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Roster Analysis: Arizona Cardinals

The SportsXchange

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Carson Palmer. Backups - Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley

Coach Bruce Arians is convinced Palmer is still among the elite players at his position. Palmer seems to fit Arians' philosophy of standing in the pocket and throwing deep and will not look to run. Palmer's health -- as in ability to avoid sacks -- is vital to the Cardinals chances. Stanton has been a career backup, and Lindley didn't impress in four starts and a six appearances a year ago. He did show improvement in the off-season, however.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Rashard Mendenhall. Backups - Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington, Alfonso Smith.

Mendenhall missed parts of the last two seasons due to injuries, a big reason he was a free agent. Williams has tremendous ability but injuries kept him from playing much his first two seasons. The team drafted Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington. Those four backs show a common trait: versatility. They supposedly can catch and pass block, as well as run. Smith and Powell could creep into the mix, especially given Mendenhall's and Williams' recent injury history.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Housler. Backups - Jim Dray, Kory Sperry, D.C. Jefferson.

Housler caught 45 passes last season but no one was satisfied with that production. Quarterbacks consistently missed him on big-play opportunities and Housler had some dropped passes. Depth is a problem. Dray is a serviceable backup who will be challenged by Sperry. Jefferson, a seventh-round pick, is an athletic project.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd. Backups - Andre Roberts, Jaron Brown.

With a reliable quarterback, Fitzgerald is expected to flourish. Floyd, in his second year, was impressive in spring and summer workouts and moves into the No. 2 role. Roberts drops down to No. 3 but he'll play a lot. He played well last season, and helps give the Cardinals a promising trio. Brown, a rookie free agent from Clemson, stood out in the spring and summer. Taylor has shown ability, and Brown, a rookie, impressed with elite speed.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Levi Brown, LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Paul Fanaika, RT Eric Winston. Backups - T Nate Potter, G/C Mike Gibson, G/T Paul Fanaika, G Earl Watford, T Bradley Sowell.

This group has been heavily criticized over the past few years. With guard Jonathan Cooper out for the year with a fractured leg, it's questionable if there has been much of an upgrade. Brown is back from a torn triceps that kept him out all season. Sendlein is back from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last five games of 2012. Colledge switched from left to right guard after Cooper was drafted and he's now back on the left side. Fanaika, who was out of the NFL in 2012, is the starter on the right side. Winston should be an upgrade over Massie, who improved over the second half last season.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LE Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams, RE Calais Campbell. Backups - T/E Frostee Rucker, T/E Ronald Talley, E Matt Shaughnessy, T Alameda Ta'amu.

Dockett believes the change in coordinators, from Ray Horton to Todd Bowles, will help him return to elite status. Horton preferred his ends to use two-gap technique, and Dockett felt that kept him from making big plays. Bowles prefers one-gap, which should allow Dockett to use his explosives. But Dockett also is 32, an age when most players are in decline. Campbell is the best lineman on the team, and perhaps its second best player, behind Fitzgerald. Williams continues to battle weight and ankle problems. He needs to prove himself. He will have competition from Rucker and Talley. Shaughnessy and Rucker are quality backups so the Cardinals should be able to keep their starters fresh.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Sam Acho, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Jasper Brinkley, ROLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups - OLB John Abraham, ILB Daryl Washington (suspended), OLB Matt Shaughnessy, OLB Alex Okafor, ILB Kevin Minter.

Washington is the best player in the unit, but he is suspended for the first month for violating the substance abuse policy. Dansby, a free agent, was signed to fill Washington's spot, and the two could play together when Washington returns. Brinkley was signed to play in the middle, but was available for a reason. He reportedly missed too many tackles while with the Vikings. Alexander is an excellent special teams player. In passing situations, he could be replaced by Abraham or Shaughnessy. Young players such as Minter, Okafor and Nash give the team some depth.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Patrick Peterson, CB Jerraud Powers, FS Rashad Johnson, SS Yeremiah Bell. Backups: CB Antoine Cason, CB Jamell Fleming, CB Javier Arenas, CB/S Justin Bethel, S Tyrann Mathieu, S Tony Jefferson.

Peterson is the only returning starter in the secondary. He is one of the NFL's best corners, and the Cardinals will continue playing him against the best receiver. Powers is the other corner starter for now, and he's being challenged by Cason, another free agent signee. Arenas was obtained in a trade, and along with Mathieu, gives the team plenty of options in nickel and dime packages. The biggest concerns are at safety. The team cut starters Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, and replaced them with Johnson and Bell. Johnson is coming off his best season in four years, but he's never been a full-time starter. Bell has a ton of experience but he's 35. Matthieu, a third-round pick, is small (5-9, 207) and Bethel, in his second season, is still raw.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters - K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil, LS Mike Leach, PR Patrick Peterson, KR Andre Ellington, Javier Arenas, PR/KR Tyrann Mathieu.

Feely (37), Zastudil (34) and Leach (36) are at an age when most teams look to replace them. That's not likely to happen, and all three are coming off good seasons. Peterson's punt return numbers dropped off steeply last season from his rookie year, but he's still dynamic. So is Mathieu, and he could be used to give Peterson more of a rest.
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