The clock is ticking down to the official start of the preseason for the Arizona Cardinals. The Saints will be in town tomorrow and the two teams will lock up on national television. Now granted, this is just a preseason game so it'll have very little baring on the regular season but to see the Cardinals run back on the field for the first time in eight months will be enough to give me chills. Keeping in mind though that this will be a game played predominantly by guys who won't make either roster, here are some things to keep an eye on:
Rookies: There haven't been many bad reports about the draft class or undrafted rookies from camp so far but this will be the first chance to see how they respond to being hit by a true opponent. First round pick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely be a starter tomorrow night since Roderick Hood isn't going to play because of a bad foot. Other defensive rookies like Calais Campbell, Kenny Iwebema and Chris Harrington should see plenty of playing time with the second and third units. Seventh round pick, Brandon Keith will likely see time on both guard and tackle with the recent injury to Carlton Medder. I can't wait to see how early Tim Hightower gets into the game either. I would imagine that if Edge plays at all, it won't be much and that could open the door for Hightower to get reps with the first team. Early Doucet is the only rookie of note who won't play. There are several undrafted rookies who could stand out as well including Lance Long (who's had a great camp), Ali Highsmith, Hercules Satele and Keilen Dykes. I also can't wait to see how Anthony Morelli looks in his first game action. I'd imagine he'll play at least the whole fourth quarter if not part of the third as well.
Vets Returning from Injury: We all know how many veterans ended the season on the IR last year and it'll be great to see the defense back at full strength. Of course guys like Adrian Wilson, Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry won't play much more than a single series but it'll be nice to see them back on the field. Leinart also recently said that he's looking forward to his first hit to reassure everyone that his shoulder is fully healed. Hopefully he'll be able to keep his jersey clean during the one or two series that he plays, but a hit or two won't be the end of the world.
Antrel Rolle's New Role: Ok if you can forgive me for a horrible and painfully obvious play on words, I'm sure nearly every Cardinals fan can't wait to see how Antrel Rolle will handle the move to free safety. Much has been made of the move this offseaon and even though we'll see a very 'vanilla' defense, it should still be an indication of things to come. Coach Whisenhunt also said recently that he'll try Rolle out as a punt returner, which should be worth watching.
Steve Breaston: Breaston's almost developed a 'cult-like' following this offseason with countless stories chronicling development as a receiver. He's the favorite to win the #3 receiver job and he'll certainly get an opportunity to take a step in the right direction tomorrow night. With Boldin and Doucet out, he'll not only be starting opposite of Larry Fitzgerald but could stay in the game longer than if the receiving corps were at full strength.
Tight End Position: There wasn't supposed to be much of a battle at tight end this season but Ben Patrick has had a great camp and he's starting to put some pressure on Leonard Pope. Pope partially opened the door since he was limited at the start of camp but both tight ends have been standing out in practice. It's rare to read a practice report that doesn't include a great catch by one these two. Pope will start but both should see a couple of series of action.
I might be making too much of the first preseason game of the year, but hey we're all craving some football, right? It's worth remembering that no matter how bad or good someone or the entire team looks, it's just preseason. No one is going to win a job or lose a job with their performance in this game but it is another step towards the start of the regular season. Also remember that if you're watching the game close to your computer, you can log on to ROTB and comment in the live game thread and discuss the game as it happens with fellow Cards fans.