WHO: Arizona Cardinals
WHERE: Glendale, Ariz. University of Phoenix Stadium
WHEN: Monday, Aug. 13
HOW: Flew from Denver to Phoenix
Sam Bradford got the day off as the rest of the Cardinals labored in the friendly confines of Arizona’s indoor stadium, so it was Josh Rosen’s time to shine with the ones. He did so with the benefit of a less-than-live pass rush after Saturday’s inconsistent performance behind a struggling second-string offensive line. Sorry to say, the 10th overall selection in the 2018 draft didn’t look much better against his own teammates. Part of that can be blamed on a wide receiver group without a clear No. 2 to Larry Fitzgerald, but many of Rosen’s wounds were self-inflicted. While his footwork looked solid, Rosen air-mailed several balls at the goal line and down the sidelines, and looked out of sync with route-runners.
Conversely, undrafted free agent quarterback Chad Kanoff is making the most of his opportunity under center, and seems to have a fighting chance at supplanting Mike Glennon as the No. 3 quarterback on the roster. The Princeton product’s accuracy on deep balls Monday, particularly on one bomb to Trent Sherfield, made it hard to tell who was the first-round pick and who played his college ball in the Ivy League (no offense to the Ivy League, which has much more going for it than football).
Here’s the strange thing about watching Rosen and Kanoff side by side: When Kanoff faltered, he was reserved, attentive, and quickly moved on to the next play. When Rosen tossed up a bad ball or failed in a third-down scenario, he was visibly upset, taking big swings at nothing with a cleated foot and generally looking pretty miserable. A bunch of anonymous scouts were talking about the UCLA product’s bad body language during the pre-draft process, and while you should take most of that anonymous stuff with a grain of salt, one can see here in training camp why there were concerns.
I didn’t see a receiver separate himself from the pack, and I don’t know that one will. Big-bodied Greg Little, the 29-year-old journeyman who caught 155 balls over three seasons in Cleveland but hasn’t appeared in a game since 2014, had a strong day and looked like he could be a problem for smaller corners. It would be a nice comeback story if the former second-round pick can make a contribution. It’s difficult to get excited about J.J. Nelson, whose elite speed hasn’t translated into production over his four seasons. Rookie second-rounder Christian Kirk, on the other hand, promises to create problems for opposing special teams and probably defenses at some point this season.
OH, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT!: In front of the white board in the Cardinals locker room rests a track and field hurdle, roped off by black chain like an art exhibit. The front of the hurdle reads “trust, accountability and commitment,” new coach Steve Wilks’s mantra for the season. The hurdle is meant to represent all the obstacles Arizona has in its path to contention. It’s a nice touch, and probably an effective reminder... and totally one of those little quirks players will anonymously ridicule if things go off the rails with Wilks.
STORYLINE TO WATCH: I’ll be interested to see how quickly David Johnson’s fantasy stock goes up this preseason with him back to looking like the stud he was in 2016. In preseason and in practice he seems to have benefitted from fresh, healthy legs (a wrist injury limited him to one game in 2017) and he promises to be a vital asset in the passing game whether it’s Bradford or Rosen behind center. As for non-fantasy storylines, this is a critical time for the brand-new right side of the offensive line, with Justin Pugh stepping in at right guard and Andre Smith at right tackle (not to mention rookie third-rounder Mason Cole potentially starting at center with A.Q. Shipley done for the year). It’s hard to tell much about the offensive line when the action isn’t live, but they seemed to handle the delay blitzes and the nickel double A-gap disguise blitzes well, for what it’s worth.
TOP POSITION BATTLE: Wide receiver, and it's anybody's ballgame. Greg Little, J.J. Nelson, Christian Kirk, Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams and Brice Butler all appear to be in the mix. The Cardinals just haven’t spent much cash or draft capital in the receiver department aside from using the second-rounder on Kirk, who they hope can develop into a reliable slot guy this season. There’s not a field-stretching tight end on the roster, which means David Johnson will be picking up the slack in the backfield. There might not be a running back more critical to a team’s success in the NFL this season.
OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: Maybe this doesn’t precisely fit the definition of offbeat, but you don’t get to see this sort of thing too often. I was alone with a couple of Cardinals media relations folks in the locker room for a short time while the rest of the media contingent was in Wilks’s press conference, and I watched veteran safety Antoine Bethea hold court and break down the Arizona defensive response to 3x1 formations to a bunch of defensive backs. A few moments later, veteran linebacker Josh Bynes was explaining alignments to some young linebackers and defensive backs. There’s one thing Arizona has in spades: veteran leadership.
PARTING THOUGHTS: I left wondering what kind of quarterback Rosen will be when it’s the halftime on the road, he’s just thrown two picks in the first half, and he’s got to rally 10 guys in a huddle to follow him in a comeback effort. Then again, Rosen was cool under pressure—bad snaps and all—in his preseason debut. In any case, this is a team that will live and die by the swift feet and sure hands of David Johnson.
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