Cardinals vs. Titans: What to Watch for in Preseason Week 3
Even though the first two weeks of the preseason were rough for Ken Whisenhunt and the Cards, a return trip home against the Raiders proved to be just the trick as they got back in the win column.
The offense looked improved as they were actually able to move the ball on the ground consistently in large part due to Ryan Williams. Williams was making his first appearance for Arizona since being drafted by them in 2011.
In addition to the offense, things seemed to be improving on the defensive side of the ball as well. For the most part, tackling looked sound and the pass rush was on point. Both areas were points of emphasis as defensive coordinator Ray Horton was less than happy with them leading up to the game.
This week, John Skelton and the boys head into Nashville as they take on Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans.
The quarterback competition is beginning to wind down and take shape with Skelton out in front. Kevin Kolb's appearance against the Titans will be his last chance to prove himself before he becomes the league's most expensive backup.
Other than the quarterback battle, there have been some interesting developments along the offensive line, so let's take a look which five things you should be watching for during Thursday night's game.
Levi Brown's Replacement
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I've always been one to wish Levi Brown out of the Cardinals starting lineup because of his wretched play, but with the lack of quality depth behind him, it might be time to be a bit concerned. Quality left tackles are hard to find because protecting a quarterback's blind side is a team's No. 1 priority along the offensive line.
It appears as if second-year player D.J. Young will get the first crack at taking over for Brown. Young spent last season on the Cardinals practice squad and worked hard to get to this point. Here's what Young had to say about his time spent on the practice squad, according to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic:
It's real easy to get sidetracked being on the practice squad. It's like you're on the team but you're not. It's your time as a player to get better by yourself because there are drafts every April. There are new guys coming in, year in and year out.
D'Anthony Batiste will also get a shot at the position with the first-team unit. It's unclear if they will alternate possessions or just swap at the quarter break. Regardless, Arizona is hoping one man will step up as it's never easy to rely on a nobody when you're looking for a somebody.
However, offensive line coach Russ Grimm didn't sound overly concerned. Just listen to what he said to Somers: "It's always tough when you have to replace somebody, but that's the nature of this business," Grimm said. "I'm not going to go stick my head in a pillow and start crying."
Is it time start wishing Levi Brown back, or will the Cards be better off without him?
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Offseason knee surgery has slowed running back Beanie Wells during training camp, but for the first time, he feels juiced up and ready to go. Reportedly, his cuts are looking good and he is running without a limp. Just two weeks ago Wells had a definite limp, and his participation in practice had succumbed to individual drills.
It's safe to assume he won't see a whole lot of action Thursday night. A handful of plays would be the right gauge of things as the coaching staff wants to ease him back into things. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt touched on how he felt about Wells' knee yesterday after practice, speaking to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic:
When he gets going, you don’t see a limp, It will be interesting to see when he gets the adrenalin flowing in a game. There are no concerns about anything from a health standpoint with his knee. It looks stable and he looks good when he’s running.
Many have speculated that there is a competition brewing in the Cardinals backfield for the No. 1 running back job. While it may make sense because of Ryan Williams' big stature and running ability, I just don't see it happening quite yet.
This year will end up playing out how the Cardinals wanted it to last year. Wells will start, but Williams will see plenty carries of his own.
Also, Williams needs to prove he can stay healthy over the course of a 16-game season. One solid preseason showing doesn't get you anywhere; it's the sustained constant success that takes you to the top.
Right Cornerback Position
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Free-agent acquisition William Gay was brought in to challenge Greg Toler for the starting right cornerback position, but things haven't quite gone as planned up to this point. Currently, he is holding onto the job by default with Toler out because of his bad knees.
Gay has had a big bulls-eye on his chest during the first three weeks of preseason. Drew Brees went after him in Week 1, Matt Cassel zipped a few by him the next week and Carson Palmer got the better of him last week. Even though, his touchdown pass to Rod Streater was overturned because Streater trapped it.
Rookie Jamell Fleming has had a much stronger camp than either Gay or Toler up to this point, but I doubt Whisenhunt hands him the starting role. That would be very unlike him as he usually likes to make rookies wait a while before he hands them the keys.
So, if the Cardinals want to upgrade the right cornerback position before the season starts, it appears as if Toler will have to recover quick. He's had pain in both of his knees during training camp, yet he's hopeful that he will suit up against Tennessee.
The organization is very fond of Toler, so there's no doubt he will get a crack at the starting job once he's fully healthy.
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Tight end Rob Housler, to me, was an absolute slam-dunk pick when they drafted him in 2011. Why, you may ask? Because he gives Arizona a dimension in the passing game that they haven't had in a long time.
I can't remember the last fast, athletic Cardinals tight end who could get up the seam with ease. Housler is a small-school guy who can blow you out of the water with his measurables. At the scouting combine, he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash and jumped 37 inches.
Last year was what I like to call a redshirt season, even though he played he didn't appear to be effective. It appeared last year that the game was moving too fast for him. Because, even when Todd Heap was sidelined with an injury, Jeff King got the nod as the starting tight end.
However, this year appears to be his year. I know the depth chart says he is No. 3 right now, but with the way his blocking has improved, his ascent can't go unnoticed. It's never been about the pass-catching or route running with him as those are the staples to a hyper-athletic tight end's game.
During training camp, tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens commented on Housler's development: "Rob continues to work everyday and he's definitely gotten better. He just needs to come to the field and get better everyday; and if he does, he'll be the player we thought he could be."
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Just like I mentioned last week, and I will reiterate it this week, watch Stewart Bradley. Why did I tell you to watch for Bradley? Because he is closing in on the starting inside-linebacker position that is currently being held by long-time veteran Paris Lenon.
After a poor performance against the Chiefs, Bradley had to have a big bounce-back performance to get him back into the thick of things. Without little doubt, he did bounce back as he cleaned up his ability to get off blocks quicker and wrap up on tackles.
His game against the Raiders saw him register four tackles and one quarterback hit. He achieved a much better stat line than one he amassed the previous week in Kansas City. Through three weeks, he has 14 tackles, two quarterback hits and one sack.
Lenon has been out since the early portions of the Saints preseason game. Lenon hurt his ankle pretty bad, considering it hasn't allowed him to make an appearance in a game since the injury.
Another strong performance should put Bradley in the driver's seat at right inside linebacker. This could be a blessing in disguise as Lenon's play has drastically fallen off the last couple years.