Everything is possible in mid-July.
Training camp is two weeks away, nobody has been hurt, no one has struggled in a preseason game. A team is assembled and on paper, optimism reigns. It’s also easy to scan the roster and pick out a few players who figure to have both the opportunity and the skills to break out in 2013.
It’s far from an exact science. There’s a reason the Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians want to see these players in training camp and in true football situations – not just the shorts of the offseason. That said, here are my five picks for a potential breakout season. My criteria is simple: These guys couldn’t have already done it before. So while veterans like running back Rashard Mendenhall or defensive tackle Darnell Dockett have a shot at popping out this year, we are talking about proven pros in the past. For these five, true proof is yet to come.
TE ROB HOUSLER
He’s perhaps the most obvious choice, for a multitude of reasons. With only three proven receivers, Housler should be necessary. Carson Palmer is the best quarterback Housler will have played with in his short career. Arians believe tight ends are important, and Housler – given his physical stature – can give the Cards some matchup advantages (Arians said he saw Housler as a big receiver coming out of college.) Housler’s blocking is a work-in-progress, and we’ve talked about his breakout potential before. Last season, Arians and the Colts got 26 catches from a banged-up Coby Fleener and 45 from Dwayne Allen, both of whom were rookies. I don’t see Housler becoming an 80-catch guy with the Cards’ receiving corps, but I can see 60 if things click.
RT BOBBY MASSIE
By the end of the offseason practices, Massie was working as the backup left tackle behind Levi Brown while Nate Potter got work at right tackle. Arians said it wasn’t significant, since he wants versatility in all his linemen and that makes sense. I still expect Massie to be the choice for starting right tackle. As poorly as he played the first half of last season, he played well the second half of the year. He fully expects to continue his upward trend this season. The Cards need that. They need a fourth-round offensive lineman to develop into a solid starter. It makes sense Massie can do just that.
LG JONATHAN COOPER
During the Ken Whisenhunt era, only two No. 1 picks out of six started at the outset of their rookie regular season, and both might not have without preseason injuries: Brown in 2007 after Oliver Ross got hurt, and Patrick Peterson in 2011 after Greg Toler went down. That isn’t a question with Cooper, the No. 7 overall pick who not only will start but forced a move of veteran Daryn Colledge to the right side. In a draft packed with highly sought offensive lineman, many think Cooper will make the biggest impact right away. His ability to pull and use his athleticism in the run game and the screen game will aid Arians’ offense. All along, General Manager Steve Keim said before the draft if there was a chance to take a potential multi-time Pro Bowler at 7, even if he were a guard, he didn’t have a problem with it. Now we’ll see if Cooper can live up to that billing.
S TYRANN MATHIEU
Clearly, it’s a different staff. Two rookies on the breakout list? I never would’ve expected that. Picking Mathieu may be the biggest leap, but there are reasons to think the third-round choice has that kind of potential. One has to do with the safety situation, which features Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell as the starters and the possibility of Mathieu getting significant playing time under the right scenario (It doesn’t hurt that he could play slot cornerback too.) The other is Mathieu’s playmaking ability, which not only allows the possibility of interceptions but even some sacks via the blitz. Some sort of role in the return game is also possible. It’s not like Mathieu is going to lead the team in tackles, but his value can be built in other ways.
WR MICHAEL FLOYD
If Housler is the most obvious possibility for breakout player, maybe that’s because Floyd is veering on to being a given. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick looked better at the end of last season but more importantly clearly had a better handle on himself and his role this offseason – even with a brand-new offense. Floyd has been an important target during OTAs and minicamp and there is little question the coaches are prepping him to take on a large load. Larry Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere, but with Palmer behind center and Fitz drawing the defense, Floyd has the potential to have a pretty big season under Arians’ offensive scheme.