Despite getting later into the preseason there are still a few key positional battles going on inside the Cardinals. Have new starters been found, have veterans fallen back into lesser roles. See how the third preseason game against the San Diego Chargers affected the five biggest positional battles for the Cardinals entering the 2011 season.
Lutui is the incumbent here, but I think Hadnot has all but sewn up the starting job at right guard. Hadnot looked strong throughout the game against the Chargers, getting very good push in the running game and performing well in pass protection giving Kevin Kolb time and space to throw the football. He was beaten once notably on a passing play, but he recovered and allowed Kolb to step up and complete a shovel pass to Beanie Wells. Hadnot played with the starting OL into the fourth quarter, before Deuce got his shot. Deuce in a little under a quarter of action managed to not lose any ground, but had no time to gain any playing for just 10 offensive snaps.
Four into three is the case here, and it does not work. Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald have established themselves as the starters, but the battle for #3 on the depth chart is still deep, and in fact someone who is involved in the battle for the #3 WR spot will not make the roster. Early Doucet looked impressive in action against the Chargers looking good after the catch and took on some tough catches over the middle of the field. Stephen Williams looked more focused tonight. He caught both of the catchable balls thrown his way, one, from Kolb was low and he managed to get his 6-5 frame down to cradle it and then have the presence of mind to get up and run after not being touched. Neither Sampson nor Komar recorded a reception in the third preseason game, Komar's only impact came on Special Teams, but that is a big part of the back end of the roster. Komar provides both return ability and experience on the kick and punt coverage units, neither of which Sampson does. I still give the rookie the edge because he has looked far more impressive catching the ball than Komar. I have Doucet and Williams as locks for the roster with Sampson and Komar battling for the final spot. Stuckey and Isiah Williams are not going to make the roster this season.
Today sealed it for me, these four are all going to see plenty of snaps on the outside in the regular season, but as we saw it today is how it is going to go into the regular season. The two veterans with the experience in the system have locked down the starting jobs over second year man Schofield and rookie Acho who will provide valuable spells for them. The unit failed to create consistent pressure yet again and it will continue to be an area of concern coming for the Cardinals and even against the 2nd team OL of the Chargers neither Acho (Who also looked a bit stiff in coverage) nor Schofield was able to get to the QB. Schofield beat his man once, but failed to turn the corner, and flashed a spin move once, but only succeeded in spinning back into traffic. This unit will continue to be fluid and continue to be a work in progress for Matt Raich and Ray Horton, maybe later in the season we see one of the younger guys emerge, but for now, the veterans are still the starters.
Another strong game from second year undrafted free agent AJ Jefferson should be enough for the rise from occasional healthy scratch and practice squad guy to starting corner for AJ Jefferson. He looked confident and comfortable in the offense. He made two very good plays on the ball breaking up passes and running stride for stride with Vincent Jackson in man coverage. Greg Toler was not on the field enough today to do anything to improve his stock, but what his injury did do is open the door for fifth overall pick Patrick Peterson to stake his claim for the starting job and stake his claim he did. Peterson played confident football, he was rarely thrown at, and made a great break on the ball to make an interception on a ball thrown out of his zone and then show his ability to take it back to the house. I still think the staff are going to be hesitant to throw Peterson in to start from day one, so injury notwithstanding Toler still has the inside track to start week one, but it is only a matter of time before the man from LSU is starting.
Lenon, while maybe not the more talented player is the more experienced of this duo, and when we are talking about the player who is going to be making the defensive calls in the huddle experience means everything. Lenon is solid, nothing more nothing less; he made a couple of good plays, but also badly overran one too. Bradley played a few snaps with the first team, but more with the second team defensive unit, again nothing he did stood out either good or bad, but it is going to be an uphill battle for him to start early in the 2011 season. As with most positions on the defensive Bradley will see plenty of snaps in spot duty, but Lenon has all but confirmed his spot in the starting line-up for the Panthers game.