The Arizona Cardinals officially opened training camp Tuesday and the first official practice is Wednesday afternoon. While it's an exciting time for Cardinal fans, there is one thought running through the back of their collective mind. That thought is, "I really hope that____doesn't get hurt this season."
I'll fill in the blanks and point out the five Cardinals whose health is critical to the team's success.
Larry Fitzgerald—Wide Receiver
Fitzgerald has only missed four games in his entire career. If he were to get injured and miss a substantial amount of time, the Cardinals would be a much different team for the worse.
There is a Grand Canyon-sized drop off in talent when you go from Fitz to Early Doucet, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd. It's not to say anything bad about Doucet, Roberts or Floyd but none of them are multiple-time Pro Bowlers with what some could argue are the best set of hands in the game.
If Fitzgerald went down for any length of time, the Cardinals would have to look more toward their running game. Running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams would find it tougher to move the ball with additional defenders in the box. The quarterback, be it Skelton or Kolb, would have less confidence in throwing the ball to the other receivers. The passes would have to be more accurate and that's not a strong suit of either quarterback.
Beanie Wells—Running Back
If Beanie were to go down hurt, it would be another Cardinal calamity. Ryan Williams would inherit the featured back role. Williams has played as many downs in the regular season as you have so there would be question marks surrounding his ability to be the main running back for an NFL team.
LaRod Stephens-Howling would get a bump in how much time he'd see on the field but would need to run plays that get him out in space to utilize his speed effectively.
An injury to Wells would also force the Cardinals to revert back to a pass-first offense. Those are in vogue now in the league. When Arizona went to the Super Bowl four years ago they were dead last in rushing. Last season's New York Giants were last in rushing and that seemed to work out okay for them.
Wells had offseason knee surgery so this is a possibility. Hopefully Wells can stay healthy and have another strong season like he did last year with 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns.
This isn't so much for his defensive ability as it his talents on special teams. Peterson recorded 64 tackles, a sack and two interceptions in 2011, but the number to keep an eye on here is four. Peterson recorded four touchdowns on punt returns in 2011 and helped to charge the team up when the offense was slumping.
He won two games single-handedly last season. His punt return for a score came from 89 yards away in Week 1 versus Carolina. It became the game-winning touchdown and broke a 21-21 tie in the fourth quarter. He also won the Week 9 tilt with St. Louis when he ran a punt back 99 yards in overtime for a 19-13 win.
Even if he's not running it back all the way, Peterson gives the Cardinals a big help with field position. With an offense that sputters at times every additional yard of field position helps.
If the Cardinals were to lose Peterson to injury, Stephens-Howling could be looked at as a kick returner. He was the return specialist before Peterson was drafted and has run a kickoff back for a touchdown.
Darnell Dockett—Defensive Tackle
Dockett can effectively stop the run and defend the pass. He can use his quick first step to get into the backfield and break plays up. He provides the Cardinals with that dimension and it would be tough to replace if he got hurt. The Cardinals don't have much depth on the defensive line so losing Dockett would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Calais Campbell—Defensive End
Campbell would be a big loss, literally, if he went down hurt. The 6'8" defensive lineman would be certainly missed for his ability to block kicks. Losing Campbell would also take away a key part of the Cardinals' pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He averaged seven sacks a season over the last three seasons.
Arizona was one of the better teams at recording sacks with 45 of them last season. The sacks would go down, but the bigger issue is how the Cardinals would keep putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
So there you have it. Those five Cardinals and their health are key to the team's success in 2012. Quarterback is also a key position, but with the state of flux over who will be the starting quarterback it's hard to assess the injury risks of that player.