Having had a full year under head coach Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals are using this offseason’s OTAs to shore up areas of concern and build on last season’s success as they hope to make an extended push into the playoffs this coming season. As usual, there are some things to watch for as training camp nears.
Carson Palmer struggled mightily in the first half of the 2013 season leading many, myself included, to call for Drew Stanton to step in. In the first half of last season, Palmer threw 10 touchdowns and 14 interception. Arians stood firmly behind Palmer and as it turns out, he knows a little more about football than many of us do.
Arians’ quarterbacks initially struggle early in his system then improve as they become more comfortable and Palmer was no different, throwing 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions, four of those coming in one game. Can Palmer maintain and build upon that success?
In March, the Cardinals signed wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to a three-year deal hoping to add a speed threat at wide receiver. In a surprising move, they followed that up by drafting speedster John Brown in the third round of the draft. Brown has shown a lot of promise early on and could become an early fan favorite, especially if Ginn Jr struggles.
While I tend to think Arians will go with the veteran, as he tends to do, everything I’m hearing about Brown thus far leads me to believe this could be an interesting area to watch.
Karlos Dansby seemed to revive his career after signing a one year deal with the Cardinals last offseason, and was instrumental in the defense’s rise to become one of the best in the league. This past offseason, Dansby proceeded to follow the money to Cleveland, leaving some to wonder if the defense can perform to the same level it did last season in his absence.
I tend to believe much of Dansby’s performance last season was a product of the system, but his leadership in the locker room will undoubtedly be missed. The recent signing of Larry Foote could partially be a way of filling that leadership void left behind by Dansby.
Arians recently came out and confirmed that Andre Ellington will indeed be the featured back in this offense. This brings up another question however: if Ellington is number 1, who will the second back be? Ideally, it would be Stepfan Taylor, who showed some flashes in the power running game last season but nothing much to get excited about.
There’s Jonathan Dwyer or Robert Hughes, both of whom Arians is familiar with, and either could become that change-of-pace back. Jalen Parmele figures to be in the mix for that fourth or fifth spot as well.
One name to keep an eye on is Zach Bauman. At 5-foot-7, Bauman won’t be overpowering any NFL linebackers, but he has great speed and elusiveness. If Bauman can make an impact on special teams, he could find himself on the final 53-man roster.
Barring injury, the left side of the Cardinals’ offensive line is set. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the right side still has question marks. Ideally, Earl Watford and Bobby Massie would anchor the right side, though Massie has struggled since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012.
He has all the physical tools necessary to be a successful tackle in this league, but has to cut down on the mental errors as this could very well be a make-or-break year for Massie. Given the Cardinals’ history at offensive line, you could do worse than Paul Fanaika and Bradley Sowell.