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Position Battles To Watch At Training Camp

No. 2 cornerback again highlights the list of spots up for grabs


Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (left) is healthy and aiming to secure a starting job in training camp.

Even though there was plenty of roster turnover this offseason, the Cardinals won't have many starting positions up for grabs in training camp. However, there is the big one– second cornerback – and plenty of other question marks as the coaching staff determines which players to keep on the active roster.

Here's a look at some positions to watch as the Cardinals convene for their first practice on Saturday.

Cornerback – Patrick Peterson is locked in as the star cover man, as he's been for several years. The revolving door on the opposite side continues. Justin Bethel was expected to claim the starting job last season but was hampered by a foot injury throughout the year and slid down the depth chart.

Brandon Williams was the starter for the first two games but was quickly overtaken by Marcus Cooper. With Cooper departing for the Bears in free agency, Bethel is back to being the favorite, with Williams his top competition.

Unless Williams really shines in bump-and-run coverage with the pads on, Bethel will likely secure the job. If neither stands out, the Cardinals could look to add a veteran in free agency or see if a darkhorse candidate on the roster emerges.

Wide receiver – Larry Fitzgerald anchors the group and J.J. Nelson's role as a deep threat is cemented, but there is uncertainty beyond that duo. John Brown is a solid No. 2 wideout when healthy, and while he claims to have put complications from sickle cell trait behind him, that must be proven in camp.

Jaron Brown is coming off an ACL tear but looked good in offseason work. Chad Williams will be on the roster after the Cardinals drafted him in the third round, but it's uncertain what kind of role he will carve out. Adjusting to the NFL from a small school isn't easy, although John Brown proved it could be done.

Those five seem likely to make the roster, which may only leave one more spot for a lot of candidates. Brittan Golden is back to compete, while fellow veterans Aaron Dobson and Jeremy Ross are in the mix. The Cardinals also brought in several undrafted free agents with physical tools, and they will try to wow the coaches.

Quarterback – Carson Palmer is the starter, but there is some intrigue behind him because former top-10 pick Blaine Gabbert was signed this offseason. While he has been a bust in the NFL thus far, the Cardinals coaching staff is known for developing quarterbacks and will aim to unlock his potential.

Drew Stanton seems likely to remain the backup signal-caller for 2017, and the Cardinals could choose to only carry two quarterbacks on the active roster if Gabbert doesn't impress. If he does, Gabbert will make the team and then hope to show enough in practice to become a viable quarterback of the future candidate.

Undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Knight will be the fourth quarterback in camp, and has practice squad eligibility if the Cardinals want to stash him there.

Safety – Tyrann Mathieu should be fully healed from the ACL tear he suffered in 2015 and will be the free safety in the base defense and the slot cornerback in nickel. Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger departed in free agency, opening up a pair of starting spots, since the Cardinals play with five defensive backs a majority of the time.

Antoine Bethea, Tyvon Branch and Budda Baker are expected to compete for those two spots. Baker was a second-round pick, but he missed nearly all of offseason work and will have to grasp the system quickly in training camp to secure playing time.

Harlan Miller transitioned from cornerback to safety this offseason and will aim for a roster spot, while sixth-round pick Rudy Ford will also shoot for a role as a reserve defensive back.

Defensive Line – The departure of Calais Campbell leaves some big shoes to fill on the line, and while a rotation is expected, players who stand out in camp will make their case for increased playing time. Corey Peters is expected to be the starting nose tackle once again, but there is uncertainty after that.

Veteran Frostee Rucker aims to shake off an injury-plagued season, while Josh Mauro should see his snaps increase after solid play the past few years. A critical training camp awaits Robert Nkemdiche, last year's first round pick who never made an impact as a rookie. A nice season from him would soften the blow of losing Campbell.

Rodney Gunter will aim to take the next step in his career while Olsen Pierre has his chance to make a mark after being inactive in all 16 games last season. Ed Stinson and Xavier Williams will once again look to make the team and increase their roles.

Some of the Cardinals' best catches from the 2016 regular season

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