Does Carson Palmer need to be great in 2013?
When the Arizona Cardinals open camp July 26, it will begin a process that will end with answering most or all of these burning questions.
There is plenty to talk about with the superfluous of change within the franchise. From top to bottom, team president Michael Bidwill cleaned out the organization in hopes of fielding a winning team sooner rather than later.
With so much change, there could be a learning curve that delays said winning. But in the NFL, there really is no excuse for not learning a scheme. Teams expect players to pick things up quickly and, for the most part, they have.
Here are 10 burning questions as the Cardinals open training camp in Glendale.
Improvements at quarterback, running back and offensive guard have most fans giddy with excitement in hopes that the offense can climb out of the cellar and compete with other teams this year.
We’ve all felt that hope before.
It looks good on paper, but as you all are aware, paper football is a finger-flicking game. We won’t know if they are any good until they step on the gridiron.
We can prognosticate all we want, however, and I have. It led to this article on Yahoo! Sports, which was not very popular among the contingent of readers over there.
The 2012 season marked the first time since 2006 that Larry Fitzgerald failed to top 1,000 yards receiving. His 11.2 yards-per-reception average was the lowest of his career. Up until last year, he had averaged 13.9 yards per reception.
Will Fitz get back to his typical dominant self?
He has the coach, the scheme and the quarterback to do so. Bouncing back seems to be a lock, as even the first two seasons post-Kurt Warner he averaged 85 receptions for 1,274 yards and seven TD.
Rashard Mendenhall signed as a free agent this offseason, and Ryan Williams appears to be finally healthy. Incoming draft picks Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington have talent as well.
Will that translate into a rush offense worthy of using more than just to offset the pass?
A season ago, the run game averaged a league-worst 3.42 yards per carry. They scored just 10 times on the ground—including three in one game from former Cardinals back Beanie Wells.
They can’t be much worse than they were, but being better doesn’t mean they will be effective. Being a more “balanced” offense doesn’t mean rushing more. It means doing more when keeping the ball on the ground—four of the top five leaders in team YPA last year made the playoffs.
Making the jump from a dead-last offense to top 10 in total yards is fun, but football is more than just moving the ball. Does the team’s success hinge upon whether Carson Palmer is a top 10 quarterback this year?
I don’t believe it does.
He must be better than that which the Cardinals fielded from 2010 to 2012, of course. But that is a virtual guarantee. The table below shows Arizona quarterbacks’ play and a 16-game average below it.
Palmer will be better than that.
Flip-flop the touchdown and interception numbers, and you start to get closer to what Palmer can do. Then, add about 40 completions and 600 yards to it. That’s around where Palmer should be in terms of production. Will 4,000-plus passing yards and 60 percent completion put him in the top 10? It may, but even if it doesn’t, it will do one thing: it will make the offense better.
And that is all that matters.
To this point in the offseason, Michael Floyd appears to be one of Palmer’s favorite targets. He has improved his eating habits and general every-day routine to the point that head coach Bruce Arians has taken notice of his on-field work (per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com):
“I am really happy with him. I see him making leaps and bounds getting better. He’s very serious about what he does—he doesn’t like to make mistakes. He’s totally bought in and if he just continues to improve his fundamentals he’s another guy who can have a breakout year.”
Even NFL.com writer Bucky Brooks believes Floyd will be the most improved receiver this season, saying in part that with Floyd’s improvement, the Cardinals have a valid 1-2 punch and “could make a run at a winning season behind a rejuvenated offense.”
Assuming the offensive line will be as bad as it was in 2012 when it allowed a league-high 58 sacks is ignorant. The unit will improve with the return of Levi Brown to left tackle and the addition of left guard Jonathan Cooper. But how much better will they be?
The protection of the quarterback’s blind side has a new look and a new dimension of athleticism this year with the 2012 AP All-America first team guard. A major problem for Arizona’s offense a year ago was that the quarterbacks often didn’t have a proper pocket to step into when the tackles were collapsed.
That shouldn’t be an issue this year.
Daryn Colledge has moved from left to right guard, and while there is a definite learning curve for the veteran, he has enough time before the season starts to get it right.
Center Lyle Sendlein returns from injury this year, and provided his knee is 100 percent, he should be as consistent as in the past. He never has been a top-10 talent at center, but he is a steady leader, and that’s what the line needs.
Finally, there’s Bobby Massie. He was very good to close out his rookie season, and if he continues that into 2013, he could quickly become one of the NFL’s best right tackles.
New coordinator Todd Bowles reportedly will be keeping the 3-4 scheme brought in by former coordinator Ray Horton. Cards writer Darren Urban held a live chat with fans recently, and he answered a question about whether Bowles would run a 3-4 or switch to a 4-3, or run a combination of both:
I think everyone runs a hybrid these days because situations call for different looks. I don’t see them going back to a 4-3 full time. Bowles has said a couple of times—including once when I asked him directly—that he runs a 3-4. He is a 3-4 guy.
So there you have it, fans who think the team could switch to a base 4-3 look in the future (don’t worry, I’m in that boat as well; I believe they have the defensive line personnel to do it right now if they wanted to).
But Bowles’ scheme is different from Horton’s in one major area, and that is the focus of the pass rush. The defensive line will rush the passer more often under Bowles, and that means more opportunities for Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett.
Cards rookie Kevin Minter
Pro Bowl inside linebacker Daryl Washington’s four-game suspension is unfortunate and inconvenient. But it hopefully has taught the talented defender a lesson in maturity. He must realize that doing wrong has consequences, especially when Roger Goodell is the NFL’s commissioner.
Karlos Dansby rejoins the team after three seasons in Miami, and rookie Kevin Minter could be a future star in his own right. The team also signed free-agent linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who is listed as one of two starters at Ourlads.com.
Someone needs to step up while Washington serves his suspension, or else the first month of the season could go as badly as the final three months of the 2012 season went.
Cards cornerback Antoine Cason
Patrick Peterson has his side of the field on lockdown, but the other side of the field is a bit muddled as of now. Will it be Jerraud Powers? What about Antoine Cason? He has the most starting experience of the remaining corners on the roster.
Then, there’s Javier Arenas. Traded from the Kansas City Chiefs for fullback Anthony Sherman, Arenas comes in having mainly played in the slot during his career. Could he end up starting this season?
This will be one of the battles to watch during camp, so keep your eyes glued for updates.
Third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu will be playing a new position as a rookie. Moving from corner to free safety to get the most out of his uncanny instincts, Mathieu will play center field for Bowles’ defense.
But will he start there when the Cardinals travel to St. Louis for Week 1?
The other candidate is 35-year-old, nine-year veteran Yeremiah Bell, who started at both free and strong safety in Miami while Bowles coached the secondary. He knows the system well, and if he doesn’t start, he could serve as a perfect on-field coach and mentor to teach Mathieu how to play the position the way Bowles needs.