The 5 Biggest Storylines Heading into Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
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The Arizona Cardinals are set to open their 2013 training camp when veterans report on Thursday. The Cardinals' first public camp practice is a week from today at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals have a different look to them, with changes on the roster and in the coaching staff. They look to improve on a 5-11 season that saw them drop 11 of their last 12 games after a 4-0 start. The schedule is tough with games against the AFC South and NFC South. They also have a set of difficult divisional contests in the NFC West.
With camp only a week away, we'll take a look at the five biggest storylines heading into training camp.
Start the slideshow to see what they are.
1. How Much Better Can the Offensive Line Be?
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The offensive line for the Cardinals was a sore spot, to put it mildly.
That soreness was often felt by Arizona's quarterbacks who were sacked a total 58 times last season. The Cardinals finished last in rushing offense, averaging 75 yards per game.
Injuries played a big role in that poor performance. Offensive tackle Levi Brown was lost for the season with a torn triceps muscle in the preseason finale against the Denver Broncos. Center Lyle Sendlein saw his season end prematurely with a torn knee ligament in Week 12. Add in a weak first half of the season by tackle Bobby Massie and it made for a long season on the line.
With first-round pick Jonathan Cooper joining the line at a guard position, there is hope that Arizona can perform better in this key area. They need to be able to give quarterback Carson Palmer time to throw. The line also needs to open up lanes for the running backs.
The offensive line has to be better in 2013. It would be hard to be much worse than 2012.
2. How Will Carson Palmer Perform?
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The Cardinals traded late-round draft picks to the Oakland Raiders to get quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer provides a breath of fresh air after a season-long spin on the quarterback carousel that left Cardinals fans dizzy.
The question is how well Palmer will perform with the weapons he has here in Arizona. He has an elite wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. Michael Floyd shows promise in his second NFL season, and tight end Rob Housler could also be a threat in the passing game.
It remains to be seen if Palmer is legitimately on the downside of his career or not. With the weapons (or lack thereof) Palmer had at his disposal in Oakland, the case can be made that he didn't have the receivers to help him out. His top receiver last season was tight end Brandon Myers. Oakland running backs caught a lot of Palmer's passes, too.
How will Palmer perform in head coach Bruce Arians' system that favors deep passes over a dink-and-dunk approach? If he can hit the deep passes, Palmer could be the steal of the offseason. If not, Arizona didn't risk much to find out, and they can try again next season.
3. Will This Be the Year the Ground Game Contributes?
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The Arizona Cardinals have been waiting quite a while to have their ground game play a significant role in the offense. Over the last five years, the Cardinals have finished last in rushing three times. The other two years they finished 24th (2011) and 28th (2009).
The problem has lingered around Arizona even during their better seasons. When they went to the Super Bowl following the 2008 season, they finished last in rushing. Regardless of who the running backs have been over the last five seasons, the Cardinals haven't been able to run effectively. It didn't matter if they tried a running-back-by-committee approach or if they used a featured back.
Rashard Mendenhall will be asked to carry the load, and hopefully the offensive line can help open some holes. Arizona needs a successful running game to keep its defense off the field as much as possible.
It needs to be more than just a tool to keep defenses honest.
4. How Will Bruce Arians Perform as a Head Coach?
Arians was up for the Best Coach ESPY Award but lost to Rick Pitino.
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Arizona hired Bruce Arians to replace Ken Whisenhunt after six mediocre seasons. The 2013 season will mark his first full season as a head coach since he led the Temple Owls (1983-1988).
Last season, Arians stepped in for Chuck Pagano and led the Indianapolis Colts from Week 5 to Week 16. Arians' Colts posted a 9-3 record in that time, and his leadership was a key reason why Indianapolis made the playoffs.
But the teams the Colts beat in 2012 weren't as tough as what Arians and the Cardinals will face this season. With Arians at the helm, Indianapolis posted just one win against a team that finished 2012 with a winning record. That was the Week 5 game against the Green Bay Packers (11-5).
The competition is going to be stiffer in the NFC West. Will Arians be able to come up with game plans that work against good teams? Games against the NFC South will also be a test on Arians and the coaching staff, though Arizona should get some relief when they take on the AFC South in interconference play.
5. When Will Jonathan Cooper Sign His Contract?
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Arizona drafted Jonathan Cooper seventh overall at the NFL draft. He's expected to start at left guard, according to ESPN.com. Cooper has yet to sign his rookie contract with Arizona.
All of the team's other picks have signed their contracts as of writing this presentation.
It wouldn't seem like Cooper would be holding out. After the new collective bargaining agreement took effect, the days of whopping rookie contracts were over. According to NFL.com, most of the first-round picks remain unsigned, so Cooper isn't alone in not having his deal finished.
According to The Arizona Republic from this past April, his contract should be in the range of four years, $14.5 million, with a $10 million signing bonus.
Cooper has been present at OTAs and minicamp, so he would be quick to get on the field once his contract is done.
It doesn't appear to be a big concern, but it still bears watching to see how soon Cooper signs.