Hall of Fame Game: Cardinals, Saints storylines to follow

The Hall of Fame Game is finally upon us, meaning that the 2012 NFL season has arrived.

Although it’s only the first of many preseason games, the Hall of Fame Game does present the audience with several intriguing aspects that must be kept a close eye on.

Whether or not you plan on watching the game, here’s a look at some of the prominent storylines to watch when the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints kick off the 2012 NFL season.

Can Kevin Kolb solidify the Cardinals’ starting quarterback spot?

There’s been a lot of talk this offseason about Kolb and his inability to nail down the Cardinals starting spot. When they acquired him last offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles and gave him a big pay day, it was expected that Kolb would excel. Instead, he threw for only 1,955 yards and 9 touchdowns while accumulating 8 interceptions and spending almost half the season sidelined by injury. So now it’s 2012 and it’s time for the man who was expected to be the Cardinals’ savior to put up or shut up. He’ll need to assert himself as the clear-cut starting quarterback and earn his money, or Arizona will likely explore other options at season’s end. The Hall of Fame Game will be his first chance to show that he’s ready to carry the offense.

How are the Saints adjusting after “Bountygate” sanctions?

When the NFL punished the Saints for the “Bountygate” fiasco, they hit hard. On top of several player suspensions, including the year-long suspension of defensive leader Jonathan Vilma, the Saints also lost their head coach Sean Payton. With interim head coach Joe Vitt (who’s suspended for the first six games) taking over and the team turned upside-down, it’s unclear as to how the franchise will respond. Will they overcome their deficiencies and continue to prove that they’re contenders in the NFC? Or will they crumble and succumb to the pressure that the league’s sanctions have put on them. Although the answer won’t be clear until the regular season gets under way, how they handle the Cardinals during the Hall of Fame Game will be an early gauge.

Can Patrick Peterson be an elite coverage cornerback?

The No. 5 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Patrick Peterson struggled in coverage last season while making his presence felt on special teams. This season, though, the Cardinals are looking to match Peterson up against the opponent’s best wide receiver. It’s obvious that the former LSU cornerback has the physical tools and instincts to develop into one of the NFL’s best cover men, but can those skills translate to on-field production? All reports have indicated that he’s excelling during training camp and is ready for a breakout sophomore season. Peterson will have his first opportunity to show that he’s capable of being an elite cornerback against the Saints and shouldn’t disappoint.

Is Mark Ingram ready for a breakout season?

Despite employing the “running back by committee” approach, the Saints were expected to feature 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram in their ground attack last season. Injuries and a slow start, however, forced Ingram into a backup role while others like Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles stole the spotlight. Heading into the 2012 campaign, though, the focus is again expecting to turn towards Ingram. The former Heisman Trophy winner is a hard load to bring down and has the burst to make something out of nothing in the NFL. Still, before he can solidify the Saints starting job, he’s going to have to prove that he can do better than the 3.9 yards-per-carry that he averaged during his rookie season. There’s potential for this to be a breakout year for Ingram, and the Hall of Fame Game would be a great starting point.

Where is Michael Floyd?

Coming into training camp, there was a lot of concern surrounding wide receiver Michael Floyd, the Cardinals’ first-round pick this past April. After showing up several days late to Larry Fitzgerald’s camp and struggling through offseason workouts, skepticism is being to crop up that the former Notre Dame standout might not have the mental toughness or motivation to succeed in the NFL. Currently fourth on the Cardinals wide receiver depth chart, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in his first live action during the Hall of Fame Game. Is Floyd one of those players that underwhelms in practice but shows up on game day? Or is he not yet ready to be a contributor for the Cardinals?

All of these issues and more will become clearer when the Cardinals take on the Saints on Sunday. Stay tuned.

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