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Five things to watch in the Cardinals first preseason game against the Broncos

The first preseason game of the new Cardinals era is here. Here are five things to watch as we take on the Broncos.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
How much run will fan-favorite rookie QB Clayton Tune get against the Broncos?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The practice jerseys and shorts are coming off, and the helmets and pads are going on. That’s right, tomorrow night we’ll get some real football for the first time since January. (Although that depends on how you view the last, say, season and a half of the Kliff/Keim era…)

The Arizona Cardinals will be taking on the Denver Broncos in the friendly confines of State Farm Stadium. Since this will be the first real game action for the Cardinals in the Jonathan Gannon/Monti Ossenfort era, there will be plenty to look out for. I’ve got several things in mind, but let’s actually start on the other sideline…

How will Cardinals fans react to Sean Payton?

Perhaps the biggest story of the Cardinals offseason was their pursuit of Sean Payton. Payton seemed to lead the Cardinals along for a bit before ultimately choosing the Broncos job. The whole situation left a bad taste in the mouth of many Cardinals fans (including yours truly). Will any Cardinals fans at the game boo/heckle Payton on the sideline? I won’t be at the game, but if I was, get a Kiltlifter in me and I might just give him a piece of my mind. We’ll see if any Cardinals fans get some liquid courage and do just that.

Who gets the QB snaps?

Colt McCoy was just named the #2 QB (behind the injured Kyler Murray) on the team’s first preseason depth chart. He’ll likely start the game and play a series or two. There’s no need for him to play more than that—we know what we have in McCoy. The three guys behind him—Clayton Tune, David Blough, and Jeff Driskel—figure to play the majority of the snaps as they fight for the #3 QB job. I don’t think many are excited to see journeymen Blough or Driskel, but Cardinals fans are positively champing at the bit to see Tune in action. I’ll continue to voice caution against getting too excited about the 5th-round rookie Tune, but I’ll be watching his every snap keenly nonetheless.

Will we get any insight into the new offensive/defensive systems?

We obviously have a new head coach, but the Redbirds will be trotting out new coordinators and systems on both sides of the ball as well. New OC Drew Petzing has promised more of a commitment to the run game and 2TE sets, while new DC Nick Rallis is switching from the 3-4 the Cardinals have long ran to a Philadelphia-like 4-3 and will show plenty of three-safety sets with Isaiah Simmons on the field. But we should get a little more insight into what these units will look like with some actual game action. Will the offense feature more pre-snap motion? Tight ends in the slot? RPOs? And how will Rallis handle pass rushers in sub packages? What will his blitzing tendencies be? I’m not expecting either coordinator to show much, but hopefully we’ll be able to get a bit more hint than we got under Kliff Kingsbury, whose teams were *very* vanilla in the preseason.

How will the rookies look in their first game action?

Unfortunately, we likely won’t see two of our top picks in action, with CB Garrett Williams still recovering from a torn ACL and OLB BJ Ojulari just coming off the PUP list. But there are plenty of other rookies we’ll be able to get our first look at. Top pick Paris Johnson Jr. likely won’t play much since he’s listed among the team’s starters (at tackle, not guard, thankfully). But camp standout Michael Wilson should get some run with the receivers—maybe catching passes from Clayton Tune? And maybe Tune takes some snaps from C Jon Gains II? On dense, LB Owen Pappoe, CB Kei’Trel Clark, and DE Dante Stills (another camp standout) should also see the field plenty. And that’s just the guys we drafted. UDFAs like WR Danial Arias (all the way up with the 2’s on the depth chart), TE Blake Whiteheart, and RB Emari Demercado should play some snaps on offense, while DT Jacob Slade, LB Kyle Soelle, CB Quavian White, and S Kendell Brooks should play as well on defense. Plenty of names to watch for.

How are “the vibes” around the team?

Finally, I just want to see what the energy, the “vibes” around the team are. We all saw how bad things were toward the end of last season—bickering on the sidelines, people generally checked out during games, apathetic fans. But now it’s a new era: new leadership, new players, even new uniforms. And one thing that new HC Gannon has brought is positive energy—I want to see if that energy has suffused itself throughout the franchise. On the sidelines. Between the hashmarks on the field. In the stands. In the press box. This is a new start for the franchise, so I just want to see good vibes all around. I’d also like to see us win the game to add to the vibes—especially because we’d get to hand Payton an L—but it’s just a preseason game, so it’s more important to focus on player development, cohesion, and health than winning a meaningless game. Let’s see if the new culture under Gannon/Ossenfort has started to take hold.

Final Thoughts

So that’s what I’ll be looking out for tomorrow night as the Cardinals take the field for the first time in this new era. What about you, RotBers? Any particular things or players you’ll be watching out for? Tell us below in the comments.