Training camp is nearly upon the Cardinals – a handful of select players have already shown up to the Dignity Health Training Center – and so the storylines start.
Part One can be found here. Here is Part Two.
WHERE WILL THE PASS RUSH COME FROM?
Chandler Jones is gone, and there was no high-profile replacement brought in. Markus Golden – who actually led the Cardinals in sacks last year – is the No. 1 guy. Beyond that? Devon Kennard hasn't been used as a pass rusher since he arrived in Arizona. Dennis Gardeck is fully back from his ACL tear of 2020, and hopes he can recapture some of that season's pass-rushing efficiency. The team spent two third-round picks on Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders – but that's no guarantee. There are positions that could feature an additional signing, but pass rusher might not be one of them. Vance Joseph will need to scheme up some new features, at least some of the time.
WILL THE CARDINALS FIND SOME CORNERBACK DEPTH?
Cornerback is a spot where a signing makes sense. The Cardinals have Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson but beyond that, Antonio Hamilton has experience (and played significant time for the Cardinals last year after Robert Alford got hurt.) The team added Josh Jackson, who has some experience, but it would be a risk if the Cards assume he will definitely be the guy they need. There are vets still out there – Alford, Kevin King, Janoris Jenkins, Joe Haden, among others – so might one of them fit?
WHAT WILL BE THE ROLES OF ISAIAH SIMMONS AND ZAVEN COLLINS?
The Cardinals need to get their past two first-round picks on the field. Every time Vance Joseph is asked about it, Simmons and Collins are the inside linebackers on a team that, at its base, is a 3-4. But the idea is to get the best, most effective players on the field, and if that means Simmons works a little bit like a third safety (while only two cornerbacks are on the field) or Collins takes some reps at outside linebacker, OK then. It makes the outset of training camp a fascinating watch on the defensive end, how Joseph deploys the duo. But both need to get playing time, and both need to make an impact for this defense to be successful.
IS THERE ENOUGH DEFENSIVE LINE BEYOND WATT?
J.J. Watt was playing well when he got hurt last season. The Cardinals need him for more than seven games – although his efforts to return for the playoff game showed his drive to help the team – but beyond that, they need others to supplement Watt's game. Zach Allen had a solid season last year, but he has struggled to stay completely healthy. Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence enter key third seasons. Free-agent pickup Kingsley Keke suddenly could be a big factor. The discussion of what Collins and Simmons can do at linebacker partially rests on a defensive line needing to keep blockers off of the two men in the middle.
CAN THIS BE JALEN THOMPSON'S BREAKOUT YEAR?
Kyler Murray isn't the only 2019 draft pick seeking a new deal. Three key defenders are going into the final year of their contracts – Murphy, Allen and safety Jalen Thompson, who has gone from supplemental fifth-round pick to a solid safety mate to Pro Bowler Budda Baker. Thompson is versatile enough to help in the slot and at either safety spot, and he seems on the verge of a big year. If he can get there, it's a dynamic that will only help that side of the ball.