5 Arizona Cardinals Under The Most Scrutiny In Training Camp
Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals got off to a strong start. They were 4-0, including huge victories over their NFC West rival the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. Then things began to fall apart. The injury bug flew in and sapped all the strength out of the team. Offensive tackle Levi Brown missed all of last season because of a torn right biceps tendon. Starting center Lyle Sendlein was gone for the last half of the season with a torn MCL in his left knee. Quarterback Kevin Kolb missed seven games with a rib injury. Running back Ryan Williams missed most of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury. Former coach Kevin Whisenhunt had to resort to rookies to fill in for the offensive line, and it wasn't pretty. The Cardinals were dead last in almost every offensive category, including a league-worst 15 points per game. In December, the Seahawks embarrassed them by shutting them out 58-0. The team finished 5-11. Their defense was respectable. They gave up only 200 passing yards, good for fifth in the NFL. However, they were dreadful at stopping the opposing teams' running game.
The Cardinals' under-performance led to the firing of Whisenhunt and a complete overhaul of the team. The team scooped up offensive coordinator Bruce Arians from the Indianapolis Colts to become their new head coach. They drafted left guard All-American Jonathan Cooper of University of North Carolina to fix the offensive line, brought back linebacker Karlos Dansby, and acquired Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to be their starter. In addition, the defensive secondary was completely overhauled. Six of their mainstays last season were jettisoned.
Arians looks to lead the Cardinals to a new era. He's holding players accountable for mental mistakes, focusing on physical conditioning, and he has 20 assistants to help the team grasp the new system. With that in mind, let's look at the five players that have the most at stake during training camp.
Let's face the truth: Carson Palmer is not the same player as when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2005-2007. He still has a strong arm, as evident by his 4,018 passing yards last season, but he's always been prone to throwing interceptions and if this o-line doesn't improve, he'll be taking a lot of hits and fumbling the ball. He'll be the default starting quarter back, but there's Drew Stanton looming behind him. Stanton is already familiar with Arians' offensive schemes from 2011. If Palmer fails to live up to expectations, Stanton will gladly take the starting job.
In 2009, Virginia Tech running back Williams ran for 1,655 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. The Cardinals made him their second pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Sadly, his pro career has been an utter failure. He missed his entire rookie season with a torn patella tendon in his right knee, and he missed 11 games from a shoulder injury the following year. Can we say injury prone?
Last season, Pro Bowler linebacker Daryl Washington averaged nine sacks, forced two fumbles, and had 108 tackles. He was a stud on the field. Off the field, a whole different story. He is suspended the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Last month, he was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his new baby girl. If he can't keep his life together, Dansby will take his starting job and Washington will be looking for employment elsewhere.
Daryn Colledge was moved to the right guard position to make way for Cooper. He'll have to learn a new stance and move his body differently. It's almost like learning a new language. He has also been tasked to learn the center and tackle positions if he wants job security. The older a person is, the harder it is to learn a new thing well. He's got the correct attitude, but he has to prove he's versatile enough on the field.
Arians plans to use Tyrann Mathieu as a safety-corner hybrid. In college at Louisiana State, he was nicknamed the "Honey Badger" because he was so ferocious on the field. During the two years that he was eligible to play, he recovered eight fumbles, returned two for touchdowns, forced 11 fumbles, made four interceptions, had six sacks and returned two punts for touchdowns. However, he was kicked off the team last year for failing multiple drug tests. The Cardinals took a gamble selecting him in this draft's third round. They structured Mathieu's rookie contract so that he'll get paid beyond the guaranteed $625,000 only if he remains clean and stays out of trouble.