Among the top questions for the Cardinals heading into camp (clockwise, from top left): QB Carson Palmer's impact, the step forward from WR Michael Floyd, the bounceback year from WR Larry Fitzgerald and the improvement of the offensive line.
Much has changed for the Cardinals heading into the 2013 season. There's a new coach, a new general manager, a lot of new players and even a new location for training camp. What's not new is that the team faces a handful of significant questions as they ready for games. In a division loaded up with a pair of Super Bowl favorites in San Francisco and Seattle along with a revived St. Louis, Arizona feels like the true wild card (pun intended.)
What issues will be the linchpins of the season? Here's a look at some of the top questions for the team heading into training camp. Part one today, part two Friday:
1. How will Bruce Arians translate has head coach?
In some ways, this is a trick question. Because Arians got to spend so much time as head coach last year in Indianapolis because of the illness of top man Chuck Pagano, there is a decent track record to view despite Arians never officially being an NFL head coach. He has won over many players already, although the proof ultimately comes on the field when the games count. His staff, a mix of everything you can imagine – experience, NFL experience, race, age – is larger than the Cardinals have ever had, a nod to Arians' quest to teach. Arians is expecting instant competiveness (as is the front office and ownership) but it's hard not to see the division foes and think there will be leeway. Last year, Arians had Andrew Luck and a schedule that helped a surprise playoff run. The schedule does the Cardinals no favors, and the offense, after the last couple of years, will need to show on the field they are better.
2. What does Carson Palmer have left?
Arians and General Manager Steve Keim believe Palmer has plenty to give. There are arguments for both sides, which is fair. Palmer struggled to win in Oakland, which some are willing to hang on him. Others see what Palmer had as weapons – both within the roster itself and those lost with injury – to say he didn't have much chance with the Raiders. The Cards are counting on the latter of course, and the reality is that if Palmer has anything left, he figures to be the best quarterback the team has had since Kurt Warner retired. Expecting him to have a Warner-esque renaissance is unfair. But under Arians' guidance, optimism Palmer can have a very good season isn't.
3. Will Larry Fitzgerald's numbers revert back?
Last season was miserable in many ways for the Cardinals, but in years past, even when the team had struggled, Fitzgerald still shined. Not last year. With the quarterback problems, Fitz was fighting uphill to begin with. Truthfully, though, there were moments when Fitzgerald didn't play like Fitzgerald, dropping catches he normally would make. It ate at him, and he has been driven to make sure it doesn't happen again. Palmer's arrival should make a big difference. Arians' decision to "Reggie Wayne" Fitz's role and move him around a lot also should help. Yes, Fitzgerald is older – he turns 30 Aug. 31 – but he is in top shape and there is little reason he can't at least go for 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. And the way Fitz feels about last season's sub-800 yards, you could see him pushing for more. There's another thing that may play into Fitz's favor too, if the Cards get the right answer to the question of …
4. Can Michael Floyd break out?
There is a belief internally that the 2012 No. 1 draft pick can produce at a high level this season. Camp will be a big part of that process. Receivers have a way of shining in the offseason, when their skills work better with no pads and no hitting more than anyone. Floyd also seems more determined to make that leap this season, not out of the ordinary for a second-year player. Not that Fitzgerald will ever be only a decoy, but there is a hope with the staff that Fitz and Floyd (along with Andre Roberts) can create a kind of synergy that can benefit both in the stat column.
5. To what level can the offensive line upgrades take that unit?
Guard Jonathan Cooper was the No. 7 overall pick. Tackle Levi Brown is back from an injury. The Cardinals had, essentially, three offensive line coaches in the offseason and going into camp: offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, assistant OL coach Larry Zierlein and coaching intern (and former veteran lineman) David Diaz-Infante. Lyle Sendlein is healthy, Bobby Massie has a year's experience, and there is some depth with guys like Nate Potter. No one is going to declare the group the NFL's best, but there is belief it will be better. It needs to keep Palmer upright, clear some holes for whoever is running the ball, and help get the offense back to a point where the defense isn't always on the field.