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Takeaways From The Cardinals' 2016 Offseason

Cornerback depth, center battle and Mathieu rehab among the top topics


The football side of the building is quiet.

The rookies remain for a couple of weeks of work in meetings and weights, but the coaches and veterans have scattered for the summer, the three weeks of organized team activities and an additional minicamp week completed. Coach Bruce Arians ended minicamp early, disposing a final practice with the view on avoiding a needless injury so close to vacation.

When the Cardinals do return to the field in late July, they should be healthy (Tyrann Mathieu and Frostee Rucker are the only two Arians said were questionable for the start of camp) and carrying expectations. There will be questions to answer, certainly, ones that couldn't be answered in a padless offseason. Still, after nine OTAs and a pair of minicamp practices, here are my impressions of the last few weeks of work:

WITH SECONDARY HURTING, BRANDON WILLIAMS GOT HIS CHANCE AND MADE SOME PLAYS: Patrick Peterson only did individual work in two minicamp practices after sitting all of OTAs after ankle surgery. Foot surgery sidelined fellow cornerback Justin Bethel. Both will be back for camp, but their absence meant a lot of work – and a lot of first field work – for third-round pick Brandon Williams. Williams is naturally raw, given that he just started playing cornerback as a senior in college after playing running back his whole life. And he still faces an uphill battle to earn significant DB time as a rookie, assuming Bethel returns and shows improvement. But as Arians said, there was a reason Williams was drafted in the third round. He showed that when he was able to step in front of Larry Fitzgerald for his first offseason interception a few OTAs in, and while Williams also got beat a number of times by veteran receivers, he clearly has the body and speed to have a chance to be a solid corner down the road.

THERE WILL BE A PLACE FOR THREE RUNNING BACKS: First, David Johnson and Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington have to all stay healthy for the chance to play three to even matter. David Johnson is going to be the anchor to the backfield – of this there is little doubt – but the other two will be used. It'll depend on the opponent and gameplan, and Ellington, assuming everyone stays healthy, might end up used more as receiver than straight runner. But Arians likes having all his weapons and showing them off.

ROBERT NKEMDICHE LOOKS THE PART, AND HE'S GETTING ATTENTION: Robert Nkemdiche will not sit out the season like last year's first-round pick, D.J. Humphries, did. He will have some sort of impact on the defensive line. How much and how quickly remains to be seen. He looks quick and powerful, at least as much as you can going against tackling dummies without pads. Still, there was a focus on making sure his technique was correct during defensive line drills, sometimes with DL coach Brentson Buckner having the rookie re-take a rep just to make sure it was done right. It's an attention to detail that hopefully will pay off when the pads go on and the Nkemdiche is part of the rotation.

THE CENTER BATTLE COULD GET INTERESTING: Just who will end up as the starting center? It's A.Q. Shipley right now, although that could change, like it did last year with the addition of Lyle Sendlein in camp. Shipley could hang on, or maybe fourth-round rookie Evan Boehm grabs hold of the job in camp after learning more of the playbook. Could Earl Watford, currently ahead of Boehm on the depth chart sneak in? Or could the Cards sign someone else? Offensive linemen are hard to judge in the summer, but this is one to watch.

D.J. HUMPHRIES SHOULD START. UNLESS HE DOESN'T: I still believe Humphries will end up as the starting right tackle. Again, watching offensive linemen in shorts means little. OL coach Harold Goodwin seems optimistic of the second-year player. But as always, the possibility looms of a veteran signing around the start of camp, which would say a lot about when Humphries might stand in the eyes of the decision-makers.

TYRANN MATHIEU LOOKS GOOD, WHATEVER THAT MIGHT MEAN: Safety Tyrann Mathieu has been doing some individual drills on his repaired ACL, and he does not look – as he walks and runs around – like a guy who had a knee injury. That's all a good sign. (Don't tell anyone, but so was the moment at his New Orleans kids camp when he was swarmed and tackled to the ground by about 15 kids, which might've been scary given the circumstances. Mathieu bounced up, laughing.) That said, Mathieu has made it clear he knows how ineffective he was at the outset of his comeback from his 2013 ACL tear, and wants to make sure he's ready to make an impact on the field when he gets there.

J.J. NELSON CLEARLY HAS MADE STRIDES: Because of his big plays, Nelson seemed to make more than 11 receptions last season as a rookie. That's all he had. But like Smokey Brown last offseason, the Cardinals have a small, fast receiver who looks so much more comfortable. There are a lot of guys who will want the ball this season, so his receptions will be limited, but there is little question Nelson has a chance at a bigger role this season.

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