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You've Got Mail: Zach Is Up In The Lineup

Topics include the secondary, fewer camp dates, and pass rush options


Welcome back, Birdgang. Dani and Craig had their turn at the mailbag. Both of them killed it. Now, for the first time ever, it's my turn. Darren will be back next week.

Let's do this.

From John T:

"Quarterback article, really? Kyler Murray is it and if he goes down again, we lose four out of five again. Your article should be why did the Cardinals extend KM? He had to let defensive players walk and we saw how our QB play, and defensive play was last year as well as the year prior. The only upcoming season hype the Cardinals can promote are victories. So, while Darren is off and the practice facility is empty, it's time for all us fans to also take a break."

I do appreciate that you read the position overview article, John. If Kyler Murray were to be sidelined again, things would certainly change, but that's why they made the deal to bring in Desmond Ridder. Having a mobile quarterback with starting experience like Ridder doesn't force Drew Petzing to drastically change the offense. Regarding the contract, Murray's the seventh highest paid quarterback in the league. When healthy, Kyler is a top 10 quarterback that can put up MVP-worthy numbers. QBs cost more. That's just reality. Also, once the players report to training camp, more content will be on the way.

From Nate Smith:

"Hey Darren! Always a big fan of you and your guys' work. There's a lot of depth in the secondary position from Budda Baker, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jalen Thompson, and Max Melton to name a few. Out of all the DBs on the roster, who are the starting four defensive backs (or five if we go in the nickel package) that will be on the field Week 1 against Buffalo?"

Darren is still gone so I'll field this one. I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of the secondary. Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson will both start at safety, there's no doubt in my mind about that. Monti Ossenfort wouldn't have splurged during free agency on a guy like SMB if they didn't anticipate and expect him to be a starter. I believe that Max Melton will work his way into becoming CB2 throughout training camp and be the other starter. However, don't count out a player like Starling Thomas V. The undrafted rookie played a lot last season and received praise from DK Metcalf and other offensive opponents. If there's a nickel package, Garrett Williams should trot onto the field, just as he did throughout the 2023 season.

From Mike Mousekewitz:

"Is it just me or have open camp practices shrunk in recent years? I swear five years ago there were like 14 camp practices open to the public, now there's like seven. Why the shrinkflation? Also just curious, if you have the data available, what were those camp numbers back in the day? How many were open to the public in Flagstaff vs. the first few years in the stadium vs. today? I'm betting its shrunk substantially but maybe I'm wrong. Thanks."

It isn't just you, Mike. While open practices across the league have shrunk, it varies. The Eagles, for example, will host only one training camp practice at Lincoln Financial Field. On the other hand, the Ravens will host 20 practices. They didn't get the memo. Teams recognize that by opening practice to the public, the work they hope to implement for game days can be seen by their opponents. When the Cardinals were in Flagstaff, nearly all practices were open. That's in part due to it being outdoors and easily accessible. Most of camp used to be open even when they moved to the stadium, but again, coaches have wanted to keep some things private if they can. The proliferation of cell phone video (and posted on social from practice) hasn't helped. This year, the Cardinals will hold nine practices at State Farm Stadium.

From Jude Fomeche:

"I would love to rally the Birdgang in an effort to make donations to Matt Prater's charity of choice, as a show of gratitude for helping this team secure the fourth pick during Week 18 of last season. My question is, any advice on how to get the word out? I'd love for this to be a big thing like we sometimes see from Bills Mafia. Thank you!"

I hope this isn't where my "East Coast spunk" comes back to bite me, but c'mon now, there were 16 other games before Week 18 that resulted in the Cardinals holding the fourth pick. If he made the field goal and the Cardinals picked fifth, who is to say the Chargers take MHJ? Speculation is a blast. Last season for My Cause My Cleats, Prater wore cleats that represented Madelyn's Fund, an organization started by former Cardinals punter Andy Lee in honor of his daughter, who passed away after being taken into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. If you're going to donate to the cause, MHJ in mind or not, click here. Or click here to donate to Cardinals Charities.

From Flynn Byers:

"What is the total plan at pass rush? My assumption is the edges will be BJ Ojulari and Zaven. While the interior pass rush will be Stills and Darius. For my money I think our interior DL will be pretty darn good, but I worry about our edge guys. Unless he goes gangbusters, Zaven's fate was sealed when they declined the fifth year. And Ojulari basically has this year to prove he's the guy. Then there is Gardeck, who's awesome, but is a liability against the run so he can't be a full-time starter. Basically, no matter what, 2025 will be prioritizing finding that No. 1 pass rusher."

The Cardinals like the pieces they currently have in the outside linebacker room. All eight likely won't make the 53-man roster, but DC Nick Rallis likes to rotate players to keep legs fresh. After they shared Zaven Collins' fifth-year option was declined, Monti Ossenfort said he still saw a future between the two. During the open portions of OTAs, Collins was working one-on-one with outside linebackers coach Rob Rodriguez and Rallis. I wouldn't count him out yet. BJ Ojulari is also expected to take a leap. On the interior, don't forget about free agency additions Justin Jones, Bilal Nichols, and Khyiris Tonga. Them, along with Dante Stills and Darius Robinson will be a part of the rotation.

From Cori Nave:

"Seen Gershman's article on the WRs. Good stuff. Interesting that Marv is WR1 already. Which, let's be honest, was inevitable and expected. I know we have a very good receivers room full of team-first guys. But just in general, from a human nature POV, could there be problems in the locker room when a rookie is elevated to the top slot so quickly? I can't help but feel like if I were a prickly veteran WR, that Marvin getting No. 1 reps on OTAs might rub me the wrong way."

Since I only graduated from college last year, I haven't been in NFL locker rooms enough to gauge the pulse when a rookie comes in and takes over. So far, I haven't seen any instance where a player, at least openly, felt some type of way. On the flip side of that, Michael Wilson shared that once the Cardinals selected MHJ, he was thrilled because he knew that, despite being a rookie, Harrison would be able to help Wilson. It's worth emphasizing that Monti Ossenfort told the players that his job is to find their replacements. If that veteran doesn't want to slide down the depth chart, they have to put in the work.

From Nathan King:

"Who are your non-obvious X factors for the 2024 season? I'm a big believer that it's the little guys who most often determine Ws and Ls and I think these guys will help us to Ws:

  1. Mack Wilson Sr. - He was phenomenal for New England last year. I think he's the win of the offseason (Marvin excluded)
  2. Zay Jones - for as much as I love Mike Wilson, he's unproven. Zay has been around a long time and been good for a long time. Wouldn't shock me if he supplants Mike at some point for WR2.
  3. Trey Benson - assuming he ever gets signed."

I like your picks, Nathan. Wilson Sr. certainly will provide a spark alongside Kyzir White. Zay Jones will also be a great weapon for Murray to have at his disposal. And yes, Trey Benson will sign at some point. My non-obvious X factor picks would be Jalen Thompson on defense and Michael Carter on offense. It's fair to throw a challenge flag on the Thompson take, but in my opinion, even after a great season, Thompson is still underrated. Budda Baker gets the Pro Bowl nods, and he deserves the recognition. But Thompson can have a powerful impact on the Cardinals defense, especially with an improvement in the cornerback room.

With the addition of Benson, it seems like Carter has started to become a bit of an afterthought in the eyes of some. Not in my eyes. He's a quick, shifty running back that can ignite an offensive drive in the blink of an eye. His ankle breaking run against the Eagles and slippery 19-yard gain on third-and-6 against the Steelers are prime examples. Carter was brought in midseason, and immediately fit in, not only on the field, but in the locker room too. Between James Connor, Kyler Murray, Benson and Carter, I see a four-headed monster in the Cardinals running game

From Ed Helinski:

"In looking at the roster, what's the Cardinals offense going to look like? Will it be pass-happy, run-heavy or a combination?"

Drew Petzing was asked what the offense's identity is going into his second year and he said "we need to be tough, physical, smart, explosive" and that it wouldn't change drastically from 2023. It'll be a combination, but I wouldn't be shocked if the Cardinals have another 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard pass catcher.

From Anthony K:

"I appreciate all of the hard work all of the Cardinals content team puts in throughout the year. A few questions for Zach.

  1. In the wide receiver overview you listed Greg Dortch as a lock over Zay Jones or Chris Moore. Why's that?
  2. I'm an aspiring sports journalist and will start college in the fall. It's cool to see someone right out of college working this kind of job that you have with the Cardinals. How did you get started in the industry and what are your tips for someone in college?
  3. Biggest difference between the Valley and Philadelphia?"

Thank you for the kind words, Anthony.

  1. Dortch has received tons of praise throughout the offseason, and for someone that might've been viewed in the "work to do category" prior to OTAs, he's shined. His speed and ability to stretch the field is remarkable and, truthfully, could be the secret weapon for the Cardinals on offense. Plus, his special teams acumen leans him towards a lock. That's not to say Zay Jones or Chris Moore don't make the roster. I think they do. There's a competition for reps and regardless of how heavily he's utilized on the offense, I believe Dortch's return game helps push him towards a lock on the 53-man roster.
  2. One day I might write a book about my journey, but I'll provide the SparkNotes version for now. When I was 12 I launched a YouTube channel called ZachOnSports. I'd sit on my brother's bed, ranting about sports, with my mom recording off the iPad and my dad serving as the producer. Fast forward a handful of years and on ZachOnSports, I interviewed legends such as Bob Costas, Tom Rinaldi, Kevin Harlan, Doc Emrick, and others. My tip for someone in college is to do literally everything, no matter how big or small. I got my start at Penn State wrapping cables for the cameras that operated the in-stadium jumbotron. That opened the door to so many opportunities, including an internship that got me connected with the Cardinals. My final tip, and equally as important, is to network. My dad used to always tell me that "networking is one letter away from not working." Any other questions, reach out to me on twitter @ZachAZCards
  3. Biggest difference? The heat. The most surprising difference? The driving. People in Arizona don't know how to merge on these highways.

From Mitch Schmidt:

"Boy, Darren, your vicious sass really becomes apparent when others are on the mailbag."

If you think Darren's sassy on the mailbag, can you imagine sitting next to him every day of the week?! Jokes, of course. Darren is a great mentor and I'm thankful for him. He'll be back on the mailbag next week.

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