More key questions for the Cards going into camp (clockwise from top left): Finding a steady pass rush through Alex Okafor and others, a consistent year from Patrick Peterson, the timeline of first-round pick D.J. Humphries getting on the field, and the development of Logan Thomas.
Bruce Arians likes to say every offseason and training camp that players should only be focused on earning a job. There is much to sort out before the 53-man roster is determined in early September, when they finally become Cardinals in Arians' eyes.
It's not just roster spots that are determined now. It's the role these players will have this season as the direction of the campaign is set. There was a peek into what the Cardinals might be during summer workouts. Now the path is carved out with more permanence. After looking previously at five of the most important questions facing the Cardinals heading into camp, here are five more:
Q: Can Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu perform with the consistency they expect – and the Cards need?
Peterson made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback and was voted by peers to be one of the top 20 players in the NFL, yet no one – including Peterson – believes he played as well as he could or should in 2014. He has lost weight, looked good in offseason work and is clearly determined to knock down criticism that never quite went away in 2014 despite staunch defenders in Arians and then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Mathieu too struggled to get back to his rookie form at slot corner and safety, after shredding his knee late in 2013. The Cards need both defensive backs to play at a high level. There is no question both are confident that kind of play is coming. Camp is where they will show it off.
Q: Where will the pass rush come from?
It's a question that never quite leaves, although the Cardinals have done a nice job manufacturing pressure the past couple of years despite not really having that one guy to cause havoc. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher is expected to extend the aggressive tendencies set down by Bowles in terms of the blitz. The Cardinals also have built up a defensive line so the rotation can help the guys up front stay fresh. Alex Okafor needs to build on his eight-sack season. It would be nice if veteran LaMarr Woodley, 2014 draft pick Kareem Martin and/or rookies Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick could out-perform limited expectations.
Q: Will D.J. Humphries play?
He's the number one draft pick, and had things fallen slightly different on draft day, maybe the Cardinals select a pass rusher that would've dropped right in the lineup. But when the Cards' pick came up, it was Humphries staring them in the face as a talent upon which they didn't want to pass. The young tackle won't play the left side but he might play the right, if he can beat out incumbent Bobby Massie – who has zero plans of giving up his starting job after finally getting it back in 2014. Massie is going into the last year of his contract and Humphries likely slides in next season assuming Massie moves on. But that's not yet, and Humphries has a lot of work to do to get on the field.
Q: Who will return kicks? Or punts?
Last year's return man, Ted Ginn, is long gone after a disappointing season. Patrick Peterson would love to try a punt return or two and try to recapture the magic of his rookie season and four touchdowns. But the Cards won't have their top cornerback be a regular return man. Instead, draftee J.J. Nelson makes the most sense with both kickoffs and punt returns, although there are multiple candidates. It's tough to sort it out just in training camp, so the preseason games will go a long way in determining this part of the lineup.
Q: How much progress can Logan Thomas make?
The third quarterback spot won't make an impact on the regular season (hopefully – knock on wood), but it's now in the spotlight as the Cardinals try to figure out if it's worth keeping Logan Thomas as a potential future signal-caller. Arians certainly didn't praise Thomas during offseason work, sounding disappointed in all three candidates behind Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton (Phillip Sims and Chandler Harnish are the others.) The reps Thomas gets in camp – in front of the media and fans – will show what Arians and the Cardinals need to know.