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Top Questions Heading Into 2018 Training Camp, Part Two

The health of Golden and Gresham, Jones' encore, Baker's breakout potential

Among those in the spotlight heading into camp (clockwise from top left), defensive ends Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, safety Budda Baker, cornerback Jamar Taylor and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Among those in the spotlight heading into camp (clockwise from top left), defensive ends Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, safety Budda Baker, cornerback Jamar Taylor and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

With training camp starting in a week, whatever questions the Cardinals and coach Steve Wilks have about their team and their roster will be answered one way or another. Some questions weigh heavier than others.

Will Robert Nkemdiche be the player the Cardinals need him to be?

There were reasons Nkemdiche fell from a potential top-five pick in 2016 to No. 29, but there were also reasons why people thought the defensive tackle might be a top-five pick in the first place. His first two seasons have been non-descript, and even Nkemdiche understands that. Year Three looms large in his career, a swing season in which Nkemdiche needs to be solid – both for himself and for the Cardinals, who have turned to a permanent four-man front. The hope is that the change will aid Nkemdiche's impact for the better.

Who will be the No. 2 cornerback?

It's been a consistent question ever since Patrick Peterson was drafted and quickly became the No. 1 cornerback. Some years, the question was answered long before camp started, with obvious free-agent signings. But other times, doubt lingers into camp, and that is likely one of those years. The current probable choice is Jamar Taylor, acquired in trade, but there is still room for adjustment. Maybe Bené Benwikere (although he's spent a lot of time at safety this offseason). Maybe Brandon Williams. Maybe a yet-unsigned veteran. Head coach Steve Wilks is a long-time defensive backs coach, and he knows what he wants at cornerback. Now he has to figure out who best fits that plan.

How quickly will Markus Golden and Jermaine Gresham be ready?

Both Golden, the defensive end who tore his ACL in the fourth game of the season last year, and Gresham, the tight end who blew out his Achilles in the season finale, were rehabbing all offseason. It seems probable both will begin training camp on the Physically-Unable-To-Perform list. But both have optimism when it comes to the start of the regular season. Gresham moved around well when he was outside during the offseason, although he has yet to actually do any football work. Golden is still working hard on a timetable that seems to bode well to start September. As always, the biggest thing to remember with serious injuries – being able to play and being back to normal are usually different things. But both are key players at positions without a lot of depth, so their returns will be monitored with great interest.

Is Budda Baker the next Tyrann Mathieu?

In a perfect world, Baker and Mathieu would be equal pieces in a versatile and dangerous secondary. But Mathieu isn't a Cardinal any longer. The Cardinals still do have, however, a similar player in Baker, who showed as a rookie he could be a difference-maker and potential star at safety. The Cards may not use the Pro Bowl special teamer on special teams as much, because they will need him on defense. But he will be used as a slot cornerback and roaming the back end, an impact piece in Al Holcomb's new defense. Baker just needs to continue on the trend he started last year, and the Cardinals believe they will have a player like Mathieu once again.

What will be Chandler Jones' encore?

Expecting the defensive end to repeat his NFL-high and franchise-record 17 sacks may not be fair, necessarily. Jones doesn't make such pronouncements. But Jones is key in terms of the pass rush and he'll have his opportunities. The best part about his explosive 2017 season was that 1) it came after signing a huge contract extension, showing that he hadn't lost any motivation and 2) it proved just how comfortable he had become as a Cardinal after arriving in a 2016 trade. It's hard to believe he won't make a Pro Bowl push yet again this season.

What will be the impact of Steve Keim's suspension?

The absence of the General Manager for a chunk of the preseason isn't ideal, in a time when the roster is being assessed and potentially adjusted on a daily basis. Injuries will happen. Moves will be necessary. The rest of the front office, led by vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough and director of football administration Mike Disner, have experience in such tasks. Ready lists for players and positions are a constant in the NFL if moves are needed. And while Keim is scheduled to return not until after the Cardinals are gone from camp itself, enough of the preseason would remain for time to formulate a final roster. How the Cards maneuver through this time certainly will impact the season, but the front office's stability should help over the next month or so.