With training camp beginning next week -- the first practice is July 25 -- there will be plenty of questions the Cardinals need answered as the regular season approaches. Here are five of those topics. Part One can be found here.
WHO REPLACES PATRICK PETERSON FOR SIX WEEKS?
The Pro Bowl cornerback will be at training camp and he’ll play in preseason games. But once the first week of the regular season arrives, Peterson will be gone – missing not just games but practices – until Oct. 14. Newcomer Robert Alford was always going to be in the lineup, but with Peterson absent, what’s the plan? Does rookie Byron Murphy slide in right away? Do the Cards go with veteran Tramaine Brock Sr. instead, and have Murphy play the slot role that figures to be his job once Peterson returns? Can someone else on the roster push for early-season playing time? As a parallel discussion, it’ll be interesting to see how much work Peterson gets in practice and preseason games, knowing it’s his only prep but also knowing the Cards have to get other players ready.
HOW MUCH DOES TERRELL SUGGS HAVE LEFT?
That question was posed to the linebacker himself when he first signed, and all the 17-year veteran would say was, “We’ll see.” Suggs had seven sacks a season ago, but he may be even more important in helping the Cardinals stop the run – which they could not do a season ago. His experience will be an asset in the locker room, where the Cards can use his knowledge and the edge he brings to the game. Suggs figures to be a perfect bookend with Chandler Jones – as long as age is just a number.
WHAT CAN JORDAN HICKS AND HAASON REDDICK DO AT INSIDE LINEBACKER?
The Cardinals couldn’t figure out exactly what they needed at linebacker last season. Deone Bucannon and Reddick never got on the same page as the coaching staff. Veterans like Josh Bynes and Gerald Hodges didn’t have the speed the Cardinals wanted. Now the Cards have flipped back to a 3-4 alignment and need two inside linebackers. They put their faith in Hicks, the free-agent signee who has been hurt but has the smarts and athleticism the Cards craved, and Reddick, who hopefully has spent enough time in one spot to finally make a leap forward that has been expected from the former first-round pick.
CAN THE SHIFT BACK TO A 3-4 SCHEME MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
The reality is that most of the time in a passing league, the Cardinals – like most teams – are playing with four down linemen, a couple of linebackers and five defensive backs. But there is little question there were many Cards who would’ve preferred to stay in a 3-4 alignment last season rather than try a 4-3. It wasn’t just the scheme that disappointed players a year ago, it was the philosophy as well, especially on the back end when the Cards zoned more than the past. There will be aggressive play from defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. There will be more man-to-man from the secondary, and – once he returns – more traveling from Patrick Peterson.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ROBERT NKEMDICHE?
The 2016 first-round pick hasn’t been able to put together any kind of consistent play in his three previous NFL seasons, he is coming off an ACL tear that would seem likely to put him on the physically unable to perform list when training camp begins, and was arrested for speeding and driving on a suspended license. Going into the last year of his contract, Nkemdiche is about out of time to prove himself. Meanwhile, the Cards have anchor Corey Peters on the line, brought back Rodney Gunter and added free-agent Darius Philon and draftee Zach Allen to bolster the line if Nkemdiche can’t be a factor.