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2014 NFL training camp: Arizona Cardinals secondary should be improved

Previewing the defensive backs.

Scott Cunningham

We are almost done with the positional preview series leading up to training camp for the Arizona Cardinals. Today we look at the defensive backs.

There are a bunch.

Let's look at the players, the locks, the bubble players, the roster battles and the questions, as we have done so with other positions.

The players now on the roster:

CB Justin Bethel: Entering third season, drafted in the sixth round by the Cards in 2012

CB Antonio Cromartie: Entering ninth season, signed to one-year contract this offseason

CB Jimmy Legree: Entering rookie season, undrafted rookie signee this offseason

CB Bryan McCann: Entering fifth season, signed last offseason and re-signed to one-year deal this offseason

CB Patrick Peterson: Entering fourth season, drafted in first round by Cardinals in 2011

CB Jerraud Powers: Entering sixth season, second with Cards, signed to a three-year free agent contract in 2013

CB Brandon Sermons: Undrafted rookie signing this offseason

CB Todd Washington: Undrafted rookie signing this offseason

CB Eddie Whitley: Entering first season, signed this offseason

CB Teddy Williams: Entering third season, second with the team

S Deone Bucannon: Rookie, drafted in first round in 2014

S Tony Jefferson: Entering second season, signed in 2013 as undrafted rookie

S Orhian Johnson: Entering 1st season, was on 2013 practice squad

S Rashad Johnson: Entering sixth season, drafted in third round in 2009 by Arizona

S Tyrann Mathieu: Entering second season, third round pick by Cardinals in 2013

S Curtis Taylor: Entering third season, signed in 2013, spent 2013 on practice squad

S Anthony Walters: Entering fourth season, signed as free agent in 2014

Roster locks:

At cornerback, there are four, really. Pro Bowlers Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and Justin Bethel will make the team. Bethel is a special teams ace and is expected to make strides at being a solid cornerback this year. Peterson and Cromartie are the starters. Jerraud Powers is a as close to a lock as there is, as he is praised by teammates and coaches alike. He is versatile. He will be be the team's nickel corner while Tyrann Mathieu is out.

At safety, there are four locks. They have Mathieu, first round pick Bucannon, veteran Johnson and second-year player Jefferson. Mathieu might end up on PUP, but because they will want him on the field as soon as possible, that seems like a last resort, so he will be on the roster.

Bubble players:

There will be one, maybe two corner spots open, considering Mathieu. Or it will be one corner and one safety. 10 DBs makes sense until Mathieu is healthy. The question is whether you keep an extra corner or safety.

Considering the fifth CB spot, the guys on the bubble are both good special teams players -- Bryan McCann and Teddy Williams. Both offer similar skill sets -- they are fast and are good as gunners in the punting game opposite Bethel. McCann has experience playing defense with the Cowboys, while Williams has bounced between receiver and corner as a raw speed guy. He likely doesn't offer much on defense.

At safety, Curtis Taylor could be in the mix on the bubble, being a decent special teams player and having spent 2013 on the practice squad. Orhian Johnson also was added to the practice squad later in the season. Both are big, which is the build the team is looking for, especially with Mathieu being short.

Position battles:

At safety, this is going to be a fun camp. The three guys in Johnson, Jefferson and Bucannon will battle. Johnson and Jefferson can play both strong and free safety, so there will be two position battles -- who starts at free safety while Mathieu recovers and who will start at strong safety.

Johnson probably is the Mathieu replacement and he is solid at it. He doesn't make many mistakes. He is a guy you can win with.

Bucannon, the first rounder, probably has the inside track to the starting strong safety job. That is why they drafted him. But between Bucannon and Jefferson, the"loser" will still find playing time if Bruce Arians is serious in using three and four safeties on the field on passing downs.

Questions:

The biggest question that looms over the secondary is when Mathieu comes back and, when he does, how good will he be? Will he have lingering issues? Will his missing offseason drills and practices hurt him? Or will he be the dynamic playmaker he was? Will Mathieu play multiple positions again upon return, or will he focus on either the slot or at safety?

At cornerback, can Patrick Peterson, who now will have zero offensive or special teams responsibilities, take the next step and become a dominant shutdown corner, eliminating some of the inconsistencies in his game?

Is Antonio Cromartie completely healthy? If so, will he play like he did in 2012?

How much does Bethel improve defensively? Will he find time  on the field?

Will the addition of Cro and Bucannon end the problems with covering tight ends?

Will Powers be worth his salary?

...

We have special teams left for tomorrow. What other questions do you have about the defensive backs? What are your predictions? Comment below!

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