Here are my top 5 stories to watch for during the Cardinals preseason opener.
Of course the preseason and the entire regular season will be about Kyler Murray but specifically on Thursday, I'm curious to see how often he runs. In Saturday's Red/White Scrimmage, we saw Murray run the ball a lot more than anyone expected. There was no live tackling in that scrimmage so Thursday will give us the first chance to see Kyler's tendencies running the ball. He's remarkable with the ball in his hands but he's also a significantly higher injury risk running the ball. Per Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler is unlikely to play significant snaps and its unlikely any of those few snaps are designed runs but if he gets chased out of the pocket, it will be fascinating to watch.
The Cardinals worked out former first round pick and Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree on Tuesday but declined to sign him, despite a report indicating they had. The signing of Crabtree would've immediately upgraded a WR group that has been disappointing to start camp. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk are locks as the top two options. Sixth round pick KeeSean Johnson has emerged as the early favorite as the third WR and every other WR has looked like a fringe contributor, including fellow rookies Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler. The Cardinals workout of Crabtree was likely a message to the group that they are playing for their jobs in the first preseason game, as it should be. Crabtree should've been signed in April and for a team likely to run lots of 4 WR sets, the Cardinals are once again playing with fire at the WR position.
After having the worst offensive line in the league and what some considered to be one of the worst OL performances in modern football history, the Cardinals made nominal improvements in the offseason to protect their new franchise QB. Justin Pugh will miss time already with an injury, Mason Cole will slide over to guard and AQ Shipley appears to be locked in to C. The Cardinals OL depth is brutal beyond Korey Cunningham and its starting unit hasn't looked up to the challenge early in camp. Steve Keim has already pulled off some Houdini-like magic remaining employed after arguably the worst calendar year for any GM ever in football last year; if he fails to improve the offensive line (again), it will be the reason he would justifiably be fired.
Patrick Peterson has been getting the better of Kyler Murray in camp but he won't be on the field Week 1 versus the Lions. The Cardinals have to find a way to patch together a cornerback group that has been a consistent Achilles heel for the team the last few years. Robert Alford with be the #1 corner in P2's absence, Tramaine Brock will likely be #2 and Byron Murphy will patrol the slot. After that, its a guessing game. Chris Jones has impressed, per Kingsbury. He spent last year shuttling between the practice squad and active roster and only appeared in 2 games. The Cardinals secondary, like the offensive line, could once again undercut whatever improvements they may have made at QB.
Kicking competitions only matter for good teams (See: Bears, Chicago) so no one seems to mind that the Cardinals are handing their K job to someone who not shown he can be an NFL kicker. Gonzlez had a great career at ASU, blew his chance with the Browns, got healthy and ended up as the uncontested starting K for the Cardinals. Kickers matter in the NFL and if the Cardinals blow an early season opportunity at a W because they simply didn't create a kicking competition, they will have no one to blame but themselves.