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Evolution Of The Cardinals' Depth Chart

The team Arians planned to put on the field and the one that often took it weren't the same

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Quarterbacks Drew Stanton (5) and Ryan Lindley (14) and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (hat) were among those at the center of the Cardinals' unwanted depth chart swings through the season.


As coach Bruce Arians so eloquently put it in mid-November, the Cardinals traveled one "bumpy-ass road" in 2014.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and linebacker John Abraham combined to play one game. Not only did the team lose starting quarterback Carson Palmer to an ACL tear in Week 10, but backup Drew Stanton went down with a knee sprain five weeks later. Running back Andre Ellington missed the final portion of the season, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and defensive end Calais Campbell were among the many players who missed multiple games during the year.

Here is a look at the Cardinals' projected starting lineup in training camp and the players who took the field in the Wild Card playoff game – what proved to be the Cards' season finale -- on Jan. 3.

 

This is how the Cardinals got to that point, starting with the training camp injury of Dockett:

Aug. 18: From the moment Dockett hit the grass at University of Phoenix Stadium, it didn't look good. The three-time Pro Bowler was carted away from the training camp practice, and the fear was confirmed the next day: the Cardinals' standout defensive tackle was done for the season with a torn ACL.

Aug. 24: By the third preseason game, rookie John Brown ascended the depth chart to become the No. 3 wide receiver, a position he held all year. Brown caught four game-winning touchdown passes during the season, while the player he unseated, Ted Ginn, was used mostly on special teams and in four- or five-receiver sets.

Aug. 25: The Cardinals released incumbent veteran kicker Jay Feely, signaling the start of the Chandler Catanzaro era. The rookie undrafted free agent out of Clemson beat out Feely and Danny Hrapmann for the job, and finished the season 29-of-33 on field goals while consistently delivering deep kickoffs.

Aug. 27: The Cardinals signed veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a one-year deal. He teamed with defensive tackle Frostee Rucker to fill in capably for Dockett throughout the season, though Kelly admitted he wore down physically by the end of the year.

Sept. 8: Deone Bucannon was the Cardinals' first-round pick, and he looked like a prototypical strong safety to pair with Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. However, with a linebacker corps in need of reinforcements, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles got creative, playing Bucannon in the box the majority of the time, beginning with the season opener against the Chargers.

Sept. 8: Jonathan Cooper was the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2013 but missed his rookie campaign with a broken leg. When training camp opened he was widely expected to start at left guard, but struggled during practices and games. He then suffered a turf toe injury, and Ted Larsen seized the position. Cooper filled in for two games late in the year when right guard Paul Fanaika sprained his ankle, while Larsen started all 16 games after entering camp as a backup.

Sept. 19: Linebacker John Abraham suffered a concussion in the season opener against the Chargers. He initially considered retirement, but decided to return. It was not to be, as doctors ruled him out for the season with the head injury and he was placed on injured reserve.

Oct. 7: Punter Dave Zastudil's troublesome groin injury was aggravated in Denver and he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Drew Butler was elevated from the practice squad and served as the punter the rest of the year.

Oct. 12: Linebacker Alex Okafor saw his first extensive action of the season after recovering from a quadriceps injury. He had two sacks against the Redskins and finished with a team-best eight on the year. He was the most consistent outside pass-rusher on the team, and one needed after the Abraham injury.

Oct. 26: It took half the season to recover from his torn ACL, but Mathieu finally began looking like his old self against the Eagles, and he teamed with Tony Jefferson as an effective 1-2 punch at safety (Jefferson in base packages, Mathieu in nickel and dime). Unfortunately, the high-level play didn't last long, as Mathieu broke his thumb a month later against the Falcons. While Mathieu played the final two weeks of the season and the playoff game, he wasn't the same.

Nov. 11: The Cardinals beat the Rams two days earlier to improve to 8-1, but paid a heavy price with Palmer's non-contact knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve and the keys were handed to Drew Stanton. Quarterback Ryan Lindley – who played his first two seasons with the Cardinals but was cut in the preseason -- was signed from the Chargers' practice squad.

Dec. 5: While it didn't seem significant at the time, the elevation of practice squad running back Kerwynn Williams to the active roster would become a big storyline in the last month of the season. Williams had 19 rushes for 100 yards two days later against the Chiefs, the first carries of his NFL career.

Dec. 7: Free agent addition John Carlson moved to the top of the tight end depth chart quickly in the offseason and had a nice training camp, but it didn't translate to the regular season. Former professional basketball player Darren Fells sneaked on as the fourth tight end out of camp when Jake Ballard retired, but even then was inactive for much of the first half of the year. Fells' blocking prowess and improvement won over the coaches, and he started the final six games, beginning against the Chiefs.

Dec. 8: Running back Andre Ellington, who battled injuries all season, was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a core muscle injury. He ended the season averaging only 3.3 yards per carry after leading the NFL in the category the year before (5.5), but he still finished with 1,055 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

Dec. 11: The Cardinals beat the Rams for the second time, improving to 11-3 on the year, but again lost a quarterback. Stanton went down with a knee sprain in the third quarter, and while he was never ruled out for the year, he didn't play another snap. Lindley took over the rest of the way, but the Cardinals finished 0-3 with him under center.

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