that will be remains up in the air.
Conner is a lock given his 2021 stats and offseason extension. Benjamin and Jonathan Ward appear safe as well given their special teams work. Williams is coming off a productive year, and Arizona nabbed Keaontay Ingram in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Who takes the bulk of the reps at starting MIKE backer?
With the release of linebacker Jordan Hicks this offseason, the path was cleared for second-year pro Zaven Collins to be what the team envisioned him being last season: Arizona’s starting MIKE linebacker.
That was until Collins said there were others taking reps in the middle this offseason.
“I could be the man in the middle. I could be somewhere in the middle but maybe not calling (the defense),” Collins said last Tuesday. “We don’t know what that is yet, so we’ll take that as we go into training camp.
“But I feel comfortable now, obviously having a year under my belt and going through the whole entire playbook and obviously learning other positions.”
In addition to Collins, Nick Vigil and Tanner Vallejo have been two other names tasked with playing in the middle this offseason.
Can Collins carve out a meaningful role or will he have to pick up the lingering scraps, much like last season.
How does the OLB spot opposite Markus Golden shake out?
Among the free-agent departures this offseason, losing Chandler Jones ranks right up there at the top for the Cardinals.
Without a clear-cut replacement for Jones on the edge, the Cardinals head into training camp needing to figure out the OLB spot opposite Markus Golden.
Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph have already spoken on the fact that there are not many who can command the type of attention Jones brings. An edge-rusher-by-committee type deal is likely given the current roster construction.
On top of extending Dennis Gardeck this offseason, Arizona also added a pair of third-round pass rushers in Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders that figure to get a good look in camp.
While the two rookies have the build for the position, the onus will be on them to pick up the playbook and get up to NFL speed.
Luckily for Arizona, having the team’s 2021 sacks leader in Golden to lean on will give the rookies a good blueprint to follow while also bringing some continuity to the position.
What will the offense look like without DeAndre Hopkins?
Among the biggest storylines this offseason has been the suspension of No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Out for the first six weeks of the season for violating the league’s PED policy, the earliest Hopkins can return is Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints.
One way the team countered the suspension was by trading for Hollywood Brown during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but how Kingsbury hopes to integrate the former Baltimore Raven into the offense remains to be seen.
“I think Hop is such a dynamic playmaker that when he gets back we’ll kind of see where we’re at, how it’s been going, who’s playing the best where and adjust from there. I think we’ll have a plan going in where we want guys to start positionally and go from there,” Kingsbury said.
“He can stretch the defense there’s no doubt,” Kingsbury added of Brown. “Vertically, he can really roll. He had a bunch of big plays last year, could have had more I felt like. That’s an aspect of having A.J., Rondale, him, guys that can stretch the field from all angles is going to be good for us.”
Who takes hold of the third CB spot?
One of the Cardinals’ biggest areas of need this offseason was adding another capable cornerback with Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson.
With the addition of Vikings 2020 first-rounder Jeff Gladney, Arizona appeared to have their CB3 this offseason. Sadly, Gladney and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in May.
Without Gladney, questions once again surround the CBs room.
Outside of any late offseason additions, the Cardinals’ most likely candidates to take over as the team’s third corner are Antonio Hamilton and Josh Jackson.
Hamilton re-signed with the team after playing 17 games (two starts) for Arizona last season. Over that span, he recorded 38 tackles and four passes defensed.
Jackson was added to the roster last Thursday after trying out with the team during minicamp. The corner saw at least 12 games a season as a member of the Green Bay Packers (2018-2020) before playing a pair with the Chiefs in 2021.
What kind of Keim-time signings can we expect?
A good majority of the roster is intact for general manager Steve Keim.
But that doesn’t mean his offseason work is complete.
With the tragic loss of Gladney and the unknown surrounding Hudson, cornerback and center depth are two areas to consider, as are interior defensive line and outside linebacker.