It’s been a seemingly quiet post-draft offseason for the Cardinals as the Phoenix Suns’ NBA Finals run took up most of the bandwidth of Valley sports fans. But the NFL season is actually right around the corner, meaning the Cardinals will once again dominate Valley headlines.
Training camp is underway, and various storylines are swirling out of State Farm Stadium. I won’t go over them all, but here are five things I’d like to see come out of this year’s training camp for the Redbirds.
Clarity on the Depth Chart at WR
Only one thing is clear at WR right now: DeAndre Hopkins is the alpha. There are questions about everyone after him. What does A.J. Green have left in the tank? Is Christian Kirk a bust? Is Rondale Moore ready to hit the ground running as a rookie? Will Andy Isabella or KeeSean Johnson even make the roster? Is Larry Fitzgerald coming back?
Thankfully, things are already starting to become clear. Green is reportedly looking rejuvenated, and Moore has been one of the stars of the early days of camp. If those two can lock down the WR2 and WR3 jobs, then we’ll enter the season with Kirk as the WR4—and anything we get from Fitz/Isabella/Johnson would be a bonus. That’s not bad at all—if it happens. I want guys with clearly defined roles, not a lot of depth chart flip-flopping in the preseason.
Someone to Clearly Win the RG Job
Right guard is the only unsettled position on what could be a strong offensive line unit. It’ll be a three-headed dogfight between veteran free agent Brian Winters, versatile Justin Murray, and second-year man Josh Jones. All three have been getting reps along the O-line with several starters going through COVID protocol, which further muddles things.
PFF is projecting Murray—who started seven games last season—to be the eventual starter. Winters has a ton of experience, and Jones has a ton of pedigree. I honestly don’t care who wins the job, as long as someone takes the reins and wins the job outright over the next few weeks. We just need that last piece to fit in on the O-line to protect Kyler Murray and pave the way for Chase Edmonds and James Conner.
Harmony in the Front Seven
The defense was better than expected last season, and the unit needs to repeat that performance if this team is going to challenge for a playoff spot. We’ll get to the secondary in a minute, but let’s start with the front seven, which has a LOT of moving parts. On the D-line, we have to integrate future HOFer J.J. Watt and the returning Corey Peters. On the edge, we have Chandler Jones and his trade demand. Then at LB, we have two very green starters in Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins along with a potentially disgruntled former starter in Jordan Hicks.
There’s a lot going on here. DC Vance Joseph and his assistant coaches have their work cut out for them. Can we get the most out of Watt (assuming he is healthy)? Can Jones not let his contract affect his performance and return to elite status? Do the young LBs have what it takes to lead this defense? There’s a lot that could go wrong—but this could be a formidable front seven if we get satisfactory answers to those questions.
A Surprise in the CB Room
The Cardinals are more than set at safety with starters Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, along with several quality depth pieces. Cornerback is a different story, however. The top three options all have warts to some degree—Malcolm Butler is a journeyman at this point in his career, Byron Murphy has yet to live up to his draft status, and Robert Alford hasn’t played meaningful football since 2018. There aren’t many teams with a worse CB situation than the Cardinals.
I’m hoping someone on the CB depth chart surprises us. Maybe Butler recaptures his former Pro Bowl form. It’d be nice if Byron Murphy played like the high draft pick he was. And, I mean, getting anything approaching league-average CB play out of Alford would be a win. In a longshot, I’m hoping we found something with one of our mid-round CB draft picks, Tay Gowan and Marco Wilson. If one or both of those guys start to creep up the depth chart, we’d be in much better shape at this position.
This last one goes without saying. Even if none of the above winds up happening, if we enter the season healthy, that’s the best possible outcome. Let’s hope everyone’s ligaments, muscles, and bones all make it through camp.
Oh yeah, and no COVID cases either. (I’m looking at you, D-Hop.)
What’s everyone else looking for this training camp? Give us your hopes and predictions in the comments.