The Arizona Cardinals' training camp is a little over a week away, and there is a lot of excitement in the state about this team and its prospects for a successful year. The front office has made some significant changes this offseason that have Cardinals fans buzzing.
It all started with the brilliant hire of Bruce Arians, the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year, as Arizona's new head coach. His presence will bring the focus on offense this franchise has been missing for the past three seasons.
The offload of the overpaid and brittle Kevin Kolb paired with the acquisition of the proven Carson Palmer was an immediate upgrade at quarterback. Although a little past his prime, Palmer is still capable enough to make all of the throws necessary to stretch the field.
Cardinals brass also knocked it out of the park in this year's NFL draft, picking up Jonathan Cooper, instantly upgrading the offensive line with this day-one starter. They followed it up with linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, two more stud defensive players who should make immediate impacts on the defensive side of the ball.
Although the team has made some very positive changes that will definitely improve their performance, there are a few key players who will need to step up this season if Arizona hopes to compete with the tough NFC West and secure a playoff spot.
The success of Bruce Arians' aggressive downfield passing offense starts with the quarterback. New acquisition Carson Palmer will need to step up and provide the consistency this franchise has been missing since the departure of Kurt Warner.
Palmer, 33, is coming off of a season where he surpassed 4,000 yards on an Oakland team with very few legit offensive weapons. Palmer's big arm fits nicely with Arizona's new offensive scheme, and he will need to build chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald and company quickly if the Cardinals hope to compete in the division.
The Cardinals selected Michael Floyd with their first pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Floyd put up a respectable 45-catch, 562-yard rookie season but will need to step up this season and become the true No. 2 receiver the Cardinals need.
He showed us all a glimpse of what he can accomplish in Week 17's 27-13 loss to the 49ers, grabbing eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. With a full offseason under his belt, the addition of a big-armed quarterback and an offensive scheme change, Floyd has the opportunity to have a special season this year. Mentoring from the greatest Cardinal of all time, Larry Fitzgerald, can't hurt either.
The Cardinals signed Rashard Mendenhall this offseason to beef up the run game. Mendenhall spent five seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler, breaking 1,000 yards twice. He tore his ACL at the end of the 2011 season and spent the majority of the 2012 season in Pittsburgh's doghouse.
Mendenhall has been given a fresh start. He's already been named the starting running back by Bruce Arians. At 26, he's still young and has the talent to give this team a solid running game to complement the passing attack.
Although the Cardinals will need the entire offensive line to step up in 2013, it is left tackle Levi Brown who will be protecting new quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side.
When discussing the Arizona Cardinals' offensive woes, it is most common to hear criticism about the offensive line. Here something people may not know: They're not that bad. They're actually close to being pretty good. Most of the problems last year took place in the first 12 games of the season, when they gave up 48 sacks. They ended the season with 58. The improvement had a lot to do with Bobby Massie turning the corner during his rookie season.
Brown will be joining Massie in 2013, along with projected starters Lyle Sendlein, Daryn Colledge and rookie Jonathan Cooper.
After missing all of the 2012 season with a torn triceps, Brown will be taking his job back from human turnstile D’Anthony Batiste. He needs to be the leader of an offensive line that has the talent to finish in the top third of the NFL this season. Coach Arians will be relying on Brown to step up and show us all how dominant he can be.
Defensive tackle, Darnell Dockett has been a fan favorite in Arizona since coming to the team. His ferocious style of play strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately, his play fell off a bit in 2012 with only 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Dockett has totally bought into the changes made this offseason to the Arizona Cardinals. This is a great sign for Cardinals fans. He seems ready to get back to his old ways, acquiring a new facemask that appears to be something from the dark ages or possibly the front of a locomotive. Either way, it's intimidation that Dockett seems to be looking for.
Dockett will need to execute on the field and continue to be the leader along a ferocious defensive line in 2013.
Patrick Peterson is quickly becoming the best shutdown corner in the NFL. After tying an NFL single-season record for punt return touchdowns (four) in his rookie season, Peterson put his focus on becoming a better cornerback in 2012. The results were seven interceptions and a selection to the Pro Bowl.
Peterson will need to step up in 2013 and continue to be the leader of the Arizona defense. Additionally, he will need to step up and mentor 2013 draft pick Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu has the talent to be a huge playmaker for the Cardinals but comes to the team with a troubled past. Mentoring from friend and former LSU teammate Peterson can help keep him on the right path and out of trouble.