Early Predictions for Arizona Cardinals 2014 Training Camp Battles
This offseason has shaped up to be a good one for the Arizona Cardinals, which will make for some good competition at training camp. New faces added to the roster and old faces leaving it have guaranteed this July and August will be fun to watch as players battle for starting positions.
As was the case last year, quarterback is not a position up for grabs this training camp season. That should come as no surprise to anyone, but it is a big relief not to worry about the most important position on the team for at least another year. Carson Palmer’s contract runs through the 2014 season and expires five days after the Super Bowl if he is still on the roster.
General manager Steve Keim could hand Palmer an extension if he and coach Bruce Arians feel Logan Thomas is not ready to take over the huddle in 2015, but that is a discussion for another time.
Which positions will see the fiercest competition at training camp? Read on, friends.
In 2012, Adam Snyder manned the right guard spot while Daryn Colledge was at his usual left guard post. When Keim and Arians took over following that season, one of their first decisions after the draft was to get rid of the awful Snyder.
Jonathan Cooper would take over left guard, while Colledge would move over to right. But then fate took over, and Cooper broke his leg, forcing the rookie top-10 pick to miss the entire 2013 season.
Colledge slid back to left guard, which produced a gigantic hole on the right side that former seventh-round pick Paul Fanaika did his best to fill. He was durable and eventually became one of two offensive players to take every snap for the 2013 season (the other being center Lyle Sendlein).
Durability does not equal quality play, however. No offense to Fanaika, who did his best and even looked formidable at times, but he was bad. In fact, among offensive guards last season, only Philadelphia’s Todd Herremans allowed more pressures (48) than Fanaika did (46), according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
With Colledge gone and Cooper returning, Fanaika and 2013 fourth-round pick Earl Watford will battle for that right guard spot. Expect Watford to emerge the victor before preseason games conclude.
Left Outside Linebacker
Veteran pass-rusher John Abraham has one outside linebacker position on lockdown. He led the team with 11.5 sacks in 2013, a bit of a surprise considering he wasn't a full-time starter until Week 4 after Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and Alex Okafor all went down with season-ending injuries.
The other spot, however, remains an open competition for now.
Acho, Alexander and Okafor all have a shot at the position—as does Matt Shaughnessy, who started opposite Abraham after the injuries. All of them do different things well, so this one could be a split position all year depending on the situation.
It is in the team’s best interest to keep Abraham on the field as much as possible, so in order to get everyone some playing time, the other side may have to be where that happens.
On passing downs, for example, Acho may be the best option based on his upside as a pass-rusher and his ability in coverage—he was the second-best 3-4 outside linebacker in coverage for the 2012 season, according to PFF.
Realistically, the position will come down to Shaughnessy and Acho, as Alexander could move to inside linebacker to help with depth, and Okafor is still an unknown. Rookie Kareem Martin won’t start at outside linebacker, but the team wants to get him snaps there throughout the season, according to the man himself (h/t Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds):
I’m coming in here expecting to play. That’s the thing. I came in here, whatever team I was going to go to, I was expecting to contribute right away, so if I get to play early, it’s just what I expected to do the whole time. […]
I’ll be rushing a little bit from the outside, but I think I’ll mainly be playing defensive end.
Much like right guard, the battle for right tackle should be a good one. Bradley Sowell, who started 12 games at left tackle last year after Keim traded away Levi Brown, will go at it with former Ole Miss teammate Bobby Massie to protect Palmer’s front side.
The fact that Sowell and Massie are former college teammates gives this battle an extra dimension. It will be fun to watch as these two fight to win a starting spot at the second-most important offensive line position on the team—with so many great edge-rushers in the NFC West, right tackle is nearly as important as left tackle is.
Craig Morgan of FoxSports.com put out a piece on the competition, saying in part, “every player engaged in a position battle will tell you they are friendly competitions that don’t impact a relationship or the sharing of information between teammates.”
Sowell added to it:
I like it because we can be real honest with one another. If it was a guy I didn’t know it would be real awkward but me and Bobby, every day we’re straight up with each other like, ‘Look, I’m going to beat you out.’
We just say it straight up to each other so it’s nice to be comfortable with someone and talk crap to each other; have a little fun with it.
This could be Massie’s last shot at winning a starting job with Arizona. If that’s not enough motivation to show coaches he’s the best option at right tackle, then I’m not sure what is.
Expect Massie to win the job.
With the addition of former All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers has been kicked inside to play the slot, where he should be better—not covering some of the game’s elite wideouts will have that effect on a cornerback.
But is Powers guaranteed the nickelback role?
“Starting” free safety Tyrann Mathieu played the majority of his rookie season as the team’s nickelback despite being listed as the starting free safety, which led to PFF listing him as a cornerback—he earned the third-highest season grade given to cornerbacks last year, according to the site.
It would behoove coordinator Todd Bowles to end the “Mathieu-as-a-free-safety” fallacy and just make him the team’s nickel cornerback. The kid is lights-out from the slot and is probably the future No. 2 opposite his good friend and mentor, Patrick Peterson. His ball skills and instincts are that of a top cornerback, so it makes sense to let the “Honey Badger” roam from the slot.
That leaves the question of what to do with Powers. He’ll earn $4.75 million this season according to Spotrac.com, which likely is too much for a player of his caliber. But if he’s fighting just to make the roster as the dime cornerback, it's probably best to sever ties with him and move on.
Justin Bethel has looked good at CB in the OTA's, playing with confidence, starting to get his hands on some balls in the secondary #Depth— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) May 28, 2014
Maybe Justin Bethel will make that an easier decision for Bowles and Co.
Mathieu should win the nickelback job, but we’ll see how it plays out. Arians likes Powers and brought him over from the Colts when he arrived in Arizona; that may go into how this plays out.
No. 3 Wide Receiver
Keim made his first free-agent decision quickly this offseason, signing left tackle Jared Veldheer within hours of free agency opening. But the next day, he made another great choice by signing former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to a three-year, $9.75 million deal.
The expectation was that Ginn would assume the role left void by Andre Roberts, becoming the team’s No. 3 receiver and also returning punts and/or kicks.
Little did we know a small-school gem was awaiting a phone call from Keim and Bruce Arians on Day 2 of the NFL draft, and John Brown has been so impressive early on that he may have a shot at dethroning Ginn before a game is even played.
The money situation be damned, Ginn could lose his spot to Brown if the rookie keeps performing the way he has. Camp will be the indicator of which receivers will have what roles early in the season.
This battle should continue into the regular season, however. It won’t end once the first depth chart is announced in the days leading up to Week 1. It could go back and forth throughout the year, in fact, based on opponent, production and a host of other variables.
We should expect Ginn to remain the No. 3 for now, but for how long could be anyone’s guess.
Which position battles are you most looking forward to during training camp? Let us know in the comments section!