When training camp begins, anything is possible.
A lot can change over a month of camp (and four preseason games), between injuries and depth chart adjustments. The offseason work is the time to learn the playbook. But it is camp, coach Bruce Arians emphasizes over and over, that truly determines the 53-man roster and who is going to receive playing time.
Some things are givens. Carson Palmer is going to be the quarterback. Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie are going to be the cornerbacks. Players like Calais Campbell or Larry Fitzgerald should provide what you are expecting.
Every season, though, there are a handful of players who have a chance to make a jump forward in their play. It might not be a jump to superstardom, or even as starter. It might just be as a heavy rotation guy but a key piece of the puzzle. With that, here are five players who have a chance to break out in 2014 for the Cardinals.
RT BOBBY MASSIE
Try, try again. Massie was one of the players picked for this list last year, and it blew up. Of course, the list came out a few weeks before the Cardinals signed veteran Eric Winston and that, pretty much, was that. Winston is gone and right now, Massie has the inside track to starting at right tackle. The Cardinals hope he has made the leap (especially mentally) to keep the job. It would be big for him and definitely for the Cards, who would like to be able to pencil him into the lineup for a few years.
WR JOHN BROWN
A lot has been said already about Brown and his abilities shown in the summer. Again, the offseason is the offseason, and Brown is behind three vets in Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn. But the Cardinals really love what Brown has shown already. Can it translate? The rookie year for wide receivers is usually fairly brutal, save for some very special talents. But Arians has shown he can make it work and what’s more, he would like to make it work. Brown’s impact might be a lot more than it figured to be when the unknown speedster was picked on draft day.
ILB KENNY DEMENS
Kevin Minter is going to be a factor at inside linebacker and as of right now, Larry Foote is the leader to start beside him. But maybe Demens -- who like Foote went to the University of Michigan, albeit a decade later – is a natural answer to find some youth at the position. As an undrafted rookie, Demens made an impression. This could be where he can make a career. Certainly, he’s not going to be a Daryl Washington or Karlos Dansby, but if he can evolve into a solid player in the linebacker corps, the Cards will come out better than expected. Certainly, the opportunity will be there to make that mark.
RB STEPFAN TAYLOR
Andre Ellington isn’t on the list to break out because, in the end, he already broke out last year. No one who followed the Cardinals knew Ellington as a major and important offensive threat by the time the season ended. With the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, however, there is a hole and a need for a second back to fill the void. It could be Steelers refugee Jonathan Dwyer. But Taylor, who looked OK in his limited play as a rookie, should get a chance to show what he can do. He isn’t the dynamic player Ellington is, and he isn’t quite as thick as Dwyer. But he was drafted (ahead of Ellington, actually) for a reason.
S TONY JEFFERSON
First-round pick Deone Bucannon is going to get his chance to play and it feels likely he will end up starting. But he was behind Jefferson during the offseason and that’s natural. Jefferson has a year under his belt, and he admits he was swimming a year ago in part because he went undrafted and wasn’t expecting the rude entrance to the league. His speed was a concern coming out, but he has shown some things to create value. Between Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals probably have starting safeties in their base look. But Jefferson, who could turn into an eventual replacement for Rashad Johnson, could make his way into the conversation.