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Top 5 Arizona Cardinals Storylines Heading Into Mandatory Minicamp

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What are the biggest stories and players as OTA’s end and the last big push of the offseason before Training Camp begins?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-OTA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With OTA’s wrapped up, the Arizona Cardinals are bound for a three-day minicamp that will be the last work the team has before taking a break for nearly a month and a half before training camp.

With the draft picks now in the room and more up-to-speed, we know a little more about the team. So what storylines will be worth watching over the next three days from what we’ve learned?

Let’s take a look:

Honorable Mention: Will Steve Keim Do The Safety Dance?

The #2 cornerback for the Cardinals was originally going to be one of the top storylines in OTA’s and minicamp, covering a potential battle between Brandon Williams, rookie Chris Campbell and veteran free agent Bene Benwikere.

Then Steve Keim traded a 2020 6th round pick for Browns corner Jamar Taylor and the answer seemed to get much clearer at the position.

However, Arizona still will need to have a true free/strong safety on the roster to pair with Antoine Bethea while sophomore player Budda Baker likely slides down to play the nickel on 3rd down similar to what Tyrann Mathieu used to do.

Safeties Rudy Ford is the lone carry over from last year, although after waiving injured S Jonathan Owens and signing former Panther Travell Dixon the Cardinals finally have a player who’s more than just a rookie, but they still have a need.

While I would HIGHLY doubt that a Tre Boston, Kenny Vaccarro or Eric Reid gets signed before training camp, it bears watching if one of those players decides to settle for a bit less.

5. Robert Nkemdiche’s progress

The apparent heir to Calais has had a....rough start to his NFL career to say the least. After coming in as a rookie and dominating physically two offseasons in a row, he got injured in both seasons and struggled in his technique. Now entering the all-important 3rd year of his career in Steve Wilks’ new defensive scheme that suits his abilities best, he’s got a lot riding on his performance.

The more that Nkemdiche can stay on the field and progress mentally, the more he can shake off the “bust” label that many are already attaching to him. While contact and most of the fundamental physical aspects of football aren’t something that can be hashed out in these practices, his mentality and work ethic is something fans will be keen to hear the coaches commenting on.

4. The Battle for the #2 Wide Receiver spot

At this point, you might call it “Christian Kirk vs. the Veterans” because until one of J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler or Chad Williams steps up, he might see some actual playing time in 2018.

The most intriguing name is the 2nd year Williams from that bunch. While fans will be wondering if J.J. Nelson can hold onto passes and stave off a highly motivated Butler, he might be the guy at his size with his strong hands who could capitalize in a quick-strike offense.

More information about where Christian Kirk is lining up and his rapport with new quarterback Josh Rosen will be also of interest as a storyline heading into minicamp. If Kirk can pass up the veterans by being more than just a slot guy, it might be a special season and a special draft class.

Speaking of a certain rookie quarterback...

3. The Rosen One

The only reason the first quarterback drafted by the Cardinals since 2006 isn’t the biggest storyline in minicamp is that he’s dwarfed by some even bigger stories.

The Cardinals are rebuilding, but they’re building around Rosen:

Josh Rosen is the future of the franchise, and after coaches (and players) raved about how quickly he seemed to take command of an NFL offense, all eyes and ears will be paying attention to any Rosen news that drops this week.

While Rosen is a far lock to be the starter, the more progress he makes and the more likely a possibility it is for many fans that he might start sooner rather than later and be that young franchise quarterback that Arizona has never truly had as an organization.

However, all that depends on...

2. Sam Bradford’s health

Bradford’s not gotten a lot of work in. In fact, he’s been arguably more limited in action than Carson Palmer was a year ago as he recovers from missing 15 games last year due to his bad knees.

Bradford is scheduled to get more work in minicamp, but if he pushes too hard or isn’t able to finish the full reps needed from the guy who’s supposed to be your starting QB in Week 1....whispers will start mentioning Rosen’s name.

Arizona paid at least $15 million dollars for a season of Bradford, and they and fans alike will want to know that he can tackle the required workload of minicamp week after getting very little work in in OTA’s.

Bradford would have been the top storyline heading into today, except for....

1. David Johnson’s “Injury?”/Extension

David Johnson didn’t seem hurt.

David Johnson didn’t look hurt.

Steve Wilks declined to mention the injury.

But just as Browns’ running back Duke Johnson signed a 3-year extension with the Cleveland Browns earlier that day, David Johnson wasn’t practicing. Perhaps it’s nothing.

Or perhaps it’s that he’s in the final year of his deal and while he’d never hold out, he wanted to send a message. Somers also reported that Johnson is expected to fully participate in minicamp unlike a few other high profile names such as Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Earl Thomas, who are all seeking new long-term deals.

Johnson’s in a bit of a tough situation, as is Arizona. They know that he’s on the other side of 25 as a running back and has played deserving of a top 5 running back in the NFL (not to mention that he’s ALSO the team’s #2 wide receiver)

But he’s coming off of missing 15 games and with how physical and short the shelf-life of a running back is in the NFL, it becomes a difficult proposition to know the right time to extend him. Common sense says that Johnson’s camp would want a new deal done before training camp, or at least the season.

Arizona’s side would probably want to see him play again and prove he’s durable, and that’s not even guessing if they could end up in a spot like when Carson Palmer signed his extension and then tore his ACL a couple of days later. (Palmer went on to having his 2015 MVP-caliber run, but that’s never a guarantee). And they could even franchise tag him if needed after this year.

Now...if it IS truly an injury? Then fans will want to see him practicing to know that he’s back and won’t be on the bench for another extended period of time.

My guess? We do see Keim pay Johnson his money now, before whomever pays Le’Veon, Gurley or another top tier running back where they can set the market for OTHER teams to pass them, rather than Arizona get caught up in having Larry Fitzgerald retire and very few offensive weapons for their new franchise quarterback.

If Johnson, despite reports that he’ll participate, misses or sits out another practice on the sideline despite not showing signs of injury, it will become immediate national sports news. And that will be what fans will be watching for as Tuesday’s practice kicks off.

UPDATED:

Indeed, David Johnson is holding out for a new deal.

At 26 years old with not as much leverage, he’s chosen to wait for a long-term deal with the team and will not be participating in the mandatory minicamp for the Arizona Cardinals.

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