The mailbag is back, and that's because the offseason is over -- and training camp is just about here. The Cards report Wednesday out at State Farm Stadium, with the first practice Thursday. The mailbags return Tuesdays. As always, click here to leave a question for next week's cornucopia of Qs and As.
From Bob Kitsos via azcardinals.com:
"I know it's very early in the process, but what is your crystal ball outlook as to the starting O-line for the Week One opener against the Lions?"
At this point, there really seems to be only one question, and that's if A.Q. Shipley or Mason Cole is at center. The other spots are likely set barring injury -- D.J. Humphries at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, J.R. Sweezy at right guard, Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Right now, I lean toward seeing Shipley as the opening day starter, but there is a lot of training camp to go and Kliff Kingsbury said it was open when asked about it during offseason work.
From NJAZCardsFan via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, care to predict which free agent or rookie is on the bubble at the start of camp?"
I think free agents might be a little easier to decipher at this point. I think it's fair to say Robert Nkemdiche, assuming he gets a clean bill of health, is in a position where he has to prove he needs to stick around. Certainly he has the tools, but we've been talking about that for a while now. Along those PUP lines, it's not ideal that Brooks Reed is banged up, so he'll be one to watch once he starts practicing. The Cardinals are thin at linebacker, however, and that figures to help his cause. It's tougher for the lower-tier veterans a lot of the time; if a team has a couple of players at a spot that are about the same, they almost always decide to go younger and cheaper. Something to keep in mind when you analyze specific battles, especially with any of those free agents on one-year contracts.
From Steven McCrane via azcardinals.com:
"We loved the time to get to know the Cardinals organization and players! A class act! Frustrated that our son was cut three times even though never had missed a field goal or extra point for the Cards but is working hard for another shot! Two game-winners/game balls out of five games in rookie year hopefully will help. Wish the Cards well and hope Zane (Gonzalez) does well but if you need help, Matt McCrane will be ready! Why do teams focus so much on touchbacks when it’s field goals and extra points that usually determine game outcomes?"
I'm not so sure teams focus on touchbacks more than the scoring plays. Kickoffs are part of the equation, but I think it also comes down to comfort level. Sometimes it's hard for teams to be comfortable with the unknown of a young kicker.
From KK of Bastrop, Texas via azcardinals.com:
"As eager as fans are for our annual dose of exhibition football, I see a thin line to balance between getting a large crop of newcomers to the Redbirds acclimated to a new offense and both minimizing injury risk and not showing the league too much of your offensive philosophy. Do you expect the preseason playing time of the starters to resemble what fans have come to expect?"
It's a little early to know that, but generally, yes, I expect the playing time to seem pretty normal. Now, the stuff those players actually do in games, I'm not sure how much it'll be "normal" compared to the regular season, although that pretty typical of any preseason. There is still a preparation aspect to preseason games that is necessary. I do believe that.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"I was not surprised by the announcement of opening talks concerning the collective bargaining agreement, but by the lack of acrimony from either side. What are you hearing as to the main areas of change? Public issues are player discipline, i.e. NFL PR, length of season and international games. But, what's the undercurrent? The Rams will splashdown with their new stadium next year and the draft is being auctioned off to cities now. Are the owners trying to hedge their bets in labor peace?"
I have no idea what the undercurrent is, but I know I'd assume that money remains the most important thing -- how they will divvy up the pie. Those other topics will be discussed and they are more interesting than what percentage of money goes to the players and what goes to the owners, but it's the latter that is always the driving force, in some shape or form. I'm not sure what you mean by the owners hedging their bets; I know that the prevailing reports seem to show optimism there will not be any labor stoppage.
Well, there won't be any exposure to exotic defenses in the preseason regardless of how much of the offense the Cardinals are willing to use. No one goes much more than vanilla on offense or defense, so there will be again another need to step up on the learning curve when the regular season arrives for Kyler Murray.
From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren,Thank you for taking Cardinal questions. This year’s training camp will be the most interesting in several years. We Cardinal fans could be seeing both the beginning of a star's career and the possible ending of another’s. So, if the Kingsbury offense unfolds like some have predicted do you think the Murray-to-Fitzgerald combination will blossom, let’s say 80-100 targets this season? And if this happens do you believe Fitz would come back for another season?"
I'm well past trying to predict if Fitz will retire or not, to be honest. If he can produce at a high level, there aren't many jobs that pay $11 million or $12 million a year. But yes, I do think Fitz has a chance to get a bunch of targets again and has a chance to get 70 to 80 catches. Some of it will depend on how effective the offense is (keeping the ball with first downs naturally means more plays and more passes that could go to 11) and some will depend on the other pass catchers out there and what kind of attention the defense must pay to them. Bottom line, an offensive coach and this offensive system should benefit Fitz at this point in his career.
From Roger Sandate via azcardinals.com:
"Are they going to wear a throwback jersey for the nfl 100 season?"
Alas, I have not heard of any plans to do such a thing.
From Kenyon Carlson via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren! While I respect your limited free time off during the slow season, I also suspect that you still must keep a finger on the pulse of the Cards' transactions in the event breaking news occurs. My question is, why does Brandon Williams continue to remain on the roster? I know he's exceptional on special teams, but is he so good that he's continuously considered viable at the cornerback position after three changes in the head coaching position?"
You are assuming that even though they might see him working well on special teams that he would be considered heavily in the cornerback mix. I'm not sure that's the case, although the back issue he has had has significantly hindered his offseason work. Special teams definitely was a driving force in keeping him around last season. I would put Williams firmly in the bubble category going into camp, especially with so many rookies who have a chance to make inroads on special teams.
From John Pashkow via azcardinals.com:
"Sounds like defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson has Patrick Peterson's number: He said he hopes to see more balls thrown at Peterson 'so we can find out how good he really is.' Do you agree?"
I'm not sure what you are asking what I agree with, although it sounds by the structure of your question that you aren't a believer in Peterson as one of the better cornerbacks in the game. If you've read or listened to my stuff, you obviously know I do think Patrick is one of the best in the game, and I believe Peterson is infrequently tested on the field because all the other teams believe that as well. I think Robertson would love for teams to throw at Peterson because I think that would help the Cards' turnover ratio or at the least their third-down efficiency on defense. Of course, it's a moot point until Week Seven, because of Peterson's suspension.
From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"How much do you think the players actually care about their Madden ratings? Is it like "ah-shucks-I-didn't-get-drafted-until-round-3-in-fantasy" or literally a motivating factor for the season or just filling time before football season starts to ramp up?"
I think some players care about it very much, because they see it as a sign of respect -- or disrespect. Most of the players in the league today don't have a memory of a world without Madden, and so many players play the game as well. Does it really motivate them? I find that hard to believe, but yes, in the dead of an NFL world before camp, it's easy to talk about and, yes, complain about.
Does he deserve it? Yes. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? No. Something tells me it'll be adjusted at some point this season anyway.
From Garth Short via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, in your opinion which UDFA has the best chance of making the final 53?"
That's a difficult question at this point. I don't know if there are any that have popped. So I'd tend to see it through the lens of position need. I'll be curious how long Dante Booker spends on PUP, because linebacker is a spot they could use someone, and special teams always needs linebackers. Otherwise, I'd tend to look at projects on the offensive line -- could a Tariq Cole or William Sweet show enough at tackle?
From Jerry Brown via azcardinals.com:
"I was surprised to see that PFF rated Mason Cole the worst center in the league last year. Do you agree with that? How do the Cards feel about his play last season and his ceiling?"
I can't pretend to judge what a center is supposed to do on every play nor his work compared to other centers who I do not watch all the time. Cole could have been better last season but the entire offensive line was not good either. Like Josh Rosen, I think basing the evaluation of Cole or any one single player in his rookie season after playing within that situation isn't fair or tell the whole story. The key now is, is he better than A.Q. Shipley? I still think they have hopes for his abilities going forward, whether it is at center or guard, and he will have a chance to show that in camp.