Some of those in question heading into training camp (clockwise from top left): WR John Brown's health, QB Carson Palmer's bounceback, T Jared Veldheer's flip and QB Blaine Gabbert's roster status.
The Cardinals head to training camp – their first practice is a week from Saturday – hoping their season can be a lot more like 2015 and not with the stumbles of 2016. The Cards are older than last season, and are filling in a handful of holes left by departed free agents. But (assuming health), there is still a feeling they can compete in the NFC. That doesn't mean they don't have questions to answer as they begin preparation for the season (and click here for even more questions.):
Can Carson Palmer find some of his 2015 magic?
The quarterback is close to the end of his career. How close, no one knows – not even Palmer. His 2016 season wasn't what he wanted, and definitely a step back from how he played in 2015. But there were circumstances beyond Palmer that played major factors – pass protection and inconsistent receivers among them. Palmer now is coming off an offseason when he threw much less than previous offseasons, in an effort to save wear-and-tear on his arm. Now we'll see if it makes an impact. He finished the season playing well, and his statistics when the Cards could protect him were noticeably better. As with most teams and their quarterbacks, Palmer is the linchpin.
How will the tackle swap work out with Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries?
They've spent the offseason in their new spots, Veldheer now at right tackle and Humphries at left (Humphries did play left tackle in his last few games last season after Veldheer got hurt.) They've done fine – knowing, of course, they have yet to put on pads in this alignment and, you know, actually block like an NFL game. Humphries is more comfortable and more effective on the left side. Veldheer, unfortunately, is also more comfortable on the left side. But he's game to make the move, and camp will let both players and the Cardinals know for sure if the do-si-do will work out.
Did Smokey Brown overcome his health woes?
Minus-26, Minus-486 and minus-5. Those were the staggering dropoffs in catches, yards and touchdowns for wide receiver John Brown from 2015 to 2016, as he dealt with multiple health issues that torpedoed his season. Brown says he's healthy again. The Cardinals need him to be. Without Michael Floyd, Brown is the guy the Cards need to be their clear No. 2 behind Larry Fitzgerald, the main target to open up the field, to be a deep threat, and to return to his spot as one of Palmer's favorite targets. When Smoke is truly smoke, it's the kind of fire the Cards' offense needs.
Will Evan Boehm hold on to the right guard spot?
Boehm was drafted as a center. But circumstances change, one of which being that A.Q. Shipley showed to the Cardinals he could be their starter at that position. Meanwhile, there was a hole at right guard – never fully filled by veteran Evan Mathis last year because of injury. Boehm got his shot at the end of last season, the fourth one to man the spot in 16 games, and did well enough to give the Cardinals hope. Boehm has to hold off rookie Dorian Johnson in camp, among other options. There is a chance the Cards could seek a vet. But Boehm is determined to hold on to the job – one, like the ones with Veldheer and Humphries, he hasn't really been able to play as of yet because of a lack of pads. Training camp awaits.
How many quarterbacks will Bruce Arians keep?
Palmer is the starter. Drew Stanton, barring some upset, is the backup. Trevor Knight is the undrafted rookie, trying to see if he might have a place. But the wild card is Blaine Gabbert, the former top 10 pick who has had a rough NFL career thus far and will now try to find a way to stick in Arizona. Last year, the Cardinals carried two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster most of the season. If they want to keep Gabbert around, it would have to be three (Stanton will be here, one way or another.) Any quarterback competition is a storyline – just think back to Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims in 2015, neither of whom made the final roster – so watching Gabbert/Stanton/Knight play out will at least be some interesting theater in August.