Almost every analysis given by a coach or a player as a team moves through the organized team activities and the minicamp of the offseason features some version of "but we'll need to see when the pads come on."
The offseason work, while important, is not football. Bruce Arians reiterates that often. Yet it is a crucial time in the learning curve of players. There will be no warm-up phase when training camp finally arrives, which Arians reminded his players before they left the field for the final time Wednesday.
"Next time we tee it up … we'll have pads on, and be ready to roll, when the jobs get really serious," Arians told the team. "Up until this point, we've done everything we possibly could as a football team to put ourselves in position to reach our goal."
Things can – and likely will -- change at least a little bit as the Cardinals go through training camp. But after watching each of the teams' 10 OTAs and two minicamp practices, here are my top impressions of the offseason:
-- CARSON PALMER, JUST MONTHS REMOVED FROM TEARING HIS ACL, LOOKS GOOD: All along, the quarterback said his goal was to be back fully by minicamp. We had heard his ACL tear (and subsequent surgery) was as simple as such a thing could be. Still, given how important Palmer is to the success of the team (13-2 in his last 15 starts) his work on the field was eye-opening and anchors the optimism surrounding the team heading into camp. He is moving and throwing well, directing the offense like he always has.
-- PATRICK PETERSON AND TYRANN MATHIEU LOOK LIKE PATRICK PETERSON AND TYRANN MATHIEU SHOULD: Peterson had an issue with diabetes. Mathieu had slow going coming back from his knee injury and then broke his thumb. Neither were bad in 2014, but neither were as good last season as they had hoped. They both look like different players this offseason, in a good way.
-- JONATHAN COOPER HAS A CHANCE TO FULFILL THAT NO. 1 DRAFT PICK STATUS: It is understandable that the guard has his doubters. But for the first time since breaking his leg in the 2013 preseason, Cooper feels whole. More importantly, his play reflects that, and so does the analysis of his coaches. Again, as an offensive lineman, nothing can really be known right now – pads are too important. But Cooper seems to have gotten back to the level where he was at this time of year in 2013, when the Cardinals believed he might be their best offensive lineman. The overall line is better now, but part of that is because of Cooper.
-- IFEANYI MOMAH IS THIS YEAR'S JOHN CARLSON, AT LEAST IN SHORTS: The Cardinals have major questions at tight end. They would have even before Carlson retired prior to OTAs. But with Carlson gone, former wide receiver Momah has looked very good catching passes at his new position. Again, pads – the 6-foot-7 Momah is going to have to prove it as a tight end when the physical part starts. Also, Carlson's great offseason/training camp didn't exactly translate when the games began. Darren Fells looks like he has a chance to be solid, but the Cards need Troy Niklas to stay healthy and block.
-- ANDRE ELLINGTON IS STILL THE MAN: Rookie David Johnson, I'm guessing, will eventually have a role and there are other running backs who can help. But make no mistake, Ellington remains the linchpin at the position. He's healthy and feeling good. He has to stay that way.
-- BRUCE ARIANS ISN'T GOING CLICHÉ WHEN HE SAYS THIRD QUARTERBACK IS WIDE OPEN: Logan Thomas himself said he has "some good, some bad" reps this offseason. Arians has said he hasn't gotten enough out of any of the three third-QB candidates (Thomas, Chandler Harnish, Phillip Sims.) Given what happened last year, the position can be important, and clearly, Thomas doesn't have as much of a grip on it that he and the Cards expected.
-- SECONDARY DEPTH WILL IMPACT THE LINEBACKER SEARCH: Yes, there are questions about who will play linebacker and specifically, inside linebacker. Sean Weatherspoon is crucial. Kevin Minter will get his chance to be the run-stuffer in the base look. But the depth in the secondary, especially safety, will come into play. Deone Bucannon will play safety some this year but he'll still show up as that "dollar" linebacker, I'm guessing. There could be times that Bucannon, Mathieu, Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson are all on the field.
-- JOHN "SMOKEY" BROWN IS BEING PRIMED TO BE A STAR: It didn't hurt that Michael Floyd protected a hamstring issue late in OTAs and minicamp, giving Brown more reps. But with a little stronger frame and an understanding of what it means to be an NFL wide receiver, Brown is in a good place with his career and in this offense.
-- SO FAR, SO GOOD WITH POSITION MOVES OF KAREEM MARTIN, MATT SHAUGHNESSY: More wait-for-the-pads here, but Martin going from defensive end to outside linebacker and Shaughnessy making the reverse switch has looked fine so far. Martin in particular has embraced the change, which is important. He can come off the edge and the Cards need to develop more guys like that.
-- IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW MUCH THE ROOKIES MAKE AN IMPACT: During two-field work, none of the rookies made the main field. Running back injuries did get David Johnson some reps in minicamp, and second-round linebacker Markus Golden seems to be pushing his way into the equation. D.J. Humphries might have a hard time displacing Bobby Massie at first, but Arians was praising Humphries near the end.
-- NO DARYL WASHINGTON AT THIS POINT IS A CURIOUS, CURIOUS THING: Frankly, I expected the suspended linebacker to be reinstated by the NFL by now, more than two weeks past his year anniversary. That he has not been would seem to be a major red flag. Did he not comply with what needed to be done? Did he not apply? These are understandable questions given the situation, even if they aren't being answered. Whatever the reason, it isn't a good sign in terms of Washington getting back on the field. The Cards, who can only wait to hear, went into the offseason saying they would operate assuming he wasn't going to be around, and to date, that looks like it was a prudent approach.
Images from the final day of minicamp on Wednesday