Well, the biggest training camp event of the preseason just ended a little over an hour ago. With over 25,000 fans in attendance, the event (which features a live scrimmage) is considered the biggest event of Training Camp.
So, what were some of the biggest takeaways from the Red-White practice?
Let’s break down the top ten, starting with a look at the biggest story of the day:
1. Cornerback depth is almost non-existent after Ronald Zamort’s injury
Bruce Arians has believed in a “curse” by the local media, where he’s talked up a player (John Brown, Justin Bethel) only to see them get injured and have to miss time the very next day.
That trend unfortunately continued as Arians raved about the newly-promoted CB Ronald Zamort, who came down hard and had to be carted off halfway through practice today.
Zamort, who replaced Brandon Williams on first-team, was able to put weight on his leg it seemed but still was favoring his leg a ton. With him and Bethel down, Arizona’s cornerback depth is quite thin, and they haven’t even played the first preseason game yet. Zamort playing well before this also makes this more depressing as well.
If the injury turns out to be a serious one, it’ll be a big blow to the Cardinals as Brandon Williams doesn’t seem to be taking the step forward in coverage just yet.
Arians has already mentioned their need for a veteran addition. Now? That addition might be practicing with the team as early as Monday given this latest development.
On a more positive note, when put back into the first team lineup, Brandon Williams had some tough, physical tackles. He’s definitely not lived up to his 3rd round expectations, but he’s also been burdened by Arizona’s inability to be able to address the position.
So, if Arizona needs a corner, the question is….who’s out there?
Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams have both visited, but both have question marks about their abilities after down and/or injured seasons last year. Leon Hall is on the market, but he is more of an interior defender and the team has zero interest in Darelle Revis (with good reason after how done Revis has looked).
Keim might have to get creative.
Now, is the situation truly desperate?
Not just yet. Bethel has looked good, is supposed to only be out a week and they still have Brandon Williams. But a veteran need has to be filled, and today that need got a little bit bigger.
2. Dansby’s Day Off and Limited Work for vets not named Carson Palmer
#56 wasn’t out there on the field, so #50 Gabe Martin was called up to work with the first-team today.
Karlos Dansby’s (assumed) veteran day off meant that his spot was filled by Gabe Martin next to Hasson Reddick. It’s a noticeable difference, but the work was limited for Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Corey Peters and Frostee Rucker as well.
Arians said he wanted to see the young guys tackle, and boy, did he ever. The young guys got a lot of reps.
Even Phil Dawson got a day off, his kicking duties replaced by Punter Richie Leone (who hit an extra point…barely) so it wasn’t the most thrilling practice for most Cardinals fans who were hoping to see a few big faces.
This practice was all about the young guys, and that’s perhaps part of the reason why there was a seeming lack of buzz to the practice overall—some of Arizona’s best players weren’t on the field with the first team.
3. The Offensive Line got some nice push in the run game
With Peters and Rucker not getting the work, the offensive line for the Cardinals looked very good in the run game, especially D.J. Humphries and Mike Iupati. Palmer had plenty of time to throw, take that for what you will, but if that offensive line can be as consistent as it was today, Palmer might have some time to make things happen.
It’s encouraging and there’s hope that this unit will be able to mesh together, as they have three new positions playing after the departure of Earl Watford and the LT-RT swap of Humphries and Veldheer.
Of course for Palmer to make a playoff run happen, he will need help from...
4. The other wide receivers not named Fitz or Brown (and they did well)
Jaron Brown seems to still be on a pitch count but he had some nice catches and adjustments and Brittan Golden continued his good camp. J.J. Nelson still seems to be a bit hit-or-miss as a deep threat but there were some other nice plays from the younger players. Krishawn Hogan had a great adjustment to a back-shoulder throw and Chad Williams turned into the Cardinals’ go-to receiver for their third team offense.
Arians said the receivers had a terrible practice, so it was nice to see a solid performance today in a more “high-pressure” moment with the larger crowd.
As for the down part of the offense past the first-team, well…
5. Blaine Gabbert had a really rough outing
Gabbert’s first scrimmage was one to be forgotten, as he had a few overthrows in drills and promptly turned into the Blaine Gabbert we have seen in the past.
When his first and second options weren’t there, rather than extend the play from the pocket, Gabbert often took off, either scrambling or tried to run outside the pocket and make something happen. He also barely pushed the ball down the field, preferring checkdowns instead like another former Cardinal wearing #7 who was a top 10 NFL Draft pick.
The worst sequence of events happened when had an inaccurate pitch to T.J. Logan aimed up around his right shoulder (Logan recovered it) and then he fumbled a snap on on 3rd down the very next play. Stanton wasn’t the sharpest either, but he was noticeably sharper today and did lead the offense downfield for a score.
If Gabbert wants to have a shot at being the future of the team, even as a backup, he can’t have days like today. He will have plenty of opportunities to make progress and show of his skills in the games moving forward.
6. On a defensive note, there was not a ton of push from young players in run game during the scrimmage.
The linebackers and safeties seemed to be the ones making the most tackles, with the DL of Nkemdiche, Mauro and Pierre Olson getting gashed by Arizona’s first-team offensive line. There were gaping holes to run through at times, and if these holes were for Kerwynn Williams and Elijah Penny, imagine what David Johnson might get if this trend continues.
Scooby Wright had a solid day, but this Cardinals first-team marched down the field with Kerwynn Williams and Elijah Penny and scored a TD without having to throw the ball a ton. Palmer did have to leave the pocket at one point for a nice strike but overall it’d have been nice to see a bit more.
So take it for what you will but with a grain of salt, as two of Arizona’s starters weren’t even playing today. Speaking of the defensive line…
7. Robert Nkemdiche had a few “wow” plays today
One of those plays had him instantly in the backfield and starting right guard Evan Boehm on his backside. Nkemdiche and Budda Baker flashed a lot today, and Arizona needs to have him step up his game from last year if they’re going to have a hope of replacing the departing Calais Campbell.
Nkemdiche would have had a sack or two if this had been a real game.
So far, however, there’s some real hope that Nkemdiche might be this year’s “D.J. Humphries” and take a big step in his second season. One player who isn’t taking that step, however…
8. Brandon Williams had a mixed day
Williams started the day being demoted from first-team, only to see him retake that spot after Ronald Zamort was carted off. Williams had a nice job utilizing his speed on special teams as a gunner (he’s made some progress there) but was beaten a few times on the line as well, mostly by Larry Fitzgerald (which might be understandable).
Bottom line, Arizona can not rely on Williams yet, as he’s still developing and growing stronger.
9. Some of the younger players who made strides really stood out.
Scooby Wright, especially, seems to have already locked down the 2nd team ILB spot and is making a push on special teams. He had a few hard hits and some great instincts and angles, racking up a tackle for loss and what would have potentially been a QB sack after blitzing off the edge. While he isn’t the most athletic ILB that Arizona’s scheme prefers, he’s instinctual and a football player, a good special teamer and might become a fan favorite. Wright had a tough tackle for loss earlier as well.
T.J. Logan had a few tough runs as well, bouncing off of guys, showing a few cuts and carrying a player into the endzone, losing his helmet twice. He might be a sleeper player to have an impact this season.
Speaking of special teams, I think that former UDFA Hakeem Valles is the favorite right now for that 4th tight end position. He’s made a few nice catches (one over Hasaan Reddick today) and has been looking solid in special teams. This team needs a tight end to step up badly and if Valles can be a guy the team can rely on if the oft-injured Niklas and Momah go down again, that’s good to see.
All in all, this Cardinals team is relying on some of those young players to do well and, for the most part, they’re still rookies but seem to be rising to the
10. All in all, this practice felt a bit “meh” and there’s questions about this team after the veterans leave or retire....but that’s natural
In terms of what I saw, anyway. But that was in part due to design. With so many star players not getting a ton of reps (likely due to the 5th preseason game) it had the feeling of watching the 4th preseason game in that you weren’t totally invested. David Johnson wasn’t in the scrimmage, with Kerwynn Williams and Penny taking those hits instead.
John Brown and Justin Bethel are hurt and the other aforementioned vets didn’t do too much. Arizona is heavily relying on it’s veterans this year and while it’s clear that they have some young talent, it seems like for many they might not be there just yet.
There’s also another underlying reason to why this practice felt a bit on the “meh” side. The holes Arizona seems to have had for years now (#2 corner, punt returner, a wide receiver next to Fitzgerald) don’t seem to have been fixed. In fact, we’re questioning the health of the players who are supposed to be there or they haven’t stepped up yet.
This is an area where perhaps, this is a bit overlooked due to the players who sat today. But as it is, if the 2017 version of the Arizona Cardinals is what we saw at practice today, it’s tough to know if they will be playoff bound or not. The depth that their 2015 team had is gone and while Carson Palmer looks like he could play a few more years, there’s plenty of doubt and questions to be had.
Upon leaving this practice it’s tough to know exactly who the 2017 Arizona Cardinals will be, as they feel a tad unfinished. If a starting corner is brought in and the team’s veteran presence will allow a sense of cohesion, that might be all that this team needs.
But for now, with their defensive losses and questions on offense, it was reassuring to see a stalwart offensive line in the run game and pass protection for a strongly-performing Carson Palmer. If the Cardinals can provide that protection and run-game for Palmer, perhaps the defensive questions won’t matter as much as we think in the long run as this team approaches the 2017 kicks off.
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