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Top Questions Heading Into 2017 Camp, Part II

Posted Jul 14, 2017

Bethel as No. 2 CB, Nkemdiche's growing role, Reddick's rookie impact

(Clockwise, from top left): DT Robert Nkemdiche, CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick and K Phil Dawson.

Bruce Arians is fond of saying that this time of year, it should be about me.

When Arians and the front office finalize a roster at the end of the preseason, that’s when the Cardinals become a team, Arians will say. Up until then, it’s about each individual guy worrying about his personal best so he can later be part of that team.

That’s why you end up with decisions to make as training camp plays out, and some questions to ask. Five questions of training camp were laid out the other day. Here are five more.

Will it be Justin Bethel at CB2 or someone else?

This time last year, it was the same exact query. Then, however, Bethel had re-broken his foot and never caught up, leading to a parade of possibilities and finally, a move to Marcus Cooper – who wasn’t acquired until the end of the preseason. This year, Bethel is healthy. On social media and other places, he’s anxious to get on the field and prove he can be the starter opposite Patrick Peterson. A free agent-to-be, Bethel has a lot riding on his performance. So do the Cardinals, who could still look at Brandon Williams, or maybe a camp veteran signing. If one were to pick the most important starting spot that must still be sorted out, this is it.

What will the defensive line look like without Calais Campbell and with Robert Nkemdiche?

Campbell left as a free agent. The defensive linemen – and their coach, Brentson Buckner – believe the unit will have to replace him by committee. That starts with the now-healthy Frostee Rucker and the underrated Corey Peters and Josh Mauro. But somewhere in there, the Cardinals need something impactful from Nkemdiche, their 2016 No. 1 pick. While there had been hope he would have done more as a rookie, this was for which Nkemdiche was truly drafted, for when Campbell’s time was up and the Cards needed a dynamic athlete on the line. Nkemdiche has said the right things in the offseason and worked hard. Coaches are pleased. But camp is another hurdle.

How much of an impact will Haason Reddick (and the other rookies) make?

After two seasons of No. 1 picks virtually redshirting, the Cardinals are looking at 2017 No. 1 pick Haason Reddick completely different. That would have been true anyway, but with Deone Bucannon forced to have ankle surgery after summer work had begun – Bucannon is expected to begin camp on the physically unable to perform list – the rookie linebacker slid into the starting unit alongside Karlos Dansby. Bucannon should be back sooner rather than later, but the Cardinals will need Reddick to perform. To a lesser extent, that goes for second-round safety Budda Baker, who because of school rules still has yet to practice with his veteran teammates.

Can the special teams units rebound?

The problems on special teams were well-documented. Crucial missed field goals. Bad snaps. Protection breakdowns leading to blocked punts. Poor punting. Little production in the return game. The Cardinals believe they have fixed those things. Veteran Phil Dawson replaced Chandler Catanzaro as kicker. There will be a punting competition between Matt Wile and Richie Leone. Rookie T.J. Logan should be the kickoff return man (although the Cardinals still haven’t found a suitable answer as punt returner.) Many of the best special teams players, who got hurt last season, are back healthy. The Cardinals don’t need the best special teams play in the league to get to where they want to go. But it needs to be much better than it was last season.

Will Bruce Arians have the physical camp he wants?

As far back as January, when Arians was taking part in charity events at the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament, he was talking about having a more physical training camp. This time last year, the Cardinals were coming off an NFC Championship game appearance and the expectation of being a heavy favorite. That’s no longer the case, and Arians saw part of the reason for a dropoff as not being prepared enough coming out of camp. He’s going to do his best to avoid a repeat.

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