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Top Questions Heading Into 2016 Camp, Part II

Posted Jul 21, 2016

Mathieu's health, the impact of Nkemdiche and Jones, and the future of Fitz

Among the questions for the Cardinals (clockwise from left to right), Justin Bethel at cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu's comeback, Larry Fizgerald's future and the impact of Robert Nkemdiche.

There will be choices to make up and down the roster at the end of training camp. That has been obvious for a while to both coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Steve Keim.

But there are always roster decisions in camp. Other questions remain, questions that will go a long way in determining whether the Cardinals will indeed be able to make a run toward another NFC West crown and – potentially – the Super Bowl.

Five questions have already been asked. Here are five more:

Who will be the cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson?

The favorite is going to be Justin Bethel, because he is the veteran remaining, he is the one who got the contract extension at the end of last season and he was the one the Cardinals considered when allowing Jerraud Powers to walk as a free agent. Bethel missed all of the offseason after foot surgery, and he did have times when he struggled when he got a lot of cornerback work following Tyrann Mathieu’s injury. But he still will be the man to beat. The Cardinals signed veteran Mike Jenkins this week to be in the battle and they could also still sign another veteran. Meanwhile, rookies Brandon Williams and Harlan Miller got a lot of prep work in the spring and could make a push to play. Whoever gets the job, they will be tested, because teams are going to throw away from Peterson.

What will be the impact of Chandler Jones?

The Cardinals wanted a young stud pass rusher and they had trouble finding one in free agency. So Keim did something about it – he traded for Jones, giving up only a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper, from whom the team was ready to move on. The downside of Jones is that he is playing on the last year of his contract and he is going to command some large dollars on the other side. But that’s a concern for Keim. For Arians, he has that top-flight edge rusher to let loose on opponents, likely in tandem with down lineman Calais Campbell. The Patriots liked to use Jones all over the place, even inside at times. The Cardinals are going to leave Jones on the outside and let him loose. Expectations are high that it will pay off with major pressure.

How is the health of the Honey Badger?

On one hand, safety Tyrann Mathieu is in a much better place with this ACL rehab than he was the last time he tore up his knee. That injury was more complicated, with other issues than just the ACL. This time, the ACL tear was “clean” and should help Mathieu be ready quicker. On the other hand, Mathieu understands when he returned from that first ACL injury in 2014, he wasn’t right. He could play, but not like the Honey Badger would. Mathieu set the bar high with the way he played in 2015 before he got hurt. That’s the guy Mathieu wants to be when he returns to the field. He figures to be a little more cautious in his comeback – so will he be ready for the Patriots’ opener on “Sunday Night Football”?

Can Robert Nkemdiche play a big role right away?

This is certain: 2016 first-round pick Nkemdiche is going to play and have a role, unlike what happened to 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries. He isn’t expected to start. But he is expected to be in the defensive line rotation, and after the splashy addition of Jones, Nkemdiche may end up the under-the-radar impact guy of the pass rush. The Cardinals have strong depth on the defensive line so Nkemdiche’s play isn’t necessarily crucial, but if he can unleash his physical talents in 30 or so plays a game, it would be welcomed by coordinator James Bettcher’s defense.

What will be Larry Fitzgerald’s future?

This is not a question that can be answered in training camp. The veteran wide receiver, coming off a career-best 109 receptions, heads into the last year of his contract turning 33 at the end of August and with a future that is vague. The Cardinals have a ton of contractual question marks after the 2016 season -- fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is also coming into the last year of his deal -- and Fitzgerald is only one. And while Fitz hasn’t said he is thinking heavily of retirement, he hasn’t said he will definitely be playing beyond this season. The variables are many – how the team does, what the roster makeup might look like for 2017, what kind of contract the team is willing to offer, how Fitzgerald feels about playing more than 13 seasons – and all but guarantee this will continue to be a storyline throughout the season.

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