The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a horrible 5-11 season and were big players in free agency. Through drafted players, undrafted rookie free agents, trades and free agency, the team added players such as Kevin Kolb, Todd Heap and Stewart Bradley.
Optimism is finally back in the desert and now all that needs to be done is to do as Al Davis says and "Just win, baby." Read on to see what are the five biggest questions surrounding the new-look Arizona Cardinals and how each affects the team.
The Cardinals lost No. 2 receiver Steve Breaston in free agency and since then have been on the look out for a replacement. Mike Sando of ESPN has an interesting take on whether or not the Cards should add another receiver. Sando believes the team could use another receiver but does not have to add one immediately. Also, Sando makes a good point about adding a No. 2 receiver. Sando says, "The Cardinals are not a No. 2 receiver away from contending for a championship."
The preseason will be key for all receivers not named Larry Fitzgerald because it gives them a chance to show the team that another receiver does not need to be brought in. The way to impress the coaching staff the most is to make big plays opposite Fitz and on the first team offense. If coaches see a player can make explosive plays against the opposing first team defense, it gives them more confidence in that player. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are looking like the two best candidates to start alongside Larry, and I think Roberts will edge out Doucet for the starting role.
Adrian Wilson is the vocal leader of the Cardinals and a huge part of the team. He is the leader of the defense and his bicep injury could be very costly to the team. Wilson tore his bicep during practice and he is going to try to play through it, even though doctors told him that he could have season-ending surgery.
That being said, Wilson brings so much to the defense, and if he isn't able to perform at least somewhat like his uninjured form, then the Cardinals will be hurt. The Cards have Rashad Johnson slated to take over Wilson's spot but Johnson is very inexperienced. I watched the Cardinals' first preseason game with the Oakland Raiders and Johnson looked timid from the strong safety spot. There was several times where Johnson missed a tackle or was in the wrong position on defense. The coaching staff is no doubt wishing Adrian a speedy recovery so he can get back to doing what he does best.
The offensive line was a huge concern last season, and the team went out and addressed those needs in free agency. They re-signed Lyle Sendlein, Deuce Lutui and Brandon Keith and added Daryn Colledge and Floyd Womack. The line has good individual talent, but we have to wait and see if they can put it all together as a unit.
The first team offensive line needs to show that they can protect Kevin Kolb effectively in preseason and as preseason goes on, they need to do so for longer periods of time. Kolb is a huge priority on the team now and I expect the coaching staff to stress that he needs to be protected. The line gave up 50 sacks last year and I expect that number to be around 30-35 this season.
During the Raider game, the line gave up early pressure a couple times and luckily, Kolb reacted quickly and was only sacked once. The line definitely needs to get some continuity and that's what these preseason games are for.
Pass rushing was a huge problem for the Cards last year, and there are many questions for the team regarding that aspect of the game. Down years from Calais Campbell and Joey Porter contributed to a low total of 33 sacks for last season. The team has to do better than that this year and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton will make sure of that. Horton brings a very aggressive, downhill defense to the Cards, and he has some tools to play within this defense.
Horton needs to see how linebackers Joey Porter, Stewart Bradley and Daryl Washington fare in this new defense in the preseason so he can make adjustments before their first game on September 11th. Look for the Cards to have a much improved linebacker corps and to have much more depth than last year. I think they will surprise quite a lot of people with their play.
This is the million dollar question: How good is Kevin Kolb? Ex and current teammates have raved about his skill and said he has all the tools to succeed, but is he really that good? So far in practice, he has looked good and has lived up to the hype, but his performance against the Raiders in their first preseason game was much more telling of what kind of player Kolb is.
In the couple of series that Kolb participated in, he looked fluid and calm in the pocket. He showed good mobility outside the pocket, rushing for a 15-yard gain, and that he can throw the deep ball, with a 43-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Kolb finished 4-7 for 68 yards and showed he can lead the offense effectively, even if the sample size is minimal.
Kolb's role should increase in each preseason game, as should his grasp for the offense. Once the regular season rolls around, Kolb should be much more comfortable running the offense and start putting his own spin on plays.