The Arizona Cardinals began training camp on July 21 with a plethora of questions.
None of them are more pressing than who will start at quarterback. John Skelton went 5-2 as a starter last season. His quarterback rating of 68.9 wasn’t very good, but the team won when he was the starter.
Kevin Kolb came over from Philadelphia last year and was supposed to be the man. He was injured but struggled when he did play, and went 3-6 as a starter. Kolb was first on the team’s initial depth chart this summer, but coach Ken Whisenhunt has called the competition a 50/50 battle. Whisenhunt said it’d be a mistake to put a time table on the decision and that he has to be careful about making a quick or snap judgment.
Kolb will get the first look in live game action on Sunday when he starts against the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game. But that doesn’t mean this question has been answered.
One thing that will help either quarterback is better offensive line play. The Cardinals had the fourth-worst third-down offense in the league, gave up the second-most sacks and were sixth in quarterback hits allowed.
The Cardinals have made efforts to upgrade their line by signing former San Francisco 49ers lineman Adam Snyder to be their right guard and selecting three linemen in the draft.
Snyder is a versatile player who has played every O-line position in his seven-year career. Synder has 69 starts in that span, including 13 last year. Who will play next to Snyder has yet to be determined. Jeremy Bridges is the No. 1 so far, but he will be challenged by fourth-round draft choice Bobby Massie, who is expected to eventually win the job.
The Cardinals need to figure out if Massie can start right away or if the former Mississippi standout needs some time to acclimate himself to the NFL. The other drafted rookies are Boise State tackle Nate Potter, selected in the seventh-round, and guard Senio Kelemete, a fifth-round pick from Washington.
An improved offensive line will also benefit what is currently a banged up group at running back. Beanie Wells had his knee scoped during the offseason and began camp on the physically unable to perform list. His backup, Ryan Williams, is being held back after missing his rookie season last year with a patella injury. That leaves William Powell, Alfonso Smith, LaRod Stephens-Howling and newly signed Thomas Clayton as the ball carriers for Sunday’s game in Canton, Ohio.
If one of those players has to carry the load, it would be Smith. Stephens-Howling would be good on third downs, but is a skatback and the team’s primary kick returner. The As they trickle in plays for Wells and Williams, the Cardinals will learn how quickly those two can return to form.
The Cardinals were also hampered at tight end last season as Todd Heap and Rob Housler battled through injuries. Heap played 10 games last year with just four starts. His disappointing debut season in the desert included only 24 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown. Housler had 12 catches for 133 yards, but he could be on the verge of a breakout season. He said the game has slowed down for him in Year 2.
Heap and blocking tight end Jeff King are technically the top two tight ends, but Housler is an interesting one to keep an eye on.
Another player hoping for a breakout season is outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield. Sam Acho pushed aside Joey Porter last season for a starting job and Schofield is trying to do the same this year with 13-year veteran Clark Haggans. Some believe Schofield, who lived in the opponent's backfield while at Wisconsin, can blossom as a full-time starter and consistently record double-digit sack totals.
Arizona also has a competition at inside linebacker where the battle between Paris Lenon and Stewart Bradley must be sorted out. Lenon, an 11-year veteran, is the starter, but Bradley is giving him some strong competition for that weak side spot.
The Cardinals have a very good defensive front, led by Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. It can be even better if Dan Williams, a first-round pick from Tennessee in 2010, can shake off his injury-prone reputation.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson is also hoping for a breakout year as a cover corner. He burst onto the scene last year with four punt returns for touchdowns, but wants to improve his skills as a defender.
Opposite Peterson are four players vying to be the other starter. Greg Toler, who missed last season with a torn ACL, was a starter prior to his injury. When he was out, A.J. Jefferson filled in. Those two are joined this year by former Pittsburgh Steelers starter William Gay and rookie Jamell Fleming, a third-round pick from Oklahoma who has had a good camp thus far.
Throw in Michael Adams and rookie Larry Parker, who had seven interceptions in his final season at San Diego State, it could be an ongoing competition throughout the season. Training camp is all about position battles and the coaches have their hands full trying to sort through a deep competition at corner.
Fleming and Massie are two of three rookies who could make a big impact in their first season. The other is first-round pick Michael Floyd, a 6’3”, 225-pound wide receiver from Notre Dame. Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine scores for the Irish, but had multiple alcohol-related incidents off the field. He wants to be the other starter opposite All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald, but will have to prove that his off-the-field issues are behind him.
The Cardinals also have 15 undrafted rookies in camp, and it’ll be an ongoing evaluation to see if the scouts found a diamond in the rough anywhere in that group.