The first of what is expected to be a steady diet of curveballs crossed the Arizona Cardinals plate on Tuesday when starting RT Marcus Gilbert officially opted out of the upcoming 2020 NFL season.
Prior to the announcement, the Cardinals had been one of the only teams in the NFL to not have a positive COVID-19 test or opt out. Now, they join virtually every other NFL team with adjusting to a situation for which there is no precedent. Obviously, how every team is impacted by COVID-19 will be the biggest training camp storyline across the league. Beyond that, with players resuming on field workouts for the first time since the end of last season, what stories will define the Cardinals training camp?
I'm glad you asked, Here are the top four from my perspective:
- The Cardinals offensive line has been the beneficiary of some revisionist history and analysis paralysis. Some Cardinals fans and media members insist the offensive line is not a big concern, citing PFF stats or choosing to blame Kyler Murray. I, on the other hand, remember many a 2019 game having a final drive in the fourth quarter defined by the Cardinals inability to protect Kyler Murray with the opponent rushing just three down lineman. Scheme and coaching can do a lot to mask the Cardinals offensive line's issues but talent still matters and this team is short on it across the board. Fortunately, they have several viable options to replace Gilbert at RT and odds are in Kelvin Beachum's favor in that competition.
2.2019 WR Draft Redux
- Last year, the Arizona Cardinals whiffed on all three WR's they drafted in the 2019 draft. Instead of growing in lockstep with Kyler Murray, they were all held back a year hoping for better results in 2020. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins acquisition eases the immediate pressure but the Cardinals still need something, anything, from one of the three. I love that the Cardinals included Andy Isabella in the above hype video catching a football, something he has reportedly struggled with as a pro. KeeSean Johnson fell off a cliff early last year and Hakeem Butler gets a fresh start after a sluggish rookie training camp was ended with an injury last year. My bet is still on Johnson but based on the Cardinals needs, Isabella or Butler would be a much better development.
- For a team with K1, K2 and P2 the most important letter/number combo once again is CB2. It's an annual training camp tradition: which Cardinals cornerback is going to get the challenge of starting opposite Patrick Peterson? While P2 had a miserable 2020, he finished strong and is likely to be lightly challenged by NFL QB's once again as he plays for a last, major contract. The good news is Robert Alford and Byron Murphy could both be up to the challenge. Alford returns from injury and Murphy returns from his baptism by fire rookie year. May the best corner win...and get picked on relentlessly for 16 games.
- What will Year 2 of Klub Kliff look like? Will the snack breaks be back? Will phone breaks be back in the schedule? Will Kliff turn up the intensity this year with an absence of all offseason on field work? The Cardinals are one of the teams likely to be most adversely affected by no preseason games and it will be very interesting to see how Kliff conducts his camp in Year 2.