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You've Got Mail: Dani Weighs In

Topics include the quarterback situation, BJ Ojulari and tight end needs

Mailbag Sureck Rondale Moore

The players and coaches are still on break, as are my co-workers, who have all decided to coordinate their vacation days so that I'm the only one left in the building. For better or worse, that means I'm handling this week's mailbag for Darren Urban. Both he and Craig Grialou had surprisingly nice things to say about me leading up to this mailbag, so here's to hopefully meeting their expectations, and Darren is back next week. In keeping with tradition, questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Derek Cooper:

"Hi Dani! Last year was really tough on our offensive line. I've been reading the mailbag in the offseason that people are down on Kyler and Colt. How much do you think a healthy James Conner and Zach Ertz would help with that as we have seemingly a very healthy offensive line this season to start with. And what is the status of Ertz that I believe would be so important for the first three or four games of the season?"

I understand the skepticism of Kyler Murray's return from injury; however, I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm "down" on what his return will look like. He's been rehabbing here, been active in meetings, and going through mental reps out on the field. That's the most you can ask of Murray given his situation. As for Colt McCoy, he went 2-1 as the starter last year, completing 75 percent of his pass attempts. While McCoy hasn't spent most of his career as a starter, I feel confident in his ability to hold things down until Murray's return. A healthy James Conner is key for this offense, especially in Murray's absence. While we haven't heard much about what this new offense will look like under offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, it has been made clear that they will run the ball more. While Conner has proven his ability to make a difference and find the end zone as your lead back, injuries haven't been so kind to him. Zach Ertz was working off to the side during OTAs and said that his goal is to return Week One. Ertz's size and catching ability is important for this offense, and with a thin tight end room, the sooner Ertz is back the better.

From Matthew Stroh:

"Hey Dani. Thank you for doing to mailbag this week. So I see a lot of people saying this year the Cardinals have the worst roster in the NFL. I don't believe that and I think we will surprise a few people this year. Do you think we have the worst roster in the NFL? Also do you think offense or defense will be better this year? P.S. I love the 'Game On' videos where you challenge players to play a game. Why don't you challenge fellow media department co-workers? You could do it on the very first and highly anticipated video of Cardinals Underground."

It's hard to say which rosters are the best or worst without having seen anyone take the field. Even still, you only get a glimpse from training camp and the preseason. It's no secret the Cardinals don't have as many superstars as other teams, plus their starting quarterback is out for who knows how many weeks. The NFL is a strange lady and just because a roster looks stout on paper doesn't necessarily mean it'll equate to wins on the field (although, here's to hoping the Cardinals get a nice draft pick next year from Houston).

It's the same sentiment when comparing offense and defense because we just don't know yet. There are more players on offense with proven experience, which this team will have to rely on without Kyler Murray to start the season. The bright spot for a lot of defenders is every starting role is essentially up for grabs. I believe defensive coordinator Nick Rallis will focus less on a certain scheme and more on making sure his best 11 players are out on the field, whatever that may look like. Don't forget, leaders like Budda Baker and Zaven Collins can go a long way in a season like this for young defenders.

I appreciate you watching Game On. I always have so much fun getting the know the players as people in a fun way that shows their competitive side. I haven't challenged any media members... yet. Although, I did play on my middle school's 'A' Team in basketball and after seeing Darren play pickup, I'm pretty sure I could take him.

 From John McGill:

"Hey Dani. Good to have you back. Hope things are well for you and yours. We focus so much on offense and defense that I think we sometimes forget about special teams. With so many kickers putting it out of the end zone we tend the impact that a good returner can make in a game. Have you heard who might be considered in returning punts/kickoffs? Thank you and all the other writers for filling in for Darren while he is on vacation."

Thank you, it's nice to be back. There's a reason special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers was asked to stay on Jonathan Gannon's staff. Special teams can be a game changer, including your returners. I haven't heard any specific names. I'd imagine we'd see a lot of Greg Dortch again this year, maybe some Andre Baccellia, and perhaps a third player who will emerge from training camp. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of Rondale Moore due to his increased role in the offense now that he's healthy.

From Robert Malicki:

"Hello, and thank you for taking my question. The mystery of how this coming season will play out is soon to unfold. Is there any developing plans to mark this 15th anniversary of their run to SB XLIII? The fans could use a shot in the arm reminder. The head coach and staff could focus on a goal and the players could certainly be energized by the exploits of Nos. 13 and 11 among others. Any comment on Mr. Bidwill planning anything? Also, I like the schedule's first month with us playing three teams in the NFC East. It could provide a more comfortable introduction for HC Gannon and his staff to the season's challenges."

That's a good way of looking at the start of the schedule, however that also means you're facing tough defenses right out of the gate. I haven't heard of any specific plans regarding the 15th anniversary of the Cardinals Super Bowl run. However, there will be a Folktales episode on Larry Fitzgerald's playoff performance that year, which I'm sure will cover most of what you're hoping to see.

From Art Pozza:

"Where the heck is second-round outside linebacker BJ Ojulari? I know he hasn't signed a contract, but what is he doing? Has he been able to work out with the minicamps we just had? Is he even there? Thanks."

BJ Ojulari was working out on the side during OTAs and Jonathan Gannon said it's because Ojulari is dealing with a 'knick.' That's all we know. Gannon added that Ojulari is still in meetings and could probably have practiced, however, they're trying to be safe and make sure he's as healthy as possible before the start of the season.

From Dennis J:

"Is Michael Wilson another camp superstar who amounts to nothing, or does he have a chance to actually be a heck of a player? Glowing reviews about the guy all around."

If I were able to answer your question that would mean I'd be able to know the future, in which case I'd have already won the lottery and probably wouldn't be answering your question, Dennis. Look, every year there are a handful of players who receive hype from the coaching staff or players leading into and through training camp. This year, it's been Wilson. You hope as rookie, Wilson will be able to pick up the playbook quickly and adjust to the speed of the game in a way that will allow him to make an impact early on. He has the size and from what the media has heard, ability, to do that.

From Ryan Worthy:

How important are tight ends to this new offense? As a lifelong Cardinals fan, TE has been the most underutilized offensive weapon on this team. We spend a very high pick on Trey McBride. I hope we actually use the guy as a dangerous receiver and not some blocker.

That's a good question, and something to watch throughout training camp for multiple reasons. There are high expectations for last year's top draft pick in McBride, however, this is a new front office and coaching staff. That means they might envision using him differently than those who drafted him. I think a lot of how they'll use McBride early on will depend on Zach Ertz's rehab process. If Ertz isn't ready by the start of the season, you'll have to rely on McBride less as a blocker and more as a receiver. With turnover in the wide receivers room and Kyler Murray rehabbing through the start of the season, the more reliable receivers you have the better. McBride made some nice catches last year with limited opportunities. Hopefully you see strides in that area in his second season. 

From Buddy Red:

"Hey Dani. Cool to have you on the bag this week. Bunch of questions for you. Darren has answered a couple of these before, but I'm curious about your perspective:

  1. Rumor is Paris Johnson Jr. will be a right tackle. Isn't Kelvin Beachum our RT, and moreover the leader of our offensive line? Furthermore, we aren't plugging a hole. The tackles were settled. We needed interior OL. So by plugging in PJJ at RT, we still aren't addressing the interior.
  2. How do you view the Zaven at edge/ Isaiah at CB? On some level, it reminds me of Haason Reddick to edge his final year. I have zero question Simmons is gone next year, but I am hoping for the best with Zaven. What's your outlook on both?
  3. Thoughts on Monti? We all saw that draft vid of him wheeling and dealing. It was very inspiring to us fans. The guy seems very sharp. Also, have you noticed any trends with his approach to scouting?
  4. Rumor is Ojulari (once signed) and Zaven will be our starting pass rushers. What of Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas?
  5. Assuming we land the No. 1 pick, what are the odds we take Caleb Williams? Kyler is talented, no doubt. But he's inconsistent and injury prone. You need more out of a QB. You have to have noticed how rarely Kyler gives good interviews. Not to mention he's extremely expensive. Michael Bidwill has proven he can move on from money. What do you think?"

I'll give it my best shot, Buddy:

  1. Not so much of a rumor to say rookie Paris Johnson Jr. will play right tackle since that's where we primarily saw him take reps throughout mini-camp and OTA's. While it seems Johnson has the qualities to be a leader down the line, I'm not putting those expectations on a rookie right off the bat. I agree, the interior still has question marks. I'd love to see a veteran center come in for some competition. There are options with guard: leave Will Hernandez as your right guard or move him over to the left where he's played before in his career (although I don't see that happening). I believe we'll see Dennis Daley or Elijah Wilkinson start at left guard for now. There were so many holes to fill on this roster, it was going to be impossible to address them all with big-name veterans. While drafting Johnson doesn't address the interior O-line, it does set you up for the future, likely as your left tackle and at the very least, your right tackle.
  2. I believe this coaching staff is figuring out who their best 11 on defense are, regardless of scheme. Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons are two of those 11, no doubt in my mind. Last year, we saw Collins play a little outside, but it'll look very different this time around because he'll only be focused on playing outside. Collins comes in as your starting edge, which can be a good thing when considering his size, speed, and intelligence. He has played multiple positions on this defense, which will only help him. However, that can be a scary thought considering he's one of your least-experienced rushers (which I'll address more in question No. 4).
  3. Simmons has said he'll be with the defensive backs this year, which doesn't come as a surprise after playing there most of last season. Simmons has a unique skillset, it's just a matter of getting comfortable with what this staff is asking out of him. Hopefully, by focusing on one position, we'll see the best of Simmons out there with Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson.
  4. I have nothing but great things to say from my interactions with general manager Monti Ossenfort these last few months. It's not far-fetched to say that the moves he made during the draft can drastically turn this organization around within the next two to three years. It's hard to make a trend out of just one draft. But I like the vision of drafting players that can become pillars on this team in the long-term. The vibes around the office are high and I truly believe exciting times are ahead of us. With the pass rushers, saying Ojulari is a starter when he hasn't practiced all offseason seems like a stretch at the moment. I believe where things stand, it'll be Zaven Collins and Myjai Sanders as your starters. Sanders showed flashes and growth throughout his rookie season. Entering their second year, it's time for Sanders and Cam Thomas to make major leaps in an area this team struggled last year.
  5. I think a lot of things about this loaded question. First off, I have no idea whether this team will draft a quarterback next year for a couple reasons. You have to get Kyler Murray back onto the field and see what he can do post-rehab, as well as in this new offense. While we saw drop-offs in certain areas of his game last year, I still believe Murray is a quarterback who can lead this team to success. Injury prone, though? I disagree. This ACL injury is the first major injury of this career. While he missed a few games in 2021, I wouldn't say he's as injury-prone as other players on this roster. In terms of needing more from Murray, the answer is emphatically yes. You need to see more accuracy on the deep balls, faster reads and more leadership. Many of the leaders have moved on from this team, and it's his time. Not giving great interviews isn't a reason to move on from a franchise quarterback.

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