With the end of the 2023 NFL preseason nearly upon us on Sunday, August 27, positions battles will come to a close as every team across the league must trim their rosters down to 53 players and prepare to finalize their depth chart for Week 1 of the regular season.
As it stands for the Arizona Cardinals, there is one position battle that has already been won. With Nolan Cooney’s impressive punting performance last Saturday against the Chiefs, the Cardinals released his competition Matt Haack this past Monday. Cooney is trending towards playing in his first NFL regular season game of his football career on September 10 when the Cardinals travel to the east to take on the Washington Commanders.
With one position battle settled and the Cardinals’ final preseason game taking place later today, here are my winner predictions for some of the remaining starting jobs up for the taking:
Quarterback: Clayton Tune
Colt McCoy is currently listed as the No. 2 quarterback behind Kyler Murray but in his four preseason offensive drives, he has yet to lead the first-team unit to a score and has mustered only 42 passing yards in that time. A couple days ago, the Cardinals traded a fifth-round pick for veteran Josh Dobbs but it is fair to assume he will not start Week 1 having not learned the playbook yet. Rookie Clayton Tune has flashed big play potential at times during Vikings’ joint practices and has led four preseason scoring drives behind a less-talented second-team unit.
Change-of-Pace Running Back: Keaontay Ingram
Keaontay Ingram has a grand opportunity to carve out a significant role in the Cardinals’ offense after a very limiting rookie season as their sixth-round pick only a year ago. Last week against the Chiefs, Ingram was easily the Cardinals’ best player as he accumulated 48 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. A good performance against the Vikings will secure his spot as the No. 2 running back behind incumbent starter James Conner. Veterans Corey Clement, Ty’Son Williams, and rookie Emari Demarcado remain the mix for the No. 2 job.
Center: Hjalte Froholdt
There should not be any questions as to who the Cardinals’ starting center will be. Hjalte Froholdt was a natural at center through two preseason games despite having only four NFL starts at that position in his career. In what looked to be a short-term fix, Froholdt might just be the Cardinals’ long-term answer at only 27 years old if he can continue his level of play into the regular season. Rookie fourth-round pick Jon Gaines has struggled in the preseason and during Vikings’ joint practices.
Inside Linebacker: Josh Woods
The truth of the matter for the starting inside linebacker job opposite Kyzir White is there is no definitive winner through two preseason games. Krys Barnes has 24 careers starts under his belt at only 25 years of age but he has not played much better than Josh Woods, the standout special teams player. Through Barnes’ 37 coverage snaps (according to PFF), he is credited for allowing eight pass completions for an allowed passer rating of 100.5. Through Woods’ 42 coverage snaps, he has allowed 1-of-3 targets. With Barnes’ struggles in pass coverage, I would give Woods the nod to start Week 1.
Cornerback: Kei’Trel Clark
Kei’Trel Clark has received a bulk of playing time with the Cardinals first-string defense. Head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis clearly sees something in Clark that they really like. Antonio Hamilton is the current No. 2 cornerback on the depth chart so their performances against the Vikings will be worth monitoring. However with the way things are trending, Clark, their rookie sixth-round pick out of Louisville, will start at cornerback opposite Marco Wilson.