QB Carson Palmer (3) and the Cardinals' starters will play around a half against Cincinnati on Sunday.
The first few series of a football game are often like the early rounds of a heavyweight fight: The two opponents circle, feeling each other out and digesting strategy.
In the first two preseason games, though, some of the Cardinals players were on the sidelines in a hat after one march down the field, before any adjustments could be made. On Sunday against the Bengals it will be different, as the starters get their most extended action of the preseason, playing up to a half of action as the Sept. 8 season opener against the Chargers draws closer.
"It'll be more of that game-like feel," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "You can see some oddball looks, go to the
sidelines and make some adjustments, then go back out there, adjust to them and then be able to play them out like a regular game."
There is some actual game-planning now, as the offense and defense have faced off against Bengals-centric scout teams in practice this week. With the fourth preseason game usually reserved for backups, this is the last extended look many starters will see.
"I guess they call this the dress rehearsal," left guard Ted Larsen said. "We're preparing like it's a regular week and doing all the stuff you do for a game week. We're trying to get out there and execute for a half."
It won't totally have the feel of a regular season game, as running back Andre Ellington will still rush the ball sparingly and the coaches could be cautious with injured players. But quarterback Carson Palmer will get much more time after playing in only three total series each through the first two games, and both first-string units will attempt to iron out any wrinkles still left.
"It takes a drive or two to settle in and get comfortable, so it'll be nice to do that and get some solid work out there," Larsen said.
The game will be nationally televised on Sunday Night Football on NBC. Preseason or not, that always gets the players' attention.
"It's primetime football," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "Sunday night. Monday night. Even the Thursday night games. It's the point of being able to go out and showcase and let everybody see. This is the first big game before Monday night and that's how you have to look at it."
MATHIEU EMBRACES THE BRACE
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said his knee feels "great" after increased practice repetitions on Thursday, when he joined the scout team in 11-on-11 drills after sticking to individual workouts Wednesday.
He's still getting used to the brace he'll be required to wear all season, and while the piece of equipment is lightweight, it affects his movement.
"It's just a big brace, a little bulky," Mathieu said. "When I'm running I've got to pick my leg up, kind of."
Mathieu played a deep free safety with the scout team to avoid any precarious situations, and he lamented a missed chance at an interception. Coach Bruce Arians was pleased with his progress.
"I thought he moved around better (Thursday) than he did the day before," Arians said. "Mostly on the scout team, where he could stay out of the fray but just play football and run. He broke on a couple deep balls really, really well. I thought he made good improvement."
While it seems unlikely, Arians wouldn't rule out Mathieu or nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu for Sunday's game against Cincinnati, and he said it's been a "shocking" development to see both return to practice so quickly from their knee injuries. Both get evaluated by the trainers daily, and so far there has been no swelling, Arians said.
MINTER, COOPER MUST PLAY SOON TO RETURN FOR OPENER
Linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral) and guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) are game-time decisions against the Bengals, Arians said, although neither has practiced this week. If they can't go, Kenny Demens will take the place of Minter in the starting lineup. Larsen will start at left guard.
Cooper and Minter were injured in the preseason opener against the Texans and have yet to return. Neither practiced Friday.
Both second-year players are primed to be key pieces this year, but Arians said they need to play in the preseason finale against the Chargers on Thursday in order to suit up in Week 1 against San Diego. Next week at practice – when the Cardinals only get Monday and Tuesday – is also important.
"They've got to get some game action before we'll stick them out there on the opener," Arians said.
Linebacker John Abraham has practiced all week and could make his debut on Sunday. Second-string tackle Max Starks returned to practice on Friday and "will hopefully" be available, Arians said.