With Arizona Cardinals training camp inching closer, it’s time to roll out an early depth chart.
Predicting two-deep charts can be tricky, but the Cardinals are pretty set across the board and not much will change from right now—save for an injury, knock on wood.
Arizona has a nice mix of youth and experience at nearly all positions, and that will help the team continue its rise to prominence.
We have a lot to go over, so without further hesitation I give you the Cardinals pre-training camp depth chart.
In what could be the most polarizing quarterback controversy in franchise history, Kolb versus Skelton has divided an entire fanbase.
Both sides have good points to support why their guy should be the starter, but ultimately it will come down to which quarterback shows the most improvement when given the chance in both training camp and during preseason games.
At times, both men showed promise last year. And at times, both men were simply awful.
No matter which man wins the job this season, if he wants to keep it, he will need to be more consistent overall. Kolb completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions for an 81.1 rating. Skelton completed 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,913 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 68.9 rating.
Both have promise. Only one will win.
Wells and Williams could be the best running back tandem in the NFC West by season’s end. That is, as long as both are fully recovered from knee surgery and stay healthy.
While Wells rushed for a career-high 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago, Williams spent his rookie season on the shelf after showing a ton of talent during training camp.
Cutting down on Wells’ carries moving forward will be a big step in keeping the fourth-year veteran healthy, as he and Williams could see their playing time split right down the middle. While the former is a powerful runner with enough speed to set the edge, Williams can do it all out of the backfield. He will be a major asset to the passing game as well.
Undrafted free agent Jared Crank is merely a camp body to give Anthony Sherman a rest when he needs one.
Arizona carries only one fullback on its roster, and Sherman proved he was more than worth the fifth-round pick in last year’s draft.
Sherman is a tank—an old-style fullback valuable as both a pass-catcher and a run-blocker. He will be around for a long time, and giving up his starting spot is not on the agenda.
The Schwartz is strong with this one...
Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver in the NFL. That can be argued, but to no avail.
No other receiver over the past two years has done as much with as little help as Fitzgerald.
Now Michael Floyd comes in (with a shiny new contract) and will provide Fitz with some much-needed across-the-field help, hopefully forcing defenses to shift some coverage the rookie’s way.
Floyd can get deep on a secondary, so if they choose to focus mainly on Larry’s side of the field, Floyd will have the advantage. If both safeties end up helping corners out on both Fitz and Floyd, the running game will have the advantage.
He will also help Early Doucet and Andre Roberts, as they should benefit from a lot of one-on-one coverage from the slot.
Do you see where this is going?
The addition of Michael Floyd will be one people can look at down the road as one that helped Arizona complete an offensive turnaround. How soon will that happen?
Tight end has never been a position of strength for Arizona. They have had talent, but for one reason or another that talent has often fizzled.
That was once again true last season.
Now, though, there are new expectations for the group. Everyone is back and healthy, so things could be vastly different for Heap and Housler.
The veteran Heap should be the No. 1 going into training camp, though Housler could take over that role soon if he plays as coaches believe he can. The big, young speedster has talent and potential to spare, but he wasn’t able to put it on display much as a rookie.
He caught just 12 passes and dropped six last year.
Jeff King, who led the unit in receiving last year and was the only consistently healthy option, could vie for early playing time should either Heap or Housler succumb to injury once again.
Momentum is on the side of Levi Brown following a strong finish to 2011.
If Brown carries that momentum into the season, it could be a good year for the offensive line, logically leading to a better year for the offense as a whole.
The job is his, and unless he has a mental and physical breakdown, it will remain his.
Not mentioned here is Nate Potter, the Cardinals' seventh-round pick out of Boise State. He could come into play for a backup role if he “wows” coaches.
Daryn Colledge played well in his first season with Arizona. He allowed just three sacks and is becoming a leader along the line.
Arizona signed Chris Stewart immediately following the conclusion of the 2011 season. He put law school on hold to try out a career as an NFL offensive lineman. The former Notre Dame football player/law student is intelligent, so that will help him understand schemes and reads.
Despite going undrafted in 2007, Lyle Sendlein has become one of the most dependable centers in football. He has missed just one offensive snap the past four seasons for Arizona. That’s 4,536 of a possible 4,537 plays—incredible.
He is the anchor of the line, an offensive captain and will be the only center on the regular-season roster.
Newcomer Adam Snyder steps in to take over the role left void after Arizona cut Rex Hadnot and allowed Deuce Lutui—for a second consecutive year—sign elsewhere via free agency.
He is a significant upgrade in the run-blocking and meanness categories, and he should help the line improve dramatically.
Rookie fifth-round pick Senio Kelemete will serve as Snyder’s backup, and he has the potential to develop into a solid starter in the future.
P.S. Am I the only person in the world who gets this song stuck in his head after seeing or hearing Kelemete’s name?
Although Jeremy Bridges is the veteran, rookie fourth-round selection Bobby Massie is expected to win the starting job by the time the games matter. He could be the steal of the draft, and the Cardinals will put him to good use early.
This may be one of the best competitions to watch during camp and in preseason games.
Darnell Dockett’s production as a pass-rusher has been on the decline of late; however, his role has changed since the days he was a 4-3 defensive tackle.
He is now a space-eating defensive end, and his main assignment will be to allow O’Brien Schofield a free path to opposing quarterbacks. There is little doubt DD will succeed in his new venture, but you should also expect more than his 2011 total of 3.5 sacks this coming season.
Losing 35 pounds this offseason could mean more playing time for Nick Eason.
Dropping from 325 to 290 helps him physically, and the change could see him moving all along the defensive front. He started in a combined role with David Carter at nose tackle after Dan Williams broke his arm, and before that he was a backup to both Dockett and Calais Campbell on the ends.
As was just stated, Williams broke his arm midway through last season. He will be the starter, but Carter showed he is capable of filling gaps and taking on double-teams in Williams’ absence, so if "Dumpster Dan" has a setback or struggles out of the gate, Carter could see a start or two.
Expect split work with the first-team defense throughout camp and the preseason just so coaches can keep everyone fresh.
Coming off a Pro Bowl-worthy season in which he recorded a team-high eight sacks, Calais Campbell signed a five-year, $55 million deal to stick around until at least 2016. He is the franchise on the defensive line.
He doesn’t believe his role will change much, and it may not at first because he is still among the youngest starters on defense—despite entering his fifth year in the league.
But he is also now the fourth-highest-paid player on the team—the second-highest paid on defense behind only Dockett. His role as a leader is changing, and though he may not believe it to be true, it will come naturally to him and the team will benefit greatly from it.
In other Cardinals news, Vonnie Holliday re-signed with the team and will serve as Campbell’s back up again this season.
For two years since being drafted, O’Brien Schofield sat behind Clark Haggans as he soaked in all the nuances that go along with being a pass-rushing linebacker in the NFL.
This season, the training wheels come off, and Schofield will be expected to produce. He showed the ability to do just that in spurts last year—he produced two sacks in consecutive plays against Cleveland—but will need to be consistent in pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Haggans, also recently re-signed, settles into a mentor role for what is likely to be his final season as a pro. Though he may not be completely receptive to the term “mentor,” he is keeping a positive attitude about the situation.
Haggans had this to say to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com: “It kind of makes you feel old in a way,” Haggans said. “But there’s no rocking chair in front of my locker yet, so I just take it and roll with it.”
Daryl Washington is right up there with the best young middle linebackers in the league. He produced 107 tackles and a league-wide position-high five sacks last season.
He showed up heavier at OTAs—adding about 10 pounds—but hasn’t lost any speed. That is fantastic news for a defense hoping to get better at stopping the run. He is a stud and will continue to improve his game.
A big question on defense is who will replace Paris Lenon when he can no longer contribute at a high level? And make no mistake—he can still contribute at a high level.
Stewart Bradley has the most experience, but he struggled to grasp the new defense after moving from the Philadelphia Eagles’ 4-3 scheme to the complex 3-4 run by defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Quan Sturdivant hopes to be in the running for the position as well, and he’s come a long way since being a sixth-round pick with no offseason a year ago. “The Quan”—as he is hilariously known—told AZCardinals.com that sitting out of live games was a learning experience:
It was hard, because I have always been able to play. Even when I was a freshman in college, I played. [Last year] was a learning experience, and hopefully I have learned enough that this year, I can make the team.
Whomever it is that fills Lenon’s role, they will have big shoes to fill.
In terms of what he means to his team, Sam Acho may have been the steal of the entire 2011 draft. He provided seven sacks and finished sixth in the NFL with four forced fumbles (tied with 15 other players).
He will be a disruptive force on the edge for Horton and his pass rush-happy defense for many years ahead.
Quentin Groves has yet to fit into a defense in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft and he did virtually nothing in their system. He then was traded to the Oakland Raiders two years ago and did even less.
He could fit much better into Arizona’s defense, as he says he’s a pure pass-rusher. That’s just what the Cardinals want and need.
The future is bright for young Patrick Peterson. He tied a single-season NFL record with his four punt returns for touchdown. Words cannot describe how impressive that is from a rookie—let alone anyone.
On defense, though, Peterson needs to prove he can be the shutdown corner Arizona drafted him to be. The returns are cool and they no doubt won games last year, but his skill set as a cornerback needs to take priority.
And not just in covering receivers. He showed as a rookie how physical he is, and that must continue. The need to be physical is a big part of Horton’s defense, and Peterson echoed that in an interview with AZCardinals.com recently.
“Covering is the main job but you want the physicality, get guys out of their game and let them know they will get it every play,” Peterson said.
Rookie Jamell Fleming has a chance to start early for the Cardinals.
Another of the battles to watch in camp is that of the other starting corner spot. We know Peterson will be the No. 1, but who will win out for the No. 2?
William Gay would appear to have an edge over rookie Jamell Fleming simply because he knows the system and Fleming, well, doesn’t. But it may not be that simple.
Fleming has impressed onlookers so far, and if he can grasp the defense quickly, he may just beat out the six-year veteran. Keep an eye on both Gay and Fleming during camp and into the preseason; it could come down to the wire to decide who starts Week 1.
With Kerry Rhodes healthy and ready to return to form, free safety should be a position of strength once again this season. Rhodes is underrated throughout the league, and that may come back to bite teams on the backside.
In 2010, Rhodes was brilliant. He generated eight total turnovers and scored two touchdowns—both on fumble recoveries.
If he can do anything close to that this season, the defense will be in good shape.
One of the best defenders in the NFL, Adrian Wilson is hoping to be healthy for a full season for the first time in years. He has played in every game the past two years, gutting out a painful torn biceps tendon last year and a torn abductor muscle in his abdomen two years ago.
Wilson needs just 104 tackles to own the Cardinals' career record, and though it would take the most disruptive season-long performance of his career, he could get close by the end of the season. Expect the record to be his sometime in 2013.
Jay Feely had an up-and-down 2011 season, perhaps because he had to adjust to new holder—and punter—Dave Zastudil.
He finished strong, however, converting his final 11 tries, including three game-winners—two in overtime.
Feely signed a two-year contract to remain with the Cardinals this offseason, so he will be around for presumably the remainder of his career. Arizona really needs to think about the future of the position, however.
Zastudil is not a good punter. He has a noodle for a leg and is not adept at pinning the opposition deep in its own zone. Something needs to be done about this by the end of the season.
There are usually a few good kickers available after final cuts have been made and before the regular season gets underway.
This job may not be as safe as you think. LaRod Stephens-Howling had a poor year returning kicks last season, and while that may be due to kickoffs being moved forward five yards, he has to use better judgment when fielding a kick inside his own end zone.
Too many times in 2011, Stephens-Howling would field a kick eight or nine yards deep and come out as if he had an open lane. More often than not he was stopped short of the 20-yard line.
A.J. Jefferson provided a highlight or two returning kicks in 2011, including a long of 51 yards. If LSH can’t adjust to the deeper kicks, he may see less time on special teams.
That “not applicable” is the biggest understatement of the century. No one else will suffice in the return game. Patrick Peterson is the best punt returner in the NFL, and he truly should own the record to which I alluded earlier.
He inexplicably allowed St. Louis Rams punter Jon Ryan to take him down with an arm tackle in the final game of his rookie season—a tackle that will live in infamy.
Peterson’s “give me five yards” mentality rang true on more than one occasion in 2011, and there is no reason to believe it will be any different in the future—even if teams intentionally kick away from the 6’1”, 219-pound corner.
Peterson had this to say to AZCardinals.com about being avoided in the kicking game: “I have to make them pay. If they have 10 kicks and they want all 10 away from me, they will miss one of them. And that will be my opportunity.”
Get ‘em, hoss.