Like a group of guys playing two-hand touch in a park, NFL players have been playing football in shorts (or jeans, as the case may be) for the past couple months. For the Arizona Cardinals, that ends today. But instead of grabbing a sixer of refreshing Bud Light Lime like the park guys, the Redbirds will be picking up their shoulder pads and starting to play some real football. That’s right—training camp starts today in Glendale.
Training camp is the time to stop talking and start proving it on the field. That goes for everyone—established veterans, free agent acquisitions, up-and-coming young players, and (obviously) rookies. While there will be a lot of eyes on Josh Rosen, Christian Kirk, and the rest of the rookie class, I want to focus on veterans who have a lot more to lose than high draft picks who figure to be back next year no matter what (or late picks with low expectations). These are guys who are competing for a starting job, looking for their second contract, or even fighting for a roster spot.
Here are the Cardinals veterans I have identified with the most to prove in training camp:
QB Sam Bradford
The Cardinals’ biggest free agent signing in the offseason, Bradford should be the most-watched player this preseason. Has he fully recovered from his knee injuries? Can he establish a rapport with Fitz, DJ, and the rest of our playmakers? Can he hold off the hyped rookie breathing down his neck? There are those who want to give the starting QB job to Rosen, but remember that the last time Bradford played a full NFL game, he put up Kurt Warner-esque numbers. Can he recapture that magic with the Redbirds? The season may depend on it.
RBs D.J. Foster and Elijhaa Penny
Both of these guys saw time at RB last year in the wake of DJ’s injury, and both have contributed on special teams. But Foster and Penny now find themselves on the roster bubble, with DJ, rookie Chase Edmonds, and redshirt second-year player T.J. Logan firmly ahead of them on the RB depth chart. With a crowded backfield, it is likely one (or both) misses the cut this year. Can Penny carve out a new role with his versatility? Can former Sun Devil Foster make enough of an impact on special teams to stick around in the desert? This RB battle might not be decided until the final week of the preseason.
WR Chad Williams
Many were surprised when GM Steve Keim used a 3rd-round draft pick on a relatively unknown WR from Grambling State last year. But he looked the part and put up good numbers in college (albeit against FCS competition), so maybe we had a steal on our hands? Not so much—to say that Williams underwhelmed in his rookie season would be an understatement (3 whole catches). But that’s in the past, along with last season’s coaching staff. With the WR depth chart as open as it’s ever been behind Fitz, can Williams carve out a role for himself? The names he’s competing with aren’t exactly imposing—Kirk, Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, Greg Little. If he can’t beat out any of those names, is he even worth a roster spot at this point?
TE Ricky Seals-Jones
Seals-Jones has been in the news recently for both good and bad reasons. Obviously, his recent legal troubles have cast a shadow over his offseason, but he also flashed potential as a weapon at TE late last season, snagging 12 balls for 201 yards and 3 TDs from Weeks 11–15. Tight end wasn’t emphasized in the Bruce Arians era, but new OC Mike McCoy has been known to feature the position at previous stops. Yes, Jermaine Gresham is still on the roster (and still has that big contract), but if Seals-Jones produces, he’ll play. His legal situation and rapport with our new QBs will be worth monitoring as the weeks go on. Having a consistent playmaker at TE would be a huge boon given our unproven WR depth.
CB Brandon Williams
It’s not a good year for Cardinals named Williams, is it? (TE Bryce is also on the roster bubble.) At least Brandon’s roster spot seems to be safer than Chad’s, and for the third time in three seasons, he’s firmly in the mix to start at corner opposite Patrick Peterson. The results have been mixed thus far, to put it mildly. He won the position battle his rookie year and started Week 1… and was promptly roasted by future divisional foe Jimmy Garoppolo. He fell way down the depth chart last season and barely contributed. Now, he’s another guy with a clean slate, and some feel he can finally break out. I have my doubts, but, like Chad, the other names on the depth chart are very beatable (new additions Jamar Taylor, Bené Benwikere, and injured rookie Chris Campbell). This is likely Williams’s last chance to impress. Will he make the most of it?
Of course, these players aren’t the only ones with work to do in training camp. A few quick-hit questions:
- Will Evan Boehm and Will Holden be able to hold onto their roster spots on the O-line?
- Can Robert Nkemdiche put it all together and stay out of another coach’s doghouse?
- Can Benson Mayowa make an impact off the edge while Markus Golden recovers from injury?
- Can Scooby Wright find a way to contribute on defense, rather than just special teams?
- Does Phil Dawson have a reason to look over his shoulder in UDFA Matt McCrane?
There are tons of other players with something to prove in training camp. Which ones did we miss? What are your thoughts on the players listed above? Give us a shout in the comments and we can debate until the first preseason game—August 11 against the Chargers. Real football is almost here!