We are only two weeks out from the day that veterans report to training camp for your Arizona Cardinals, and football will officially be back.
It's been too long.
So, as we prep to get through these last two weeks devoid of football, what are some things we might be able to expect from the Arizona Cardinals time in camp come this 2016? Let's make a few educated predictions below:
5. "All Or Nothing" Means A Bigger National Spotlight
This prediction was a no-brainer. You had to guess this was coming after just how well the national public received the eight-episode Amazon mini-series. It's possibly some of NFL Films' finest work, and if Bruce Arians was a media darling before it premiered, he's certain to have all eyes and ears on him as he enters the 2016 season.
Other things that will be interesting to see will be how many of the national media questions will be focused on "All Or Nothing"--such as David Johnson being taken because Ameer Abdullah was gone, questions about Carson Palmer's finger, and the like. With Chris Johnson back and healthy, will media put him on the spot with how he thinks he could have come back quicker? And with Dwight Freeney's prominent role in last season, questions will be asked into his status by the media, as well as if the Cardinals decide to not bring him back.
Such an in-depth, behind the scenes look always brings attention, but while it's not near the level of Hard Knocks, will it be a distraction going forward?
4. A Talented Wide Receiver Will Be Released
It seems like every year, the Cardinals always have more talent at the position than they know what to do with, and it shouldn't be surprising that you have to let good guys go to make the final 53-man roster. Plus with Fitzgerald, Floyd, Brown and presumably J.J. Nelson making the top four, it's tough to make the cut. The big question remaining, of course, will be who sticks and who does not.
Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden have been roster-bubble type players for years until Brown carved out a niche on special teams and as the 4th or 5th option, whereas Golden saw time last year due to injury to Michael Floyd. Even Jaxon Shipley impressed in his preseason last year, was a practice squad signee, and the team always usually can find a good undrafted Free Agent who plays wideout.
But there simply aren't enough of those spots to go around. Which ones make it and who doesn't will be something to look for, and you can expect that they'll have to let someone talented leave in the end.
3. The Crowds Will Be Bigger Than Ever Before
To put it simply, this Cardinals team is popular. After three straight seasons with 10 wins or higher, an NFC Championship appearance and a national NFL films show, it wouldn't be surprising to see this team be at the peak of their popularity as a franchise. Even the 2009 Cardinals team coming off of their first Super Bowl had surprise & low expectations on their side, and they where practicing in Flagstaff versus Downtown Phoenix. This Cardinals team? Heaps of expectations and a new generation of Cardinals fans in the Valley. We might get record-setting attendance for just watching practices.
The first practice will likely be very well-attended, with plenty of buzz in the air and be an overall much louder affair than in years past, and the classic Red-White practice might pack the lower deck of the stadium out. With his popularity, Tyrann Mathieu being on the sidelines will draw the attention of many a fan, and if he truly does return to practice by the end of camp as doctors originally predicted, there's going to be an army of Honey Badger fans there to greet him.
No matter what, there's going to be much bigger crowds down at the old UoP, so make sure you plan ahead.
2. A Starting Player Will Likely Get Injured
This is the one expectation we really do NOT want and pray does not come true.
But it does happen in training camp. Football is a physical, violent game and with it come injuries. The Cardinals, to date, have on average lost at least one starting player to injury for the season during the training camp or a preseason game. In 2015 it was Corey Peters. Darnell Dockett in 2014. Jonathan Cooper in his 2013 rookie season on a simple running play that . 2012 was Levi Brown (which turned out to be huge in retrospect despite Brown's many detractors) and in 2011 Greg Toler was lost.
It hurts to think about, but on average most teams do end up losing at least one player, so the Cardinals are not unique to this occurrence. It comes down to being prepared, having depth and leadership, and being able to overcome setbacks. It's part of what makes football interesting. And it also comes down to...
1. Steve Keim Will Work His One-Year Deal Magic
The Cardinals two-time GM of the Year winner has made a living not just with having solid drafts overall in his career, but also by bringing in veteran players part-way through camp or the season and getting a major return from a minimum signing. Some of the past players who have stood out have been John Abraham, Eric Winston, Antonio Cromartie, Jermaine Gresham, Karlos Dansby and Chris Johnson. Even Dwight Freeney, who's mentioned he'd like to return to the Cardinals, was a mid-season signing.
But for all the good signings, there have been some that just haven't worked out. Max Starks, Thomas Keiser, LaMarr Woodley and Sean Weatherspoon are all such examples expected to have a larger impact on the team at the time than they actually did. Even Dwight Freeney could be considered a luxury and if the team has an injury elsewhere or feels fine with their pass-rushers, maybe he doesn't return. Or maybe he will part-way through camp, who knows. What we'll call "Freeney Watch" is already in full effect for many of the Birdgang who'd like to see him back.
It goes without saying that Keim will sign a veteran or two, and maybe if there's injuries even more than that. The question that will be asked is: which one will it be, and when? And what will their impact be?
Fortunately, we might not have to wait much longer to find out.
What are you looking forward to the most? Are there any free agents you want Steve Keim to look at signing? Let us know in the comments section!
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EDIT: Originally had placed Dansby in the "disappointment" category accidentally, as a mistake. Thanks to @marblekyle for the correction!