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Quick Hits: Red-White Practice

Cardinal defense dominates undermanned offense in team scrimmage.

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

On Saturday afternoon the Arizona Cardinals held their annual Red-White practice, and unlike last August, were greeted by a ruckus crowd of fans at State Farm Stadium.

Several notable players (A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, J.J. Watt) were absent which gave way to numerous backups and fringe players seeing quality reps.

In a scrimmage that was largely dominated by defense, here were my takeaways:

  • The Cardinal defense continues to have their best camp under third year DC Vance Joseph. After so many years of lacking team speed, the unit looks to truly return to form for the first time since Todd Bowles roamed the sidelines. Isaiah Simmons’s presence in the middle cannot be overstated as one of the true impact additions to the starting lineup. The second year player was everywhere on Saturday.
  • Arizona’s offense was understandably out of sync thanks to the absence of camp standouts A.J. Green and Rondale Moore. In their places were backups KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella, both fighting for spots on the 53-man roster. After a brief series, both DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk were pulled for precaution.
  • Much of the offseason critique surrounding the Cardinals roster has been targeted at the team’s secondary, most notably the cornerback position. Even with the departure of both Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, the 2021 unit has a chance to surprise. Newcomers Malcolm Butler and Darqueze Dennard both shined during practice, with the latter securing what would likely have been a pick-six off Kyler Murray.
  • Zaven Collins was not the only Cardinal rookie to see time with the first team defense. Fourth rounder Marco Wilson continues to earn snaps at outside corner and could be a sneaky high contributor this season. The team likes his athleticism as he’s consistently been seen working after practice (along with draft peer Tay Gowan) with DB coach Marcus Robertson. What a cue this would be for Steve Keim for Wilson to hit as a rookie.
  • After essentially redshirting during his rookie campaign, Josh Jones appears to have finally settled in as a starter along the offensive line. The second year man out of Houston played the entire scrimmage with the starters, manning the right guard position. With both Brian Winters and Justin Murray dinged up, this appears to be Jones’s job to lose entering the season.
  • The closer we get to the season, unless the team is overwhelmed with an offer, it’s hard to imagine Jordan Hicks not playing for the Cardinals this year. Vance Joseph showed numerous 4-3 (and 2-5) looks on Saturday with Hicks, Collins and Simmons all on the field. In certain scenarios, Joseph would have Simmons rush from the edge, a trait he mastered while at Clemson. Given the inexperience of both Collins and Simmons, it may be wise to let Hicks assist in their development this season.
  • Colt McCoy is and should be the unquestioned backup for this team. There is a considerable drop off in both accuracy and decisiveness when compared to Chris Streveler. McCoy has won games in this league and the Cardinals could survive a week or two with him under center. The same cannot be said for Streveler.
  • While Maxx Williams did have a nice catch up the seam, the tight end position remains the team’s biggest liability entering the season. Both Williams and Darrell Daniels lack the necessary athleticism needed at the position to be a true factor in the passing game. This is still a position to watch in the coming weeks for a potential addition of some kind.
  • Newcomer James Conner had the team’s longest run of the day, as he bolted up-field thanks to a lead block from Justin Pugh. His size is evident and will absolutely factor into the team’s short yardage/redzone plans. Second year back Eno Benjamin also displayed strong explosiveness. He’s come a long way and should be in the driver’s seat for the team’s third string running back gig.
  • Andy Isabella will need to shine in the preseason in order to make this team. Both he and KeeSean Johnson are at risk of being squeezed out thanks to an infusion of talent (Green, More) and the (potential) pending return of one Larry Fitzgerald. Both had a handful of grabs on Saturday but nothing overly impressive.
  • The Cardinal defense has an opportunity to lead the league in sacks. After finishing fourth a year ago in the category, the team should be aided by the return of both Chandler Jones and Jordan Phillips. Marcus Golden is now in the fold for a full season and both Simmons and Collins can rush from the inside. Oh and J.J. Watt has been known to add some pressure from time to time.
  • Robert Alford is quietly having another stellar camp. Kudos to him for essentially missing 18-24 months of live football and bouncing back so confidently. He just needs to stay healthy.
  • The most important developement of the day was that, to my knowledge, the Cardinals exited practice with no significant injuries. The team returns to “live” action next Friday in their preseason home opener against the Dallas Cowboys.