Training camp begins this weekend. Finally! It's time to see some football practice and, in a few days, hear some hitting. as the pads finally go on. With the Arizona Cardinals, there are a few starting spots up for grabs. We discussed some of them on the offensive side of the ball already. What about the defense?
Here are the top positional battles on defense:
Outside linebacker: Lorenzo Alexander, LaMarr Woodley, Markus Golden
Alex Okafor, coming off an eight-sack season, seems to have one side locked up. The other side is very much up for grabs. Alexander was the base starter all spring, as he was at the start of 2013 when he first signed with the Cardinals before his Lis Franc injury. Woodley was signed to add a vet to the position and ideally take that job. However, if there is a starting job to win for a rookie, Golden has as good a chance because of the perceived quality of players at the position. Can he be a young Woodley, as Bruce Arians said he sees in him?
Slot corner: Jerraud Powers, Tyrann Mathieu
While there was a lot of talk of how Justin Bethel could push Powers to start at cornerback this season, but more and more you can see, because of the leadership and because of the trust Arians has in him, Powers will be the starter on one side of the field. Aside from 2014 when he played almost exclusively in the slot, he has been a starter ever since he was drafted. The question now is whether he slides inside in nickel and dime sets and Bethel comes in on the outside, or whether Powers will stay there and Tyrann Mathieu, who played in the slot his rookie year, will play there again.
If Mathieu is the guy, then Bethel gets squeezed. But the Cards are fortunate to have two player who have truly been impact players in the slot on defense.
Safety playing time: Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon, Tony Jefferson
It is a given all four of these guys will make the roster. The question is who will play. All four are solid in their own right, but it will be hard to get snaps or all of them. There is Johnson, who is the coach on the field. He hardly left the field last season. Will he this year? What will Mathieu's role be? Will he play more slot corner? Will he start at safety of sub in? Then the Cardinals have their 2014 first rounder in Deone Bucannon,. He played almost exclusive at dollar linebacker. He might have that role again, but will he start at safety. In the spring, all four rotated with the ones. If I had to guess, Jefferson would be the guy to get pushed out of the rotation, especially if they go less with six defensive backs and only do five. If they play with six, then they can get all four guys on the field with Mathieu in the slot and Bucannon at linebacker. I am most intrigued about how this rotation shapes up.