The return to health of quarterback Carson Palmer should open up the Cardinals' playbook in 2015, and coach Bruce Arians may not stop there.
The Cardinals practiced their no-huddle offense in Monday's organized team activity and Arians said it could become a usable wrinkle at times during the season. Many of the top skill players are returning for their second or third years within the offense, and the comfort level allows for more diversity in the play-calling.
"We can play real fast right now," Arians said. "I like the tempo of it. It's gone really well the whole time
we've been out here, but this is the first time we've actually practiced it against the defense."
While the offensive line is undergoing an overhaul, the top of the skill player depth chart is littered with experience. Palmer may not turn into Peyton Manning-light and call plays without huddling on a regular basis, but having the option can be fruitful in certain situations.
"You can change the pace of the game," Arians said. "Obviously, you get (the defense) in a substitution pattern and they're stuck with whatever's on the field. There's advantages to it and there's disadvantages to it."
Palmer isn't practicing in full team drills so the Cardinals can't give it a perfect simulation, but there's plenty of time left in the offseason if Arians wants to make it a priority. The no-huddle was used sparingly last season, mostly when a half was winding down or when the Cardinals faced a deficit, but wide receiver John Brown would like to use it as a weapon next year.
"We did it at least one time a week in practice (last season) but not as much in game-time situations," Brown said. "Hopefully we can come out at the beginning of a game and go (no-huddle) and wear a defense out."
FINDING THE RIGHT MATCHUPS AT NOSE TACKLE
The Cardinals signed Corey Peters in free agency as the defensive line replacement for Dan Williams, and he has been penciled in as the starter at nose tackle. At 305 pounds, Peters also has the ability to slide over to defensive end, which is a common theme on the defensive line.
The Cardinals showed a variety of looks last season depending on the matchup, and may even be more versatile this year. It's something General Manager Steve Keim has pinpointed when making personnel
"To me, that's something that's extremely appealing to know that these guys are interchangeable, regardless of injury or if guys are tapping out and need a blow," Keim said.
There will be times when the defense loads up to stop the run, and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu hopes to be in the center of that personnel grouping. After an impressive 2013, he was a non-factor last season while recovering from a torn ACL.
He said the knee would get sore after a week of practicing, and the weight he put on while recovering made things harder. Ta'amu has ditched a knee brace and feels confident he can fill the run-stopping role better than the hybrid linemen.
"They can't play nose like me," Ta'amu said with a wide smile. "They can't play first and second down like me. I'll take on two blockers. But Corey's athletic as hell. Hopefully we'll be like Dan (and I) again, where I'll be the muscle and (Peters) will be the quick person that does things. I'll just go in and handle the dirty work."
PLENTY OF OPTIONS BEHIND ELLINGTON AT RUNNING BACK
In almost every one of his sessions with the media over the past few weeks, Arians has been asked about the potential pairing of Andre Ellington and David Johnson as the 1-2 punch at running back.
Arians acknowledges Ellington as the clear-cut starter, but refrains from categorizing Johnson as his sidekick.
"David's not in the picture yet," Arians said. "He's just a rookie. Andre's still the guy and the other three veterans (Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice) are fighting for their roles. David's trying to find his niche. He ain't getting (expletive) yet."
Arians likes Johnson's traits, but the third-round pick has to show they translate from college to the NFL.
"I want to see him in pads running the ball," Arians said. "He's smart. He does a lot of different things position-wise. We'll see when we put pads on."
Pictures from the opening day of the final week of 2015 OTAs