Today we conclude the offensive positional previews, ending with the offensive line. It is a unit that has historically been maligned by fans, and rightly so. It is a terrible history.
But as we look at the group in this article, we will go over who are the linemen, who are the locks, what the big battles are, who is on the bubble and the questions about the line heading into camp and the season.
Who is on the roster?
C Tommie Draheim: first year player, signed to the practice squad last season
C John Estes: fourth year player, free agent signing this offseason
C Lyle Sendlein: eighth year player, originally a rookie free agent signing
C/G Philip Blake: second year player, signed to practice squad last season
C/G Ted Larsen: fifth year player, free agent signing this offseason
G Jonathan Cooper: second year player, 2013 first round draft pick out of North Carolina
G Paul Fanaika: fifth year player, free agent signing in 2013
G Earl Watford: second year player, 2013 fourth round selection out of James Madison
G/C Anthony Steen: undrafted rookie out of Alabama
T Cory Brandon: first year player out of Oklahoma, signed after tryout in rookie mini-camp
T Bobby Massie: third year player, 2012 third round draft pick out of Mississippi
T Kevin Palmer: rookie free agent signing out of Baylor
T Nate Potter: third year player, seventh round pick in 2012 out of Boise State
T Bradley Sowell: third year player, claimed off waivers in 2013 from Colts, originally undrafted rookie out of Mississippi
T Jared Veldheer: fifth year player, a 2014 free agent signing
The roster locks:
Veldheer is a lock. He is the team's starting left tackle. The Cardinals signed him to a five-year, $35 million deal. Cooper is a lock. He is supposed to be the Alan Faneca of the line. He was the seventh overall pick in 2013. The team expects him to be great. Lyle Sendlein is a lock. He is the anchor of the line, the position the team hasn't had to worry about for quite some time.
The left side of the line is very certain. Barring injury, it will be Veldheer at left tackle, Cooper at left guard and Sendlein at center.
Right guard and right tackle are up for grabs, as is the bench. That's why none of the rest of the guys are locks.
Key position battles:
The battles to start at both right guard and right tackle are the two battles that are most discussed. At right guard, it appears that it is between Earl Watford and Paul Fanaika, although Ted Larsen could be in the mix. Based on mini-camp, Fanaika appears to have pulled a little ahead.
At right tackle, it is between Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter, although Potter seems to be the one furthest back in the battle. Massie is in the lead at the moment.
The secondary battles are for the reserve spots. The team might keep nine linemen. They will likely keep the loser of the RG battle, a swing player at center and guard and a tackle that can play multiple positions. Perhaps another tackle, but eight or nine linemen seems likely.
This means that, if Massie stays as the starter, then Sowell and Potter will battle for the swing tackle spot. Both can play along the line. Likely only one makes the team, unless Sowell wins the starting job. Then there will be an interesting secondary battle at backup center. Ted Larsen seemed like he would be the foregone conclusion to be this year's Mike Gibson. He didn't seem to be in the mix anywhere in the offseason. Draheim was the number two center in offseason workouts, but got hurt. That opens up the job to Philip Blake or Anthony Steen as well.
Nate Potter is the most obvious bubble player. The coaching staff loves Bradley Sowell and he is versatile. If Massie is the starter, then Sowell probably has the edge. Will the team keep both Potter and Sowell on the bench? Potter is one of the smartest linemen on the team, but the question is strength and physicality.
Massie, although a projected starter, is also a bubble player. Because he only plays one position on line, if he does not win the starting job, being where he is in his career, he will probably not make the team.
Questions entering camp:
Beyond the "who will win the starting job at RG and RT" question, there are many.
Can Jonathan Cooper fully recover from his broken leg and become the elite guard that the team expected him to be? Cooper was a top 10 pick and his athleticism set him apart. His broken leg is healed, but Bruce Arians has noted he is not the athlete he was. That will take a little time, but what if he doesn't ever completely regain the athleticism? He could be good, but he is expected to be great.
Has the light gone on for Massie? Thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie, he was awful for half a season and great for half a season. He struggled with the playbook. Talk says that might be behind him, but will he turn the corner and be the player he was the last half of 2012?
Will Veldheer be the franchise left tackle? Arizona hasn't had that guy since Louis Sharpe, although Lomas Brown was a great player to have, albeit in his much later years. Arizona has tried its hand to so many players at the position. Will he be the answer this time?
Can the offensive line succeed with potentially four players starting that didn't start last year for the team? It is said that continuity is the key for a good line. If Earl Watford beats out Paul Fanaika and Massie beats out Sowell, only Lyle Sendlein will return from last year's starting line. That is the opposite of continuity.
Can an undrafted rookie like Anthony Steen make an impact? Steen was outstanding at Alabama and also played his final season with a torn labrum that was repaired in the offseason, killing his draft stock. He only got to return to football activities in mini-camp.
And the biggest question -- with the addition of Veldheer and the return of Cooper, will this unit be not only better than last year's line (which was pretty bad), but make huge strides? Can they keep Carson Palmer upright and open up holes for Andre Ellington? Can they actually become a dominant line?
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