Every step this offseason, once Bruce Arians retired and Steve Wilks was hired, became a Cardinals’ reboot in a sense. Once training camp begins – and that is soon, with players reporting July 27 and the first practice the next day – the 2018 season will come full speed.
What that means in terms of performance and final record is hard to project, with so much to play out between now and the Cards’ opener at home against Washington Sept. 9. There are plenty of questions the Cardinals are already trying to answer. Part Two will post Friday.
What will Steve Wilks’ first camp be like?
The players got a taste of how Wilks likes to operate in the offseason, with 10 OTAs and a couple of minicamps. But that’s without pads and much less time on the field. The expectation is that the work will be ramped up from what the Cards had done the last couple of seasons. Wilks likes his tempo and wasn’t shy about emphasizing that multiple times during previous work when he felt it was lagging. He isn’t averse to halting a practice to, ahem, insist that the focus be better. There will be a handful of outdoor practices where his players will be tested by the usually muggy heat of August. The first-time NFL head coach figures to quickly put an imprint on his initial camp.
How is Sam Bradford’s health?
Some of what was written and said about Bradford this offseason pertained to his excellent accuracy and some was how he was working well with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. Most of it, however, was about Bradford’s left knee and the “plan” in place to get it ready for camp and eventually the regular season. Before he left post-minicamp, Bradford said there was still work he needed to do while away from the team to prepare for camp. His 11-on-11 work wasn’t ramped up until the final few offseason practices. Will Bradford be full go next week, or will there still be some cautionary moves as the “Plan” plays out? Also interesting to watch will be how much – and when – Bradford is used in preseason games.
How ready is Josh Rosen?
The belief is still that Bradford is the starter to begin the season assuming he is healthy. In theory, Rosen can push him. But Rosen is in the spotlight regardless of Bradford or Rosen’s place on the depth chart. The rookie QB did have some strong moments in offseason work. He looked confident leading the huddle and working with the first unit. He drew praise from veteran teammates. Now everyone waits to see what he looks like with pads on, and then, in preseason games, when there is a chance he can be pressured and hit. Rosen is the QB of the future. The future might not be here yet, but that wouldn’t make his progress any less interesting.
Who catches passes besides Larry Fitzgerald?
Fitz has had three straight 100-receptions seasons and, with the quarterbacks on the roster, that should continue. But he can’t be the only target, and after two camps of thinking the receiving corps was in good shape only to have it not be, the Cards would rather not have it be that way again. At issue, however, is the lack of certainty. Running back David Johnson returns from a broken wrist and will almost certainly be a huge part of the passing game. Catching 80 balls in 2016 proved that. As for another wide receiver, rarely has a camp meant so much. Chad Williams wants to show he can be a standout third-round pick. J.J. Nelson wants to show he's not just the deep guy. Brice Butler wants to show how his previous teams should’ve used him more. Greg Little wants to show he can be the player he once was early in his career. Christian Kirk must show that being a rookie, and his undersized frame, is worth a heavy workload despite his inexperience.
What kind of season will David Johnson have?
Assuming his contract situation doesn’t become a distraction – and I’m still not sold, even if something isn’t done soon, that it will cause Johnson any problems – Johnson is healthy and itching to get back on the field. His injury wasn’t lower body, which means his legs are as good as they ever were. There is no reason to think Johnson doesn’t have the ability to be that 1,000-1,000-yard player he believes he can be. Much of that will have less to do with Johnson and more how the offense operates as a whole. But as the offense of coordinator Mike McCoy comes into focus during training camp, it should be easy to see why Johnson should be hugely successful.
Can the offensive line come together?
It’s revamped, to a certain extent. There is a new right guard in Justin Pugh and a new right tackle in Andre Smith. The left side is incumbents with guard Mike Iupati and tackle D.J. Humphries. All four battled injuries last season, some more serious than others, and all four must prove something with pads since they haven’t had that opportunity as of yet. Center A.Q. Shipley remains the rock, never missing time, a well-liked anchor in the middle who should hold off rookie Mason Cole. The Cardinals’ offensive issues the last two seasons weren’t all about the offensive line, but getting a cohesive unit that remains together and healthy would go a looong way in stabilizing 2018.