Yesterday we covered the first five "viewing worthy" aspects of this Arizona Cardinals preseason opener yesterday and today we'll take a look at the second five. Now that the game is just under 12 hours away from kickoff, it seems only justified to welcome one and all to the Cardinals 2009 season, but with no further ado here are the final five things worth watching as the Cardinals open the preseason.
Kick/Punt Return Battle: Last year the Cardinals weren't great on either punt or kick returns, and they've lost their top kick returner while also hoping that their top punt returner continues to grow into a larger offensive role. The result is quite a bit of unrest at the returning position. Two players (LaRod Stephens-Howling and Michael Ray Garvin) will compete at both spots and will likely only make the final roster if they win one of these jobs. The only other competitor is starting free safety Antrel Rolle, who might be the most dynamic force on the roster, but his greatest value to this team is on defense. Who wins these jobs and how effective they prove to be will be a worthy battle for most of the preseason.
Co-Offensive Coordinator: There's a reason that teams don't often employ the co-coordinator role on either offense or defense, especially with a third person (Ken Whisenhunt in this case) calling plays. One might consider this a case of "too many cooks in the kitchen" while others might say that "three heads are better than one." While I'm sure there won't be any melt downs during the preseason, there will undoubtably be times during crucial situations when the 'running game coordinator' (Russ Grimm) will want to call a running play but the 'passing game coordinator' (Mike Miller) will want to call a passing play. Ultimately it'll be up to Ken Whisenhunt as to which play is sent over the radio to Kurt Warner but none the less it's a storyline worth following.
Leinart vs. BSP: Sticking to the offensive side of the ball, the 'battle' for second string QB will certainly take center stage considering that ESPN will latch onto a major story line with one of the Cardinals most marketable players. While many of this consider this 'battle' to be nothing more than ruse, the fact that Brian St. Peirre has been promised the chance to compete for the backup job with Matt Leinart is enough of a reason to keep track of who takes snaps when and how each QB does while they're on the field.
Health of Key Players: We already talked about the desire to stay away from key injuries but in this case we're talking about how healthy certain players are coming off of injuries. Stephen Spach is just seven months removed from a torn ACL but is looking to lay claim to the starting tight end job. Gabe Watson has had two surgeries on the knee that he fractured last year but he's hoping to return to his 2007 level of play and win the starting nose tackle job. Other veteran starters like Kurt Warner (hip surgery), Chike Okeafor (sore back) and Lyle Sendlein (shoulder surgery) need to prove not only that they are fully healed from various ailments, but that they are as effective (if not more effective) than they were last year.
Alan Branch: It's not often that a second round draft pick faces a make or break season in just his third season, but Branch stands on the chopping block this year. After two lackluster seasons highlighted by showing up overweight, a lack of urgency and an unconsistent work ethic and motor, Branch is very much in danger of being cut from the very team that traded up to select him with the first pick of the second round in 2007. He has shown up lighter and in much better shape this season, but he needs to show something more than potential over the next month or he could find himself looking for a new job.
That's ten things (counting yesterday's) but I'm sure that there are more. Who/What will you be keeping a close eye on?