There are some open positions to consider for competition, as many as three major spots for the Cardinals to replace. Today, I will be looking at the positions and hopefully I will make some stunning declarations. Let's keep in mind, this is all for funsies.
So far, the Cardinals have had some minor success at CB2 with some veteran presence, and it could be a different feel this year. Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers, and Marcus Cooper have been the main competitors for the spot, with Cro and Cooper making it to the Pro-Bowl.
This year, it will be a different feel, with the Cardinals wanting to test the younger Brandon Williams at the spot, and I think that's a great idea. Is Williams ready to start? I look at week 16 against the Seahawks, as he was very much on the same page with speedy guys like Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson. He also played a very solid game against Jermaine Kearse when matched up. Brandon Williams will be the favorite to start at CB2, but will he beat out the competition?
The competition is slim, but includes: Justin Bethel, Elie Bouka, and recently signed Jumal Rolle. Here's how I'll break it down, Bethel hasn't been a solid option as an outside corner, so he will probably make more money in the slot. Jumal Rolle is interesting, as I think he played a very good year with the Texans in 2014, but that was also as a slot corner a majority of the time.
My last option is my sneak pick for the number 2 corner, Elie Bouka. He never played college football in the United States, instead being a Canadian corner from Calgary. Why does this matter? Because, look at the way the corners in Canadian college football play the position; off-coverage, typically in a recover stance, expecting a deep drop.
That's not what the Cardinals want. The Cardinals aren't expecting you to play jam coverage every play, but it is a necessary evil in this game. To be able to disrupt a speedy receivers route is key. If you're matched up against a possession receiver, then being able to use hand-fighting would give you the upper hand.
That's what Elie Bouka needed to learn. I think that's what he learned over the year, and with a full offseason, he could be a major winner from learning from Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson. We will see. Don't forget that the Cardinals are hoping the college game translates for Johnathan Ford and Sojourn Shelton. The Cardinals will probably see them as special teamers for now.
My winner: Elie Bouka
Last year was a total disaster for the offensive line, and it all starts on the injury front. We lost starters Jared Veldheer and Evan Mathis, but the bright side, maybe we found some depth. We saw guys like John Wetzel, Ulrick John, and Evan Boehm step in and fill a void. The biggest misinterpretation is that a lot of our blocking scheme fell to the wayside, but realistically, it wasn't as bad as many thought.
It all started with the run game, it was probably more enhanced with David Johnson in the backfield, but it's mainly because the o-line didn't fall off a cliff. Am I saying it was the best? Nope, but I think maybe we found some gems in the process.
Early in February, Bruce Arians told the media that Evan Boehm would get the first crack at the right guard spot. Naturally a center, Boehm isn't a stranger at guard, as he did play a year of college at Missouri flip-flopping between center and guard to make up for injuries. He needs to play to his strength; quicker feet to get to the second level. Maybe that quickness helps him at being able to pull-block. For right now, he needs to work on his core, being stronger in his stance, and not getting overpowered at the point of attack.
Ulrick John and John Wetzel showed glimpses when they were given chances, but maybe their best shot at cracking the starting lineup is to play inside. Ulrick John was beaten a few times while playing right tackle, but that's because he has slower drops. If he can get quicker off the ball, who knows, maybe he would be a decent right tackle, but for now, he needs to work on widening his base for contact. Wetzel played well at right guard when given the chance, but that's after he was flip-flopped from left tackle, right guard, and right tackle. If you're going to give Wetzel or Ulrick John a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Another option doesn't seem very viable at this point, as the Cardinals are one of those teams that emphasizes development. That would mean that Dorian Johnson and Will Holden (if he can't beat out Cole Toner, might not even make the 53) will probably not see the field. What if Dorian Johnson can beat the stereotype? He just needs to show that round-2 talent that made him such a compelling prospect; road grader with a mean streak.
The Cardinals could always look to sign a player, but I don't think there would be a difference maker like Evan Mathis (he never got started). You still have the afterthoughts of Cole Toner, who is coming off learning curve year, but if he doesn't make a big splash, he could be on the outside of the 53-man roster. Tony Bergstrom is interesting, as he hasn't been a consistent starter since his hay-day in Oakland. Can he be a starter or diamond in the rough?
My winner: John Wetzel
The least interesting position, as the Cardinals really need to fix their special teams, as I think they lost 6 of their 8 starts (plus the tie) by inconsistent special teams. No more Catanzaro, as we already know that Mr. consistent Phil Dawson is the new kicker. That solves one problem, but leaves a major void at either long snapper and punter.
Aaron Brewer is already instilled as the long snapper, so I won't get into that one (expect competition thought), but I really want to talk about the punting situation. Last year, I quite honestly disappointed with the way the Cardinals handled the situation. First off, what did Bruce Arians see in Drew Butler? Was it his 39 yards per punt average? BA and Amos Jones were always in the forefront to defend Butler, but he was consistently bad.
Then Ryan Quigley came along, and I started to think that it was a whole LOT better. I was very impressed with his hang time, and he did pin the Seahawks at their 1 yard line in week 7. So, he did show the ability to develop into a solid punter. Bad habits I say, as the Cardinals again turned to Drew Butler, I started to think "not again". Inconsistent.
We finally got a competent punter in Matt Wile, a former Atlanta Falcon who had booted a 56 yarder as his first punt with the Cardinals. Thank goodness, the Cardinals didn't boot Wile for Butler, so it shows that they are willing to get better on special teams. This time around, I feel a little more confident in the situation, as punting is very important. It's the difference in flipping field position, and all too many times the Cardinals started at their own 10-15-yard line.
Now it's Matt Wile vs. Canadian punter Richie Leone (not actually Canadian, played in the CFL). Richie Leone is a tremendous punter, but can he prove to be a solid holder for Dawson? That's something that comes to mind for Leone, as the CFL is different than the NFL, with the backup quarterbacks being holders in the CFL. Leone and Wile need to show the ability to flip position with booming punts first, and make sure they don't pull a Drew Butler and shank their punts.
My winner: Matt Wile...or Drew Butler