The NFL Training Camp season is upon us. Players are coming into the facility, working out and getting some throws in plus a LOT of testing for Covid-19.
And the Cardinals are one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL this year.
Here are the biggest storylines in camp to look at right now:
#5: Who is the team’s 4th receiver....and is Fitzgerald still the #2 by the end of camp?
The addition of Deandre Hopkins by Arizona for a 2nd, a 2021 4th and David Johnson sent shockwaves through the NFL.
It bumped down the team’s top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, down to #2 with Christian Kirk who was their primary outside receiver down to probably the 3rd option.
But...who’s going to be #4?
David Johnson, Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd are no longer on the team. That leaves last year’s draft picks of Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, Keesean Johnson or an undrafted free agent like JoJo Ward to compete and fight to be the team’s 4th receiver. Johnson already has the upper hand from his playing time last year.
Will Maxx Williams or the intriguing Dan Arnold breakthrough and give Arizona a tight end receiving option?
Or on another note...will Christian Kirk finally pass up Larry Fitzgerald as he goes into his 17th season at age 37? If he does, the team might finally be able to have a WR duo for the future even if Fitz hangs it up at the end of the season.
If he doesn’t...does Fitz come back?
Or will the team have a new offseason need added and a possible question about Kirk as a draft pick? Time will tell.
#4. Who wins the Right Tackle job?
The Cardinals went into the offseason and the NFL draft saying they were comfortable with their tackle spots, having re-signed D.J. Humphries and tendered Justin Murray and signed Marcus Gilbert to a 1-year deal.
And then they went on and drafted an offensive tackle in the 3rd round in Josh Jones (granted, it was the top player on almost everyone’s board at that point) and signed Kelvin Beachum to a one-year deal.
The last one is interesting because...while Gilbert has been named the starter, Beachum gives the Cardinals a veteran backup presence that allows Josh Jones to sit for a year.
Or could Justin Murray build on last season and prove to the Cardinals that Gilbert is expendable? Does Beachum end up winning out over both? Or does Gilbert hold them both off or get injured yet again for another year on a row?
#3. Defensive Depth on the DL and Corner
The Cardinals’ biggest offseason splash after Deandre Hopkins was that of DL Jordan Phillips from the Bills
Phillips had a double-digit sack season as an interior defensive lineman and is expected to start next to Corey Peters, but Arizona’s got a LOT to figure out after that on the defensive line with the younger guys....
-And other vets such as Adam Shuler and Trevon Coley.
That’s a LOT of 1st and 2nd year guys and...not a big veteran presence. Dogbe and Allen barely played and Bullard with 5 years of experience has more NFL playing time than the rest of the Year 1-2 players on the list combined.
The Cards will need to see another impact rotational DL step up either amongst the rookies or Allen/Dogbe who can take the load off for Peters and the others. Who that guy is will have to be decided in training camp...
The Cardinals also have an interesting setup with their top 3 corners set: Patrick Peterson (in a contract year coming off a 6 game suspension in 2019) Robert Alford (missed season with a broken leg) and Byron Murphy (some wondering if he’s better in the slot and had struggles as a rookie starter).
A guy like Kevin Peterson, Chris Jones will have to step up, or some of the guys behind them as well.
Ironically, linebacker might go from one of the more desperate positions to one of the deeper ones given the additions that have been made there now. The team’s counting a ton on a 2nd year player and two vets with a ton to prove, and if neither show up or if injuries occur, the defense could be brought back down in a flash to where it was the previous year.
#2. Kyler, Kyler, Kyler (and Kliff) in Year 2
The second year head coach showed a lot of adjusting, and in addition to his bag of tricks learned enough to have raised expectations.
But that’s still nothing compared to how Kyler Murray’s got to look at 2nd year QB’s like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and even Jared Goff who all took a massive step forward in their second seasons in the NFL.
Heck, even Mitchell Trubisky made a big improvement in his 2nd year.
The Cardinals will go as far as Murray can improve and take them amidst a difficult NFC West, and his development amidst a pandemic that has no OTA’s little practicing or even throwing w/ teammates and no preseason will be crazy to figure out and will clearly be the #1 story of the offseason.
Well, if not for perhaps a once in a lifetime sort of event going on...
#1. C-c-c-covid in the Cards?
Apologies for the Elton John reference (which usually goes with a certain team in New York) but unlike the above alliteration allegations...
So far...so good?
The #AZCardinals and the #Chargers are the only team’s in the league that have not had a player test positive for COVID-19 or opt out of the season thus far. The deadline to opt out is August 4th.— Vic (@CardinalsElite) July 31, 2020
Let’s be honest, though.
It’s almost expected that the Cardinals will have someone at some point test positive for Covid. Their owner already had it, and recovered, after all. Perhaps those and extra cautiousness and high team expectations are why they haven’t had to deal with either option.
Or maybe it’s just pure luck at this point. Or a combination of the two.
But the odds that it can be avoided seem nearly impossible at this point. The key will be to avoid spreading it just like the Miami Marlins and about...5 other MLB teams found out this past week. Is it possible?
If a player feels it isn’t, they’ll opt out of the season. So far, none has but the deadline also keeps moving backwards as long as the deal isn’t signed on the dotted line, leaving more time to consider for players...and to hear how those in the MLB are doing.
If the season doesn’t happen or if a star or key player drops out (the team’s depth is better but not great) it’ll be a huge story given how the Cardinals are a team many are picking to “take the leap” this year.
And here’s hoping that it doesn’t become a season-ending sort of storyline even if it will ultimately define the NFL in 2020.
What are your thoughts on the top stories for camp? Sound off in the comments!