It's simply the nature of the NFL that 22 players who currently call themselves Arizona Cardinals, will be unemployed by the end of this coming weekend. The bad news will be given to hundreds of players across the NFL within the next week and many will be left hoping for a place on some team's practice squad or maybe the newly formed UFL. Before anyone has to worry about their new football home though, the bubble players will have one last shot to impress the coaching staff this Thursday when the Cardinals travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. Here's a quick list at the battles at various positions.
Kreider vs. Castille: With four running backs expected to make the final roster, thanks to LaRod Stephens-Howling's impressive play over the past month, the Cardinals are expected to carry just one fullback. That leaves three guys, Dan Kreider, Tim Castille and Reagan Maui'a, fighting for one spot, although truth be told it's really just a battle between Krieder and Castille. No one has really established themselves and each guy brings something different to the table. Krieder is hands down the better blocker and he's a "Whiz-guy" but Castille's versatility out of the backfield and prowess on special teams gives him a shot.
Long versus the Unknown: The only real question for the Cardinals to answer at wide receiver is how many they want to carry. Assuming that Early Doucet's recent rib injury won't effect his roster status, the teams top six wide outs are virtually set in stone (Fitz, Q, Breaston, Urban, Doucet and Morey). That leaves fan favorite Lance Long fighting for a spot that simply might not be there, but the team has carried seven wide receivers before. The injury risk of a couple of those guys and Long's ability to contribute on special teams leaves the door open. At this point Orea Jones, who's been impressive during the preseason, is simply showcasing himself to other teams or hoping for a practice squad job.
Brown vs. Ross: The offensive line is sort of the in the same predicament as the wide receiver spot considering that they've got quite a few semi-capable bodies but not enough roster spots for everyone. What we know is that Gandy, Wells, Sendlein, Lutui, Levi Brown, Keith and Johnson are all locks make the final 53. If you're counting that's seven bodies and most squads carry eight or nine (although the Cards have kept ten before). That leaves two or maybe three spots up for grabs. One of the spots will undoubtedly be filled by a center and that battle seems to have boiled down to Ben Claxton versus Melvin Fowler. Fowler has a huge edge in experience and would seem to be the front runner but don't count out Claxton's familiarity with the offense. Assuming that the backup center spot is filled by one of these two (but not both), that leaves eight guys with Elton Brown, Trevor Canfield, Carlton Medder and Oliver Ross on the outside looking with one or two spots to fill. Of these remaining four, I'd have to say the top two are Brown and Ross and they'd be battling for the final spot or could be the final two in, if the team decides to keep 10 offensive lineman.
Unknown at Tight End: As we stated yesterday the only thing we really know about the tight end spot is that we really don't know anything. The best bet right now is that Ben Patrick is essentially assured of the roster spot to start the season but that's only because he won't count against the 53 until his four game suspension is over. With that in mind, we'll set him aside and just look at the remainder. The Cardinals in the past have carried as few as two tight ends and as many as four so it's possible that Stephen Spach, Leonard Pope, Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd could all make the opening day roster, but that's probably a stretch considering how little the tight end is used in the passing game. Our best bet is that three with make the opening day 53 (not counting Patrick remember) with either Pope or Byrd getting cut.
Branch vs. Dykes: This much we know on the defensive line, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Bryan Robinson, Kenny Iwebema and Gabe Watson are all locks, even though Watson looked terrible against the Packers. It's tough to look at the Caridnals historically to see how many defensive lineman they kept because the 3-4 defense requires less lineman and more linebackers, but we can be sure that Keilen Dykes, Alan Branch, Alex Field, Rodney Leisle are all at the very least on the bubble. I don't think there would be any debate to say that Dykes and Branch are the best of those four but it could come down to whether the Cardinals want to keep six or seven defensive lineman. If they chose to go with six DL, I think Branch would be the choice considering that Dykes has had serious problems stay healthy over the past two training camps. His inability to stay on the field probably means that the Cards could stash him on the practice squad for an eventful call up when someone gets hurt.
Linebackers Help: Outside of the starters at linebacker, Dansby, Hayes, Haggans and Okeafor, I'm not sure that anyone is assured of a roster spot. Bertrand Berry would seem like a lock but he's done a complete disappearing act so far during the preseason. Victor Hobson, Will Davis and perhaps even Reggie Walker would seem like the next closest thing to locks. Hobson has experience in a 3-4 and can play inside and out while Davis and Walker have been impressive over the past couple of games. There's also Ali Highsmith who's failed to produce the same kind of buzz that he did last year. Chase Bullock and David Holloway round out the rest of the roster but neither of them have done much to warrant a roster spot. If the Cards had to decide today, I'm thinking that they'd keep the starters plus Berry, Hobson, Davis and Walker although this could be one position that gets an upgrade once other teams make their cuts.
Ware vs. Adams: There will be some tough decisions made in the secondary where it would seem that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bryant McFadden, Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle, Rashad Johnson and Ralph Brown are all locks to make the squad. Brown has struggled in the preseason but so has the depth behind him so it's highly doubtful that his spot is in jeopardy. With six locks that leaves Aaron Francisco, Greg Toler, Matt Ware, Michael Adams, Jameel Dowling and Wilrey Fontenot fighting for what will probably end up being eight or nine spots. Francisco and Toler are certainly the front-runners of the bubble group so the real battle comes down to Ware versus Adams. It's possible that the team could keep all ten members of the secondary, they've done it before, but nine is a more manageable number. Ware has much more experience with the regular defense and is probably the more talented player but Adams' standout performances on special teams give him a shot.
Thoughts? Who wins these battles and who makes your final 53?