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NFL camp preview: Landing Palmer brings Cardinals confidence

The SportsXchange

GLENDALE, Ariz -- When the Arizona Cardinals report to camp Thursday and begin full-squad practice Friday, their two main goals are to prove they finally found a quarterback to replace Kurt Warner, who retired after the 2009 season, and to improve the offensive line.

The success of the former may rely on the progress of the latter.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, acquired from the Oakland Raiders in the offseason, is an exceptional passer whose abilities were significantly diminished by the lack of a supporting cast in Oakland.

If the offensive line holds up, Carson should not have that problem with the Cardinals, who have an outstanding wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, a promising No. 2 in Michael Floyd and a talented young tight end in Rob Housler, who managed to catch 45 passes last season and is expected to have a breakout season with the help of a capable quarterback.

Palmer's presence already boosted team optimism during the offseason as teammates praised his ability to "spin the ball" and his veteran know-how. Almost unnoticed, and rarely mentioned for some reason, is the impressive fact that Palmer threw for 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in his only full season with a bad Raiders team last year.

Defensive end Calais Campbell went on record saying there's no reason the Cardinals can't win the NFC West this season, which may be bit of a stretch in a division that includes San Francisco, Seattle and fast-rising St. Louis.

Regardless, Campbell said "I think it's very likely we can win the division, yes. I respect every opponent in our division. Every one. But I think of it this way. We were able to hang in a bunch of our division games without a real quarterback.

"I don't want to disrespect anyone, but now we have a real quarterback to go with a good defense. When we play with a lead, we're hard to beat. This is the first time in years that we have an offense that matches our defense."

Palmer and Campbell engaged in a bit of mutual admiration.

"I was talking to Carson the other day and he said he's never really played with a good defense before," Campbell said. "I told him it's been a while since I played with a good quarterback."

Up front, there are differing opinions on whether the offensive tackle positions are a strength or weakness. Although coaches have said they believe left tackle Levi Brown is elite, the fans and media seem to regard him as average.

Right tackle Bobby Massie, a rookie in 2012, was a problem during the first half of last season, but improved a lot near the end. There could be competition between Massie and backup Nate Potter. In the last week of OTAs, Potter played right tackle with the first team while Massie was the backup left tackle.

Defensively, the Cardinals are installing coordinator Todd Bowles' 3-4 scheme, which differs from that of his predecessor, Ray Horton. It is supposed to feature more pressure from the linemen.

Defensive end Darnell Dockett believes the change will help him return to Pro Bowl-type form because he felt he was prevented from making big plays using a two-gap technique for Horton. But Dockett is also 32, so he will need to prove his point or risk exposing a wrong-way career trajectory.

Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is suspended for the first month for violating the substance abuse policy and there could be more trouble stemming from assault charges. Veteran Karlos Dansby was signed to fill in.

The secondary features standout cornerback/returner Patrick Peterson, but he is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield.

The most intriguing newcomer is rookie Tryann "Don't-Call-Me-Honey-Badger" Mathieu. This third-round draft pick was one of college football's most dynamic playmakers at LSU before numerous personal issues, mostly stemming from synthetic marijuana, pushed him out of football last year.

With the support of fellow LSU alum Peterson, who preceded Mathieu as that team's Honey Badger, Mathieu went through a very public battle to rehabilitate his life this spring and is one of the NFL's most conspicuous boom-or-bust players this year.

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