There is, at least for another year, no longer a need to define "OTA" or speak of voluntary work. The Cardinals are off for the summer.
With the team closing out minicamp this week, the veterans and coaches are off until training camp arrives. This season, that's earlier than normal – training camp dates have yet to be announced – because the Cardinals are playing in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 3. There will be five preseason games in which to hone the roster, to find out who deserves to start where, to separate those who can handle playing under the lights with those who cannot.
Gleaning much from offseason work isn't possible. Padless and limited, what players do in May and June can't replicate what they will accomplish in August. After watching all the on-field work the last couple of months, it doesn't mean there weren't things to notice:
-- SEEING SMOKE MEANS FIRE AGAIN: Whether the blame fell primarily on spine cysts or sickle-cell issues, it was clear John "Smokey" Brown wasn't himself last season. It killed the Cardinals' offense. But Brown is looking like himself again, and that is crucial. He's speedy – and smiling – and now the Cards will see if he can get to his 2015 level plus have a stronger finishing kick.
-- ROBERT NKEMDICHE HAS A CHANCE: Judging linemen on either side of the ball in the summer is difficult at best. But the Cardinals like where their 2016 No. 1 pick is headed mentally and with his work ethic. Nkemdiche is a smart kid. He understands his missteps. Now, he has to become the second version of D.J. Humphries, bouncing back from a vacant rookie season to show as a sophomore.
-- HAASON REDDICK CAN BREAK THE NO. 1 PICK ROOKIE DROUGHT: Nkemdiche and Humphries didn't play. Neither did 2013 No. 1 pick Jonathan Cooper, who got hurt. Only 2014 No. 1 pick Deone Bucannon has been a contributor as a rookie in the Keim/Arians era, and coincidentally, it's Bucannon's injury (ankle surgery) that puts 2017 top pick Reddick on deck. He ran with the first unit throughout OTAs and minicamp, and while he definitely had some (typical) rookie missteps, he shown thus far the Cards should be able to make it work should Bucannon start the regular season on the shelf.
-- BRITTAN GOLDEN SHINES, UNDERSCORING RECEIVER BATTLES: Even before Bruce Arians noted Brittan Golden's good offseason, it was easy to see. Given the limitations in rules, it is always the wideouts and the defensive backs who are most likely to stand out this time of year. And it was clear Golden was at the front of the class. Different receivers missed time at times with minor injuries, but Golden was there, day after day, grabbing everything in sight. Yet Arians noted he's still on the bubble. Golden is excellent on special teams, but that receiving room – when healthy – is hard to crack. Who sticks (and even who ends up on the practice squad) will be intriguing.
-- ELIE BOUKA MOVED TO THE TOP FIELD, AND YOU COULD SEE WHY: Again, no one should go overboard with judgement this time of year. But Bouka, the raw Canadian import at cornerback (who was on IR as a rookie) has made strides. He started OTAs on the "second field" with the bottom of the roster but eventually was promoted to the first. He made some plays. He exudes confidence. Whether he could push apparent frontrunner Justin Bethel as a starter is impossible to tell right now, but the Cardinals want to shore up CB, and Bouka may be able to get his name in the mix.
-- KERWYNN WILLIAMS HAS PUT ANDRE ELLINGTON ON THE BUBBLE: Ellington was there anyway, in all probability. But the Cards – for now – have Williams as David Johnson's top backup at running back. Meanwhile, Ellington briefly spent time at wide receiver, then got back to running back and Arians made clear Ellington has to "run tougher." It was said matter-of-factly, and Ellington knows. Ellington's lack of special teams work makes his roster chances more tenuous. He faces a huge training camp.
-- BUDDA'S ABSENCE MAKES SECONDARY ANALYSIS HARDER: Whatever may have been seen out of the secondary and the safety position automatically is made hazy because of the school-related absence of second-round pick Budda Baker. Once Baker is integrated into the depth chart, how will that impact things? How much playing time can be realistically doled out between Baker, Tyrann Mathieu, Antoine Bethea and Tyvon Branch?
-- PALMER IS PALMER, WHICH IS FINE: There's no way to tell right now if the plan to ramp up Carson Palmer's throwing more slowly will pay off. But the quarterback is healthy, he remains fully engaged (even enjoying) this part of his job, and he is capable of leading this team far should the group come together. That's good enough for now.
-- THERE MAY HAVE BEEN MORE FUN, BUT THERE IS MORE THAN A HINT OF SALTY: Arians, a couple of times, said the Cardinals were having more fun this offseason. Perhaps that's true from the standpoint that there are not the giant expectations that the team carried into the 2016 offseason, adding some pressure. But last year's team at this time of year seemed to embrace a favorite's role (maybe, in the end, to their detriment.) While you could see smiles this summer, it still felt like there was a layer of salty underneath – a seriousness from someone like Mathieu, who seems uber-focused in proving he can still be a superstar and stay on the field. Those left over from last year know they underachieved. They clearly don't want it to happen again.
Images of all seven Cardinals rookies inking their four-year deals