Zaven Collins played at least a little bit of outside pass rush before this season. A little.
His pass rush moves were "plain and generic," he said. "I've been working every day trying to figure out what you can do what you can't do, what you're good at what you're not good at." The Cardinals now need Collins to be good, and good fast. There are plenty of questions around this team going into the first game Sunday in Washington, but the pass rush – and particularly coming from the edge – is one giant question mark.
Collins is in his first season as outside linebacker after playing on the inside his first two seasons. Dennis Gardeck had his gaudy 2020 (seven sacks in 94 pass rush snaps) but hasn't been able to replicate it. Cameron Thomas is young. BJ Ojulari, the rookie, barely worked in the offseason after knee surgery.
There is a spotlight on a few positions going into Week 1, but edge rusher is at or near the top of the list.
Ojulari would be key, but asking too much of him early in the season is unrealistic, given how much time he missed. "Looking back and seeing the (rookies) that came in and seeing them develop to where they are at now, it kind of bugged me," Ojulari acknowledged. "At the same time I just had to put in that extra work in my iPad and film just to catch up to where I need to be."
The Cardinals weren't great off the edge last season; their best sack guys were linemen J.J. Watt (12) and Zach Allen (5.5), both since departed. At some point, some of these draft picks – Jesse Luketa and Victor Dimukeje are also available – need to click.
"Attacking the quarterback, that's why the (offensive) tackles get paid, why corners get paid, whoever deals with quarterback the most," Collins said. "That's the position on the field and who I've got to get to. Make the snaps count."
-- From the NFL: 14 teams will have a different starting quarterback than they did in Week 1 last season. Both the Cardinals and Commanders will fall under that category. Eight of those 14 new signal-callers have fewer than 10 starts in the NFL. That will also be the Cardinals (probably Joshua Dobbs but Clayton Tune would count) and the Commanders (Sam Howell).
Jonathan Gannon stuck to his conviction of not naming a starter – "Same plan, guys," he said Friday when asked who the Cardinals would have at QB. We'll see when warmups start on Sunday morning to be 100 percent sure. Either way, it's a story.
-- If the need was to be more detail-oriented around the team and have everyone be more accountable, I found this Budda Baker comment about what the coaches expect from players about the mental side of the game fascinating.
"To not just know what you're supposed to do but to know-know it," Baker said. "Meaning you might know the answer to the test and the teacher asks what the answer is, you kind of know it but you don't really want to say it and then someone else raises their hand and says what you were going to say and then you're like, 'Man, I knew that.' JG talks about know-knowing it, really understanding the intricate details."
-- The Cardinals will open the regular season on the road wearing their "home" red uniforms; not a surprise with early season humidity that the Commanders are going with white.
-- Veteran Kelvin Beachum is out Sunday with a hand issue, and the Cardinals, at least on their active roster, don't have any offensive linemen that have been in the offense long. The other four reserve linemen on the 53-man roster all were claimed off waivers just last week. It wouldn't be a shock to see a practice squad lineman like a Hayden Howerton or a Marquis Hayes (or both) be elevated for the game and have inactive players who are on the 53 but aren't quite ready to go. Something to watch.
-- The storyline hasn't been front and center, but it feels like tight end Zach Ertz will be able to return for the opener. That'll probably officially come down to game day but having him on the field figures to be a difference-maker. Ertz had 47 catches for 406 yards in just nine-plus games last season and was on pace to smash the franchise tight end record for receptions in a season.
-- The last time the Cardinals opened with three straight NFC East opponents – like they are about to do at Washington and then at home against the Giants and Cowboys – was 1993, back when the Cardinals were actually in the NFC East and played those teams (and the Eagles) twice a season. Interestingly, the Cardinals moved into the NFC West for the 2002 season – and that year, opened the season in Washington.
-- Both offensive coordinator Drew Petzing and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said they plan to set up shop on game days on the sideline.
-- The Cardinals have 11 rookies on their 53-man roster. The only other time they have had at least that many in the last 20 years was the 12 rookies on Kliff Kingsbury's first team in 2019.
-- I asked Gannon if he was starting to feel the emotion of opening weekend.
"There is always a little bit of anxiousness, which is good, but that's why you don't look too far into the future, because you get anxious, (and) you look too far into the past, you get depressed," he said. "A certain amount of energy and anxiousness, that's good."
-- Thirteen straight weeks of Cardinals games coming, with their bye Dec. 10. See you Sunday.