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Cardinals vs. Texans: What to watch on offense in preseason Game 1

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The Arizona Cardinals open pre season on Saturday against the Houston Texans and the offense can get a nice early gauge on where they are.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals take the field for the first time in 2014, they will do so against one of the best defensive fronts in all of football.

With the best defensive player in football in JJ Watt lining up on one side and if the first overall pick in Jadaveon Clowney can get a series or two on the field, he's battling some lingering leg issues, the Texans will offer a dose of reality for the Cardinals offense, no matter how few of reps they will get.

It will be the test the Cardinals first offense needs to start the season with as it will provide an idea on where the offensive line is as far as just pass blocking in straight up situations.  While you never know if the Texans will go somewhat exotic with their looks and packages, it should be a good showcase early for the Cardinals.

The Starting Five

Much has been made about how good the Cardinals offensive line has looked in training camp, with praise being heaped on Bobby Massie and Paul Fanaika.

Not a peep has been made about free agent signee Jared Veldheer and that can be nothing but good, as he is quietly going about his business at left tackle.

The main concern seems to be coming from future Hall of Famer (at least he was at this time last year) Jonathan Cooper, and the fact that he is now splitting first team reps with 2013 fourth rounder Earl Watford.

Last year J.J. Watt had his way with the Cardinals right side of the offensive line, but with the re-insertion of Bobby Massie that should hopefully not be the case on Saturday evening.

More over, the Cardinals will be starting Ted Larsen at center, so things are not going to be completely normal, but it will highlight where in the journey of becoming a respectable offensive line they may be.

The last thing to watch is how much Jonathan Cooper will play.  He's allegedly struggling at camp, so much so that the Cardinals are splitting reps with Earl Watford at left guard, the same Earl Watford who couldn't beat out one of the weakest links on the 2013 Cardinals offensive line.

Many believe that Cooper is experiencing a form of "ring rust" just being away from the game for so long that he needs to get out there and play.

The question becomes, what if it is not.  Now I am not saying this is the case, but after the initial diagnosis and surgery the debate raged on whether he should be IR'd for the season or not, and the initial prognosis was he'd be back for game 12 and to finish the season.

When that changed, a lot, myself included, thought it was better that he was just put on the IR and allowed to medical red shirt his rookie season, get himself fully healthy, then come out and dominate in year two.

Well as things have progressed, the news on Cooper has never been what we expected.  On June 24, 2014, ten months after his initial surgery, he was still reported as not being quite 100%.  That seemed impossible, considering he was going to be back and ready in 10-12 weeks initially, but as camp has progressed, Bruce Arians and company have started to call the young guard out.

Many believe this to be a motivational technique, but you have to wonder if the year off didn't leave Cooper just with some physical rust, but mentally he is behind.  If that's the case then you have to get Cooper as many reps as possible, with the one's, the two's, and so on.  The Cardinals cannot afford to not have Cooper on the field in 2014.

As for the back ups, it'll be interesting to see if Nate Potter maintains what seems to be his slim lead on Bradley Sowell for a roster spot, and whether or not bringing in Max Starks to help Logan Thomas stay upright was the right call.

Anthony Steen getting his first reps will also be of some intrigue, but for now, it will be about watching the first team offensive line and seeing if they are ready to compete.

Logan Thomas' ongoing progression

Whether or not you liked the pick of Logan Thomas is irrelevant at this point, a fourth round pick was spent on the high upside quarterback, and through camp the consistency has been missing in Thomas' game, and that shouldn't come as any surprise.

The things you want to see out of Thomas at this point is where he is in his decision making?  Is he making the right read and right throw?  Is he taking calculated chances with his arm?  Is he using his legs to extend plays and get the ball down the field?

Bruce Arians and Tom Moore have a lot of work to do on Thomas' throwing motion, rebuilding his mechanics, getting his feet right, and using his tools in a positive way, but the mental side needs to be what you watch right now as he continues to hammer out the physical stuff.

Fifth Wide Receiver

The Cardinals drafted the smaller, quicker, Walt Powell in round six of the 2014 NFL Draft because of his upside as a receiver and his prowess as a special teams assassin, but Juron Brown, the incumbent fifth receiver, is not ready to give up his spot yet.

Brown and Powell should get a lot of work with Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas in game one, and it'll be round one of this battle.

There is a chance the Cardinals keep both, but who is doing so as a receiver?

Running Back

Much has been made of the Cardinals running back stable behind starter Andre Ellington and game one of the pre season will likely see Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes get more touches than Jonathan Dwyer (Arians knows what Dwyer can do in games), Taylor and Hughes should get most of their touches in the first half of the game.  Who's going to show the more explosive ability, someone that can pound the rock, but also gives the Cardinals a chance to have a big play?

Tight End Four

All of a sudden Rob Housler has some competition for his fourth tight end spot, and Darren Fells is an intriguing athletic prospect who is making the transition from basketball to football.

While Housler has likely worn out his welcome amongst fans, he is the most seasoned tight end in the current offense, but if the coaches feel like Fells offers more upside with little to no difference as to where the players both are right now, then we could see a move made.

Keep an eye on what Fells does well, and if it is something that can be useful to the Cardinals, then they'll pull the trigger.  The other question is... Does Fells age worry the Cardinals staff?  How maxed is he athletically?

That's what I'll be watching in game one of the pre season on offense, what about you?