With the preseason over and final cuts looming, here is one man's look at how the final roster for the Arizona Cardinals will shape up, position by position.
Quarterback: The three that will make the roster here is simple. Kevin Kolb, the man who the Cardinals hope will become the man to lead this Franchise to consistent playoff berths and the ultimate prize of a Superbowl win, the price paid for him, in both contract and acquisition means that this job is his for the foreseeable future. Behind him John Skelton and Richard Bartell are going to be the second and third QB's on the roster. Skelton does not seem to have progressed at all from where he sat at the end of his rookie campaign and Richard Bartell has taken advantage of this. Skelton is still in a learning phase and is still coming to terms with the depth and breadth of the playbook, Bartell on the other hand seems to have grasped the mental aspect of the game, and despite not possessing the physical attributes that Skelton does he looks likely to start the season as the backup for the Arizona Cardinals.
QB's = Kevin Kolb, Richard Bartell, John Skelton
Running Backs: At one stage this offseason it looked like the Cardinals were going to try and create a three headed running monster in their backfield. However as time has progressed the trade of Tim Hightower and the unfortunate injury to Ryan Williams has thrust Beanie Wells into the feature back, workhorse type role in his third year in the league. Wells was highly touted coming out of Ohio State, and the Cardinals thought they had a steal with the 31st pick in the 2009 draft. Wells however has failed to live up to the high expectations placed on him and while it is not yet last chance saloon for Wells with the Cardinals another season of failure in 2011 could have many questioning what he will actually become in the NFL. Wells is perfectly poised for a breakout year. Behind Wells is special teams ace and situational back Larod Stephens-Howling. He picked up 23 carries in his 2nd year in the league and that number could grow in the coming season, however I get the feeling that the #2 back is going to come from outside the organisation. Hyphen as he is known as is too valuable on Special Teams for the Cardinals as both a kick returner and gunner to hand too many carries. Whom the outside back will be is not something I know right now, but someone in the mould of a Chester Taylor, a guy who can run between the tackles, catch the ball and block well is the kind of guy the Cardinals are likely going to look for. Stephens-Howling will remain 3rd on the depth chart, and hold a key special teams role. Alfonso Smith is the best bet to make the team as the 4th running back, he has not seen a whole lot of action on offense this preseason, but the #4 back role is one that is keyed towards special teams ala Jason Wright for the past two seasons.
RB's = Beanie Wells, Free Agent, Larod Stephens-Howling, Alphonso Smith
Fullback: The Cards are only going to carry one Fullback on their roster, and it is a one v one battle between Maiu'a and Sherman. Right now I would give the advantage to the 5th round rookie who has also shown an outstanding ability on special teams. In this offense the Fullback is a little utilised role and special teams is going to be a key decider. In a twist the team could carry both Maiu'a and Sherman, but with one filling the #4 RB spot over Smith.
FB's = Anthony Sherman
Wide Receivers: The top three receivers on this team are set. Fitzgerald and Roberts are going to start and Early Doucet will fill the third receiver role, but beyond that it is as much of an open competition as it could get and whether the team will carry five or six receivers is up for debate. Stuckey has made a late case, Sampson started strong, but has faded and Stephen Williams has lacked any kind of consistency. Ultimately I believe that all three will make the roster. Special Teams play is going to be a key factor in keeping all three, and at least two of the three (My guess would be Sampson and Stuckey) will have to do a lot of work on coverage units to keep their spot on the roster. Max Komar was competition for Stuckey pre injury and the likes of Isaiah Williams and Austin Nichols were always camp bodies with a shot at the PS.
Tight Ends: The Tight-End position has gone from one of the weakest on the team in 2010 to a possible strength in 2011. Three new additions are likely to fill the top three positions on the depth chart. Arizona native and former all-pro Todd Heap brings instant credibility to the unit, he can block and provides a valuable safety blanket for Kevin Kolb in his first season as a starter. Behind him you can see the blocker (Jeff King) and the pass catcher (Rob Housler). These three tight ends are likely to see a fair share of snaps, and it is possible that we could see them on the field at the same time. Dray and Spach will fight for the fourth spot. If the team carries Sherman and Mau'a three Tight Ends is a certainty, if only one makes the roster, four TE's should make it, Dray has the edge at this stage. Another situation that will affect this is whether the team decides to carry nine or eight on the OL.
TE's = Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray
Offensive Line: A much maligned unit has seemingly played better in the preseason than many expected, but the issues are still there. The starting five is pretty much set in stone. Levi Brown,Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot and Brandon Keith will fill the starting five spots along the line. The tackles are the obvious weakness, but Keith has a lot of upside when healthy. Behind them Jeremy Bridges will be the swing tackle backing up both the right and left tackle spots and Deuce Lutui can fill the same role at guard. Both provide valuable experience both starting and with this team making the task of stepping into the unit in case of injury an easier one. Ben Claxton looks to have sewn up the backup center spot. He spent the entire 2010 campaign on the Cardinals roster in the same role.
OL = Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot, Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges, Deuce Lutui, Ben Claxton.
Total on Offense = 26
Defensive Line: Thought to be a big strength of the Cardinals prior to the 2010 season, the unit underperformed and will be looking to bounce back in 2011, the core of the starting unit returns with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell the starting ends and 2011 first round draft pick Dan Williams looking to elevate himself into the upper echelon of nose tackles in the league. Surprising rookie David Carter has looked very strong in the preseason and will back up the NT spot with veterans Vonnie Holliday and Nick Eason backing up the ends. Kenny Iwebema is the next cab off the rank is the team decides to carry 7 on the DL, and he does provide a lot of value on Special Teams, but I only have the team carrying 6 here to carry an extra LB.
DL = Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, David Carter, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday
Linebackers: The key part of the 34 defence, especially in the Ray Horton scheme derived from the Dick Lebeau scheme. They will be the focal point of the defense in 2011. Veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans will both start the games at OLB, but that is more in name than in practice. The OLB's will run in a rotation with second year man O'Brien Schofield and fourth round rookie Sam Acho seeing plenty of snaps as the backups. Will Davis fills the fifth OLB spot as a guy who will make his impact on ST's and see a few snaps here and there on defense. In the middle Daryl Washington looks ready to break out in 2011 after his 11 starts as a rookie. He will be joined in the starting lineup by Paris Lenon, though his job is going to be under constant fire from free agent addition Stewart Bradley. Reggie Walker will complete the four inside backers with his ability on ST's and his ability to play downhill football as a guy who will take on lead blockers. The staff are likely to try and sneak Sturdivant onto the PS when he can hone his raw ability without taking up a valuable roster spot.
LB's: Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, O'Brien Schofield, Sam Acho, Will Davis, Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon, Stewart Bradley, Reggie Walker.
Defensive Backs: The four starting positions are looking like they are all wrapped up now with the injury to Greg Toler opening the door for 5th overall pick Patrick Peterson to start from day 1. He will be joined in the secondary by veteran safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, who will hope to continue to develop their partnership and provide veteran leadership to the young corner duo, of which the other half will be second year undrafted free agent from Fresno State AJ Jefferson. Jefferson has impressed in preseason and starting is his reward. Late free agent addition Richard Marshall will fill the nickel role, while special teams ace and battler Michael Adams will be the dime back. The fifth corner spot on the roster will go to the best performing special teamer and despite his struggles on defense Marshay Green is a proven quality special teamer and he will make the squad with covering kicks his major task. Hamza Abdullah and Rashad Johnson will have the task of backing up the veteran safeties and will earn their keep on Special Teams. Matt Ware is the unlucky party here losing out to Abduallh on a combination of defensive and special teams abilities.
DB's: Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, AJ Jefferson, Patrick Peterson, Richard Marshall, Rashad Johnson, Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Marshay Green.
Total on Defense =24
Total on ST's = 3
Total on Roster = 53
Last three out - Matt Ware, Kenny Iwebema and Stephen Spach
Last three in - Marshay Green, Jim Dray and Will Davis