With the defensive side of the ball wrapped up, we're going offensive and today the centers of the Arizona Cardinals will be under the microscope. Going into last year the Red birds felt like they had a solid veteran starter and the starter of the future in place but things quickly changed. Al Johnson's knee didn't improve after off season knee surgery and the team was forced to remove the "of the future" label from Lyle Sendlein's title. The results were mixed, at best, but quite a bit was asked from Sendlein, a second year player who wasn't even drafted a year before. We learned of a shoulder injury that he sustained early during the 2008 season and hopes are high that he'll improve greatly during his second season in the starting lineup. Ken Whisenhunt proclaimed his trust in Sendlein shortly before April's draft and he backed up his word by not selecting a possible backup candidate until the 254th overall pick. With Sendlein in place as the present and future starter the center position looks solid at the top but who else will win a roster spot?
On the Bubble
Ben Claxton, Donovan Raiola
Our three 'bubble' candidates are basically fighting for one job on the 53 man roster and one might find his way onto the practice squad. This years seventh round pick, Trevor Canfield, could also get into the mix but he's got very little experience at the position given that he played guard in college. It might be a total shock to the see the Cardinals pick up a veteran backup center considering that Ross, Claxton, Railoa and Canfield have a combined two games of NFL experience.
Ben Claxton: Claxton spent most of last season on the Detriot Lions practice squad and was signed to the future's contract a couple of days after the Super Bowl. He (6'2 301) was originally drafted by the Broncos in the 5th round of the 2003 draft but he's since bounced all over the league, including Browns, Dolphins, Bucs, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders, Seahawks and Lions. He's played in just two NFL games back in 2005, with the Falcons. Just about the only bullet point on his pro resume is that he spent two seasons with the Berlin Thunder in 2004 & 2005 (NFL Europe) where he earned All-League honors both seasons. His biggest advantage would be actual game experience, if you count the NFL Europe, but his age (28) has to be a factor as well.
Donovan Raiola: Raiola was signed in March after finishing the season on the practice squad of the Seahawks, although he was also a Ram for part of the season. He was undrafted in 2006 and has never appeared in an NFL game. Railoa (6'2 293) was a three year starter at Wisconsin where scouts described him as nasty, mobile blocker who didn't play with the power that he displayed in the weight room. His biggest advantage would have to be that Ross and Claxton haven't done anything to seperate themselves from the pack.
Pat Ross: Ross would be the front runner to win the backup job considering that he won the job last year...except he isn't on the roster anymore! Doh! The 26 year old has never appeared in an NFL game since being undrafted in 2006 despite spending time with the Colts, Seahawks, Patriots and Panthers. He has decent size (6'3 305) and is considered a smart player but a marginal athlete. Ross' biggest advantage is that's he's the incumbent backup.
The Arizona Cardinals' starting center spot is solidified but the battle for backup center could be an interesting competition that comes down to the final week of camp. One of the spots we'll have to keep an eye on during training camp and preseason is which center is running with the second team. Who should make the cut and would you keep another center on the practice squad? Would you be interested in a veteran backup if one is cut during camp?