The Arizona Cardinals don't just have concerns at specific positions. They have concerns in specific areas.
When training camp opens, considerable attention will be paid to two spots involving four positions: inside linebackers and the right side of the offensive line.
Had is the operative word.
When it comes to 2014, references to Washington will be in the past tense. He's suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Losing both Dansby and Washington are blows that can't be overstated. Both are great athletes with versatility. They played the run well. They were fast enough to cover running backs and tight ends in coverage. They could blitz.
On offense, the biggest question is the right side of the line. Bobby Massie lost the tackle job a year ago because he made too many mental errors. Whatever faith coaches have in him cannot be great. Massie has much to prove.
Right guard Paul Fanaika is average at best, but as offseason practices closed, he remained the best option.
First practice: July 26
Camp ends: Aug. 22
--The team brought veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo in for a visit near the end of OTAs. The Cardinals reportedly were only doing their due diligence and didn't sign him. But the move was interesting given that the right tackle job is open. Bobby Massie is the starter but doesn't have a strong hold on the job. The team could bring in a veteran as camp approaches or starts.
--Coach Bruce Arians likes to refer to position groups by "rooms", as in the quarterback room is strong. The tight end room has undergone a big transformation since last season. John Carlson was signed. Jake Ballard, picked up midway through last season, has moved into the starting lineup. Troy Niklas was drafted in the second round. The Cardinals are confident they are more talented there than a year ago.
"That's an NFL room now," Arians said.
--Team strength: Wide receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald is still an elite player. Michael Floyd has shown great improvement. The additions of Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie John Brown improved the group's speed. Quarterback Carson Palmer has several options now in the passing game.
--Breakout player: Wide receiver Michael Floyd.
Floyd was better in 2013, his second year, than he was as a rookie. Judging by his performance in the offseason, 2014 should be even better. Floyd has always caught the ball well. Last year, he proved he could play through injury, and he improved catching the ball in traffic. He should be a big target in the red zone.
--Fantasy football reality check: Running back Stepfan Taylor.
Taylor isn't going to pile up yards, unless Andre Ellington suffers an injury. But he should be valuable in short-yardage situations, including near the goal line. Taylor is tough and faster than people think. He's very smart and instinctive, which should help in the red zone.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Palmer was much better in the second half of the season than the first. He struggled in the offensive system early, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in the first eight games. He needs to improve that ratio (24-22) next year. Stanton and Lindley did not play. Stanton is definitely the No. 2 quarterback, coach Bruce Arians said. That leaves Lindley and Thomas, a fourth-round pick, to compete for the final roster spot. Arians insists the job is open, although it would be hard to imagine the Cardinals cutting Thomas.
Ellington steps into the starting role, replacing Rashard Mendenhall, who retired. Ellington is dynamic as both a runner and receiver, and the Cardinals will line up him in the slot, which opens up playing time for other backs. The Cardinals would like to get Ellington the ball around 20 times a game, which is a lofty goal. Taylor is a physical runner and should be a solid short-yardage back. Dwyer played for Arians in Pittsburgh, so he knows the system. Arians doesn't like to use a fullback, but Hughes can fill that role when needed. He's a physical blocker and showed excellent hands in the offseason.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Jake Ballard, John Carlson. Backups - Troy Niklas, Rob Housler, Darren Fells.
The position was revamped in the offseason. Ballard was on the team in the latter half of 2013, but played only a small role. That will grow this year. Carlson impressed coaches in the offseason. He's known as an excellent receiver, but the Cardinals think he can be a solid blocker, too. He has a history of concussions, so durability is a concern. Niklas, the second-round pick, didn't get much work in the offseason, which likely will hinder the beginning of his rookie year. He missed time with a sports hernia, then suffered a broken hand in early June. Housler faces a challenge to make the team. The Cardinals have waited on him to play up to his potential. If he doesn't do it in training camp, the team might decide it's waited long enough. Fells, a college basketball player, is a project.
Fitzgerald finished with fewer than 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year, but he scored 10 touchdowns, six more than in 2012. He hasn't lost anything. Floyd had a breakout season and improved greatly. QB Carson Palmer grew to trust him on deep passes, and Floyd came through. He played through a painful shoulder injury over the last month. The Cardinals added speed through free agency (Ginn) and the draft (Brown). Arians likes both of them and has a history of knowing how to use those types of players. The top four spots seem set. The other one or two are open.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Jared Veldheer, LG Jonathan Cooper, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Paul Fanaika, RT Bobby Massie. Backups - G/T Nate Potter, G Earl Watford, T Bradley Sowell, G/C Ted Larsen, G/C Anthony Steen, C Philip Black.
There will be at least three new starters and possibly four. Left tackle has been a need for years, and the Cardinals signed Veldheer in free agency. They think he can be elite. Cooper, the seventh overall pick in 2013, didn't play as a rookie after suffering a broken leg. He wasn't 100 percent in offseason practices, but coaches think he will be by the start of training camp. Sendlein is a smart, solid veteran who holds the unit together. Fanaika is being challenged by Earl Watford. No matter who wins the job, the position will be a weakness until someone proves otherwise. Massie emerged from the offseason as the starter, but his hold on the job is tenuous. He's being challenged by Sowell and Potter, and the Cardinals have also looked outside for help. They worked out Tyson Clabo in June and re-signing Eric Winston, last year's starter, remains a possibility.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams, DRE Calais Campbell. Backups - NT Alameda Ta'amu, E Frostee Rucker, E Kareem Martin, E/T Ed Stinson, NT Christian Tupou, NT Justin Renfrow.
The entire front played well in 2013. Campbell enjoyed another elite season. His run defense has improved and he's a menace in passing situations. Dockett had his best season in several years. He started slowly but blossomed in coordinator Todd Bowles' one-gap scheme. Williams was steady all year. Ta'amu, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh, was so good that he took time away from Williams. Ta'amu is very powerful and a big reason the team ranked first against the run. Rucker is a solid backup and Talley hardly played, partly because of a wrist injury. Martin, a third-round pick, has pass-rush ability and could play in those situations. Stinson was a good run defender in college.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB John Abraham, ILB Kevin Minter, ILB Larry Foote, SLB Matt Shaughnessy. Backups - OLB Sam Acho, OLB/ILB Lorenzo Alexander, OLB Alex Okafor, OLB Marcus Benard, ILB Kenny Demens, ILB Ernie Sims, ILB Glen Carson.
Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington were among the better tandems in the NFL and both are gone, Dansby to free agency and Washington to a minimum one-year suspension. The position is the biggest weakness on the team. Minter, a second-round pick a year ago, played one defensive snap. Now, he's making the calls. Foote is 33. Neither player is known for his pass defense. The outside positions are in much better shape. Shaughnessy is steady and tough, while Abraham (11.5 sacks) proved he has plenty left at age 35. Acho and Alexander started the first three games before going down with injuries. Acho and Okafor, who both missed most of last season with injuries, are healthy. If they stay that way, the team has great depth at outside linebacker.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Patrick Peterson, CB Antonio Cromartie, FS Tyrann Mathieu, SS Deone Bucannon. Backups -- S Rashad Johnson, S Curtis Taylor, S Tony Jefferson, CB Jerraud Powers, CB Justin Bethel, CB Bryan McCann.
Peterson covered the best receiver every week. He's an elite player but he can improve. Signing Cromartie gives coordinator Bowles the option of keeping each of his corners on one side of the field. Powers is smart and physical and will be the nickel corner until Mathieu returns from a knee injury. Johnson lost his job to Mathieu midway through the season. Mathieu is instinctive and makes a lot of plays. Johnson is smart and does a nice job of getting teammates lined up correctly. There won't be much of a drop-off is he is the starter while Mathieu is out. Bucannon, the first-round pick, has a reputation as a big hitter. Coverage is his biggest question.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil, KOR Ted Ginn, Jr., PR Ted Ginn Jr., LS Mike Leach, K Danny Hrapmann, K Chandler Catanzaro.
Feely made 30 of 36 field-goal attempts, but he missed some crucial ones. His kickoffs are neither high nor deep. He signed a one-year deal for the minimum and there are two other kickers on the roster. Zastudil was reliable and adept at downing punts inside the 20. The Cardinals return game was not good, and perhaps Ginn can change that. Patrick Peterson's punt return average declined dramatically the last two years, and coaches want him to concentrate on cornerback full time.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--SS Yeremiah Bell (not tendered as UFA).
--C/G Mike Gibson (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Jeff King (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Alfonso Smith (not tendered as RFA).
--TE Kory Sperry (not tendered as UFA).
--DE Ronald Talley (not tendered as RFA).
--DE Everette Thompson (not tendered as ERFA).
--RT Eric Winston (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--S Deone Bucannon (1/27): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Troy Niklas (2/52): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Kareem Martin (3/84): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR John Brown (3/91): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Logan Thomas (4/120: 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DL Ed Stinson (5/160): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Walt Powell (6/196): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Jake Ballard: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Marcus Benard: Not tendered as RFA/1 yr, terms unknown.
--K Jay Feely: Potential UFA; $1.02M/1 yr.
--CB Bryan McCann: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Frostee Rucker: $2.145M/2 yrs, $590,000 guaranteed.
--LB Matt Shaughnessy: UFA; terms unknown.
--NT Alameda Ta'amu: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--P Dave Zastudil: Potential UFA; $2.95M/2 yrs, $545,000 SB.
--TE John Carlson: FA Vikings; $4.65M/2 yrs.
--CB Antonio Cromartie: FA Jets; $3.5M/1 yr, $1M SB/$250,000 RB.
--RB Jonathan Dwyer: UFA Steelers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--LB Larry Foote: FA Steelers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Ted Ginn: UFA Panthers; $9.75M/3 yrs.
--C Ted Larsen: UFA Buccaneers; $2.6M/2 yrs, $470,000 SB.
--LB Ernie Sims: Not tendered as UFA by Cowboys; terms unknown.
--T Jared Veldheer: UFA Raiders; $35M/5 yrs, $6.25M SB/$17M guaranteed.
--S Anthony Walters: Not tendered as ERFA by Bears; terms unknown.
--CB Javier Arenas: UFA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Jasper Brinkley (released).
--CB Antoine Cason: UFA Panthers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Daryn Colledge (released/post-June 1 designation).
--LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Browns; $24M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--TE Jim Dray: UFA Browns; $5.625M/3 yrs, $2.25M guaranteed.
--RB Rashard Mendenhall (retired).
--LB Dontay Moch (released).
--WR Andre Roberts: UFA Redskins; $16M/4 yrs.
--RB Ryan Williams (released).
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Bruce Arians
- Karlos Dansby
- Kevin Minter
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Andre Ellington
- Michael Floyd
- Stepfan Taylor
- Daryl Washington