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Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Preview: Depth Chart, Sleepers and Predictions

Shaun ChurchContributor IJuly 24, 2014

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Preview: Depth Chart, Sleepers and Predictions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The time is nigh. The Arizona Cardinals are set to begin training camp, and that means real football is just around the corner. This preview will give you a complete look at the Cardinals, their biggest storylines, etc., as they prepare for the 2014 regular season.

    The team outlook is much brighter this offseason than it was last, due in large part to continuity and improved talent at many positions. Some positional units on the team regressed with the loss of players, but as a whole, the roster is arguably deeper and more complete than at any point since the franchise moved to Arizona.

    After a 10-6 season under first-year head coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals are primed to make a run at the postseason—perhaps even at the NFC West crown. That will be more daunting a task than simply making the playoffs, but can you put anything past a team that won seven of its final nine games and beat the Super Bowl champs in their own backyard?

    They are, after all, the only team to beat the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in the past two years.

    Here is a complete look at the team heading into training camp.

Offensive Depth Chart

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Note: (S) denotes starter; (R) denotes rookie

    Quarterback

    Carson Palmer (S)

    Drew Stanton

    Logan Thomas (R)

    Ryan Lindley

     

    Running Back

    Andre Ellington (S)

    Stepfan Taylor

    Jonathan Dwyer

    Robert Hughes

    Zach Bauman (R)

    Damien Thigpen

    Jalen Parmele (R)

     

    Wide Receiver

    Larry Fitzgerald (S)

    Michael Floyd (S)

    Ted Ginn Jr. (S)

    John Brown (R)

    Jaron Brown

    Brittan Golden

    Dan Buckner

    Walter Powell (R)

    Kevin Ozier (R)

    Kelsey Pope (R)

     

    Tight End

    John Carlson (S)

    Jake Ballard

    Rob Housler

    Troy Niklas (R)

    Darren Fells

    Andre Hardy

     

    Tackle

    Jared Veldheer (S)

    Bobby Massie (S)

    Bradley Sowell

    Nate Potter

    Kevin Palmer

    Cory Brandon

     

    Guard

    Jonathan Cooper (S)

    Paul Fanaika (S)

    Earl Watford

    Anthony Steen (R)

     

    Center

    Lyle Sendlein (S)

    Ted Larsen

    Philip Blake

    Tommie Draheim

    John Estes

Top Offensive Position Battles

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Slot Receiver: Ted Ginn Jr. vs. John Brown

    If the rookie wants to overtake the free-agent signee, he will have to be nearly perfect throughout camp. Brown is off to a good start, as he was just about perfect all offseason. It wasn’t until months after being made a third-round pick that he finally made a mistake—he dropped a ball at minicamp one day (oh no!).

    Ginn should win the battle out of camp and be Palmer’s go-to slot guy early on, but Brown will have an impact on the offense this season and could end up as the No. 3 receiver before long. Arians will make sure of that.

     

    Tight End: Everyone vs. Everyone

    We consider the tight end position that wide-open as camp gets going. Any one of the top four tight ends on the roster could wind up starting Week 1, and none of them would be a surprise.

    It may take a minor miracle for Housler to win the starting job considering he had all of last year to prove he was worthy of the honor. Ballard stuck around, and general manager Steve Keim signed Carlson and drafted Niklas this offseason.

    That should tell you all you need to know about Housler’s job security—or lack thereof.

     

    Right Guard: Earl Watford vs. Paul Fanaika

    Despite Fanaika starting all 16 games a year ago, he likely won’t start a game this season unless Watford misses significant time with an injury. A year of playbook study and lifting in an NFL weight room has Watford ready to go.

    Though this could be a good competition to watch early on, we expect the second-year guard will win the right guard spot easily.

     

    Right Tackle: Bobby Massie vs. The Field

    Let’s be honest: Sowell and Potter are not viable contenders to start at right tackle. The position is once again Massie’s to lose and, unless he falls flat on his face with mental errors, he will start the season on the right side for Arians’ offense.

    Even if he does fail miserably, neither of those two would start. Eric Winston is still a free agent. Should Massie bite the proverbial bullet, it would be better for the team to bring Winston back on another one-year deal than to trust Sowell or Potter.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that and Massie plays to his potential.

Offensive Sleepers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Here, sleepers are considered players who will begin the season with little to no role or who are lesser-known but could end up surprising everyone and making a positive impact by season’s end. Think Andre Ellington from last season. These players do not have to be rookies.

     

    Jaron Brown, Wide Receiver

    As an undrafted free agent last year, former Clemson receiver Jaron Brown signed with the Cardinals and made the 53-man roster out of camp. He did not play much, but Arians used him sparingly and the kid played in all 16 games.

    Brown played 161 snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), totaling 11 receptions for 140 yards (12.7 yards per catch) and a touchdown. He didn’t have a huge impact on games, but neither was he a hindrance on the field.

    This season Brown will serve as Arizona’s fifth receiver once again. With so much talent ahead of him, it’s possible defenses will lose track of him at times, allowing him to get behind them for big gains. Look for Brown to make a bigger impact this season.

     

    Troy Niklas, Tight End

    A second-round pick this offseason, Niklas was initially expected to make a sizeable impact right away for the Cardinals. But a hernia and a broken hand have sidelined him to this point, and it’s unclear as of now whether he will be ready for the start of camp.

    He’s way behind in terms of on-field experience. By now, he should have had two months of work with the rookie class and a couple weeks of work with his entire team. Unless he is ready for the start of camp and shows an impressive knowledge of the playbook, it could be a few games before Niklas has any impact at all.

    That’s disappointing considering the state of the tight end position. He could be the next Jason Witten, but he won’t be anything until he is healthy and able to play.

Top 3 Offensive Storylines

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Can Andre Ellington Build Off Strong Rookie Season?

    By now, you should know that Ellington became the first rookie running back to lead the NFL in yards per carry since Ickey Woods of the Cincinnati Bengals way back in 1988. If you didn’t know, now you do and you should store that away; it will be a good trivia question and answer 20 years from now.

    But can he build off that success with an increased workload this season?

    We’ve all laughed about Arians’ “25 to 30 touches per game” claim, because that will never happen. While he may have over-exaggerated quite a bit, his point is that Ellington will be a focal point of the offense—and for good reason.

    I chronicled his rookie season and the notion of 25 to 30 touches back in May, which you can check out here.

     

    How Will the Offensive Line Look?

    If Watford wins the right guard job, the offensive line will have four new starters compared to a year ago. Normally that could be considered a recipe for disaster, but what Keim has done with the line in the short time since he took over for former GM Rod Graves is undeniable.

    A former offensive lineman at North Carolina State and longtime scout for the Cardinals, Keim knows how to spot good offensive line play. It’s why Jonathan Cooper became the first offensive guard taken in the top 10 of the NFL draft in nearly 20 years.

    It’s also why he took a Day 3 flier on Watford when he did. He saw a potential 16-game starter who needed time to develop.

    With left tackle Jared Veldheer signed on for five years, Cooper manning left guard, the possibility of Watford taking over for an overmatched Fanaika at right guard and Massie asserting himself, Arizona’s line could potentially become a strong point for the offense as soon as later this season.

    As Arians has said in the past, however, “Potential ain’t s--t.” Let’s see it on the field.

     

    Which Carson Palmer Will We See in 2014?

    It was truly a tale of two seasons for Palmer in 2013. Over the first seven games, the team went 3-4 and Palmer—though he completed 60.5 percent of his passes—looked horrible at times. Some of that has since been blamed on receivers running wrong routes, but he threw 13 interceptions and only eight touchdowns over that span.

    It wasn’t all on the receivers.

    But from Week 8 on, the Cardinals went 7-2. Palmer looked like a Pro Bowler, save for one game in Seattle in which he managed to lead a game-winning touchdown drive after four interceptions. From Week 8 through the end of the regular season, Palmer was among the best quarterbacks in the league in every major statistical category. Then there’s this:

    Palmer was the only quarterback in the NFL from Weeks 8 through 17 to post a completion percentage of at least 65.0 percent, throw for over 2,500 yards and average better than 8.0 yards per attempt.

    Which Palmer will we see in 2014: Weeks 1 through 7 Palmer or Weeks 8 through 17 Palmer? Hopefully the latter, but if it’s somewhere in between the two, that would be just fine.

Defensive Depth Chart

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Note: (S) denotes starter; (R) denotes rookie

    Defensive End

    Calais Campbell (S)

    Darnell Dockett (S)

    Frostee Rucker

    Kareem Martin (R)

    Everrette Thompson

    Adrian Tracy

    Ed Stinson (R)

    Justin Renfrow (R)

     

    Nose Tackle

    Dan Williams (S)

    Alameda Ta’amu

    Anthony McCloud

    Bruce Gaston (R)

    Christian Tupou

     

    Outside Linebacker

    John Abraham (S)

    Matt Shaughnessy (S)

    Sam Acho

    Marcus Benard

    Alex Okafor

    Keenan Clayton

    Jonathan Brown (R)

     

    Inside Linebacker

    Kevin Minter (S)

    Larry Foote (S)

    Lorenzo Alexander

    Ernie Sims

    Kenny Demens

    Glenn Carson (R)

    JoJo Dickson

     

    Cornerback

    Patrick Peterson (S)

    Antonio Cromartie (S)

    Jerraud Powers

    Justin Bethel

    Brandon Sermons (R)

    Jimmy Legree (R)

    Bryan McCann

    Todd Washington (R)

    Teddy Williams

     

    Nickelback

    Tyrann Mathieu

    Jerraud Powers (S)

    Justin Bethel

     

    Strong Safety

    Deone Bucannon (S) (R)

    Tony Jefferson

    Orhian Johnson

     

    Free Safety

    Tyrann Mathieu (S)

    Rashad Johnson

    Tony Jefferson

    Curtis Taylor

    Eddie Whitley

    Anthony Walters

     

    Kicker

    Jay Feely (S)

    Danny Hrapmann

    Chandler Catanzaro

     

    Punter

    Dave Zastudil

     

    Long Snapper

    Mike Leach

    Glenn Carson

Top Defensive Position Battles

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    Christian Peterson/Getty Images

    Left Outside Linebacker: Matt Shaughnessy vs. Sam Acho

    As noted in my position-battles preview, the left outside linebacker competition could go back-and-forth all season. Coordinator Todd Bowles might give Shaughnessy more snaps versus teams that run the ball better, and he might give Acho more snaps against teams that are more adept in the passing game.

    And as for who should win the competition: It really isn’t that important because both will play plenty this season. Shaughnessy is a run-stuffing monster, while Acho is good in coverage.

    They might be on the field at the same time if Bowles’ employs more 4-3 looks; Shaughnessy would have his hand in the dirt as a defensive end with Acho standing up behind him.

     

    Inside Linebacker: Larry Foote vs. Lorenzo Alexander

    Second-year linebacker Kevin Minter has one spot locked down. The other, however, comes down to two players at the end of their respective careers.

    Larry Foote played a half of football last season before tearing his biceps in Week 1. Alexander started the first three games for the Cardinals last season at outside linebacker before suffering a Lisfranc injury during a Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

    Both coming off season-ending injuries could be a good thing, depending on how you look at it. Foote (34) and Alexander (31) are not the young, spry players they once were, so having missed a combined 28 games in 2013, they should be fresher than they would have been had they played 16 games each.

     

    Nickelback: Jerraud Powers vs. Justin Bethel

    Mathieu will start the season on the PUP list, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. That means, at least for now, the nickelback position is in the hands of either Powers or Bethel.

    Powers is the more experienced player of the two, but Bethel is the young up-and-comer with athleticism to spare and the drive to prove himself on defense. A Pro Bowl special teams player, Bethel was praised earlier this offseason by Arians, who said the gunner “has an unbelievable skill set” and has “the ability to be a top flight corner,” again according to Urban.

    Of all the defensive battles, you’ll want to watch this one closest.

Defensive Sleepers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Like the offensive sleepers, those on defense are players who are not expected to have much impact out of camp but could develop into key players by the end of the regular season.

     

    Kareem Martin, Defensive End

    With a top defensive line already in place, Martin has a mini mountain to climb just to get on the field early as a rookie. If he wants to play right away, he may have to move around all over the front seven. He acknowledged that fact in talking with Kent Somers of AZCentral.com early this offseason:

    "I think they’ll move me around. Wherever I can make plays. I feel most comfortable with my hand in the dirt; that’s what I’ve done all my life."

    Look for Martin to find his way on the field anywhere he can early. He should find a position and run with it quickly, whether it’s spelling Dockett or earning a rotation role with John Abraham—or both.

     

    Justin Bethel, Cornerback

    He might not win his battle with Powers for the starting nickelback role out of camp, but he could end up being on the field more often than Powers by season’s end. He’s one of the best athletes on the roster, and his larger frame is better suited to play in the physical NFC West than Powers.

    It might just be a matter of time before Bethel overtakes Powers on defense. Once the Pro Bowler earns a spot on defense, it will be difficult to get him off the field. If things go as well as Arians and Co. hope, Bethel may end up opposite Patrick Peterson as a starter.

Top 3 Defensive Storylines

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    David Seelig/Associated Press

    How Will Todd Bowles Replace Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby?

    The easy answer is, “with Kevin Minter and Larry Foote.”

    But nothing is that easy. Washington and Dansby combined for 197 total tackles, eight turnovers, 9.5 sacks and two touchdowns in 2013. Assuming the two replacements will come close to that level of production is naive.

    Washington and Dansby are different players than those replacing them, so Bowles must tweak his scheme—not necessarily to “hide” the inside linebackers but to help them be as effective as possible.

     

    From Where Will the Pass Rush Come?

    As mentioned, Washington and Dansby combined for 9.5 sacks last season. It’s safe to assume Minter and whomever starts next to him won’t touch that in 2014. Outside linebacker John Abraham should have another productive year, but who else will rush the passer successfully?

    Pass-rush-by-committee has been an unofficial mantra of Arizona’s defense since forever, and that should be no different this season. But someone other than Abraham has to step up.

    If he wants more heat on opposing quarterbacks, Bowles should scheme more pass-rushing opportunities for Calais Campbell.

    Campbell’s sixth NFL season was his best to date, setting career highs in sacks (9.0) and fumble recoveries (two) as well as recording his first career safety. All the while, he remained among the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL at stopping the run, according to PFF—he ranked ninth among his peers, earning a plus-7.0 grade against the run in 2013.

    Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com says Campbell is among the most underrated players in the league. If the 6’8” Campbell is to be dropped from the ranks of the underrated, it’s time Bowles unleashes him on offenses. Let him be the beast he can be.

     

    Is Antonio Cromartie Healthy?

    If the hip is 100 percent, then there is no reason Cromartie shouldn’t be among the best cornerbacks in the league this season. That would help propel the defense to heights not seen in Arizona.

    But that’s the two-part question: 1) Is Cromartie’s hip healthy, and 2) can it remain healthy all season?

    A healthy Cromartie will take a lot of pressure off Peterson and would allow Peterson to have a “break,” if you will, and cover a No. 2 from time to time. Depending on the matchup, it may be beneficial to allow Cromartie to follow a team’s No. 1 all over the field; or, let the two play the roles of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner and cover a side of the field.

Predicting the 53-Man Roster

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Offense

    Quarterback

    Carson Palmer (S)

    Drew Stanton

    Logan Thomas

    Running Back

    Andre Ellington (S)

    Stepfan Taylor

    Jonathan Dwyer

    Robert Hughes

    Wide Receiver

    Larry Fitzgerald (S)

    Michael Floyd (S)

    Ted Ginn Jr. (S)

    John Brown (R)

    Jaron Brown

    Tight End

    John Carlson (S)

    Jake Ballard

    Rob Housler

    Troy Niklas (R)

    Offensive Tackle

    Jared Veldheer (S)

    Bobby Massie (S)

    Bradley Sowell

    Nate Potter

    Offensive Guard

    Jonathan Cooper (S)

    Earl Watford (S)

    Anthony Steen

    Center

    Lyle Sendlein (S)

    Ted Larsen

     

    Defense

    Defensive End

    Calais Campbell (S)

    Darnell Dockett (S)

    Frostee Rucker

    Kareem Martin (R)

    Ed Stinson (R)

    Nose Tackle

    Dan Williams (S)

    Alameda Ta’amu

    Outside Linebacker

    John Abraham (S)

    Matt Shaughnessy (S)

    Sam Acho

    Alex Okafor

    Inside Linebacker

    Kevin Minter (S)

    Larry Foote (S)

    Lorenzo Alexander

    Kenny Demens

    Glenn Carson

    Cornerback

    Patrick Peterson (S)

    Antonio Cromartie (S)

    Justin Bethel (S, nickel)

    Jerraud Powers

    Teddy Williams

    Strong Safety

    Deone Bucannon (S) (R)

    Tony Jefferson

    Free Safety

    Tyrann Mathieu (S)

    Rashad Johnson

     

    Special Teams

    Kicker

    Chandler Catanzaro (R)

    Punter

    Dave Zastudil

    Long Snapper

    Mike Leach

     

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