High Hopes For The Secondary -- When Patrick Peterson Returns

Training camp is upon us -- the Cardinals have their first practice Thursday -- and actual football things will be happening for people such as me to write about. Until then, there is still speculation and what-ifs and rankings, in this case a ranking by Pro Football Focus of the 32 secondaries across the NFL. The Cardinals, according to PFF, have the sixth-best secondary in the league, a lofty spot that speaks well to the makeover GM Steve Keim tried to give the backend starting with the Christmas waiver claim of safety D.J. Swearinger.

The ranking, of course, has a caveat. It's only when Patrick Peterson is included, and, of course, there will be no Peterson in the first six games of the season.

(Across the rest of the NFC West, the Rams are ranked seventh, the 49ers are 29th and the Seahawks -- formerly inhabited by the lockdown and scary Legion of Boom secondary -- are 31st now that all their stars have departed or retired.)

That Robert Alford will perform to pre-2018 levels is also important, but Alford said he played almost all of last year through a bad ankle and that hurt his performance. He and the Cards (and PFF, for that matter) think he will do just that. The safeties, with Swearinger and Budda Baker, are good.

Byron Murphy is part of the five players listed by PFF, and he's going to play. The question with Murphy will be if he ends up in the slot -- where he'd be once Peterson returns -- so he maintains a consistent role the whole year, or if he goes out to fill Peterson's shoes for six weeks before shifting. As for the extra player, that's what camp is for. Veteran Tramaine Brock Sr. is the favorite going in, but maybe someone like Chris Jones can make a push.

That's a big story of camp, though, regardless of how it fleshes out. It's impossible to say the Peterson suspension won't hurt. It will. He's one of the best in the league. How well the Cardinals can cope -- and, through this prism, how close they can replicate a group that someone considers top 6 in the NFL -- will go a long way toward how those first six games turn out.

Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford during minicamp 2019

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