As if being in the same NFC West division as powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco weren't enough, the Arizona Cardinals have a sizeable list of concerns to confront when they begin training camp practice July 26 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Considerable attention will be paid to two spots involving four positions: inside linebackers and the right side of the offensive line.
Losing both Dansby and Washington is significant since both are great athletes that made the Cardinals' defense strong against the run and the pass.
Here is a closer look at the Cardinals' primary concerns and possible good news as they head to camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
Offensive line: The right side of the Cardinals' offensive line is still a work in progress with Bradley Sowell trying to hold off Bobby Massie for the starting tackle position and Paul Fanaika fending off Earl Watford for the starting job at guard.
Coach Bruce Arians said both position battles are going well and he noted that all four players got equal time working with the first units through all of the team's offseason workouts. He said the competition remains "wide open," but added that Sowell and Fanaika have slight edges simply because they have more experience at this point.
Massie continues to make some mental errors that have confounded the staff and Watford just hasn't shown enough consistency yet. The starters at right guard and tackle likely won't be named until some point during training camp.
--Inside linebacker: Losing Dansby in free agency was hard enough. Now the Cardinals are without Daryl Washington for the whole season on suspension. Those two inside linebackers never came off the field a year ago and head coach Bruce Arians said they "led the National Football League in the linebacker coming free last year," referring to the number of times they went unblocked on a play.
Although Arians attributed that to the coaching of Todd Bowles, somebody still needs to make the strategy work. Dansby had 135 tackles, four interceptions and 6.5 sacks and Washington added 81 tackles in 12 games, with three sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. That's a lot of production.
Minter, one replacement, played one defensive snap a year ago as a rookie. Foote, signed after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is smart but it's fair to wonder how much game he has left.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Kevin Minter, ILB: He must rise to the challenge of replacing another one of the Cardinals' vacant inside linebacker spots - the one that used to belong to Dansby, who signed a $24 million free-agent deal with the Browns.
Minter only took one defensive snap at the position last season, getting the rest of his time on special teams. Arians, however, believes the former LSU star has a chance to thrive because of what he learned under Dansby.
"This is his time," head coach Bruce Arians said. "He's matured. He's got a year under his belt to see how things work. He's very fortunate as a rookie he didn't get thrown into the fire and fail, which he probably would have last year. But he got to sit and play behind an outstanding preparation guy and a great leader in Karlos. He knows what to do now and he (had) a fantastic camp."
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Ed Stinson, DL, Alabama, Round 5/160th overall: Judging from the way general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians constantly churned the roster during their first year, it probably won't be a surprise if an undrafted free-agent rookie gets a shot to start the season with the Cardinals.
There is not a sure-fire low pick who stands out, so Stinson could be the name to watch. The 6-foot-3, 287-pounder was drafted EXACTLY where NFLDraftScout.com projected him -- fifth round, 160 overall.
He has the size and strength to play tackle or end and Arians already said he can envision Stinson getting into a defensive rotation up front once the season starts. Alabama defensive players have found the going rough in the NFL in recent years, however, and Stinson will need to have a very productive training camp and preseason to earn a spot on the roster, let alone some playing time.
--Depending on the mistake, it results in more dismay than disgrace, but head coach Bruce Arians is using a middle school disciplinary strategy to keep the Arizona Cardinals honest: He's putting their name on the board.
The Accountability Board, to be precise. And details are of the utmost importance to Arians. This is the point, exactly.
Arians uses the Accountability Board to list all mental errors in practices. When you screw up, you make the list -- essentially a highlighted name projected on the wall in a meeting room -- and Arians lets the entire team know why.
Veteran pass rusher John Abraham said making the board simply stings.
Last year, there were always plenty of names on the list. That wasn't the case this spring.
"It's gotten better," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "It did not ever get better last year. You see it on the field and in the film room, the strides that we've been making."
Arians was pleased with the performances of his experienced players during the team's minicamp this week. But the younger players need to work on both the body and the mind, he said. Some of them will be scolded in the public forum that is the Accountability Board.
"It's always fun to watch the younger players," Arians said after the final minicamp practice. "You give them exposure or they get exposed. And some of them got exposed (Wednesday). They weren't as sharp as they should have been after having been here for six weeks.
"That's the part you learn, hopefully, before you get to training camp."
Arians had his own spin on the old Vince Lombardi line: Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
"Fatigue made some idiots out of some guys (on Tuesday). It will make a coward out of you quick," Arians said, "but it will make an idiot out of you even faster."
Arians made sharp learners out of some of his first rookie draft class last season, especially free safety Tyrann Mathieu and running back Andre Ellington, a sixth-round draft choice who emerged as the starter and remains in that spot entering 2014.
--The Cardinals are hopeful that defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu will miss only a week of training camp. Both are coming off torn knee ligaments and didn't do on-field work in the offseason.
Arians, however, isn't making plans for those two to be ready for the start of the season. Arians told azcardinals.com he has been pointing toward having Mathieu and Alameda back by Oct. 1.
--Tight end Troy Niklas, a second-round pick, hardly practiced this offseason. He missed time due to recovery from hernia surgery, then suffered a broken right hand during OTAs. He is questionable to be ready for the start of training camp.
--Bobby Massie leads Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter for the starting right tackle job. Massie has made fewer mental errors than he did last year.
"When you don't notice a guy, that's a good thing," Palmer said. "When you don't notice a guy coming free, or coming clean. That's what I've noticed with Bobby. And that's exactly what you want from tackles."
--Cardinals coach Bruce Arians couldn't be more pleased with his team after the first two days of minicamp.
He called Tuesday's practice the best of the offseason. He didn't think his players could top that one, but they might have on Wednesday, at least according to Arians.
The Cardinals went through their 100-play script in less than two hours, or about 20 minutes early. That is a sign of crisp performance, Arians said.
It is far different from last year, Arians' first as head coach.
"We're going to get a lot or reps, a lot of plays," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Coach Arians, that's kind of his motto: You're not out there in practice to get quality reps, it's to get rep after rep after rep and get it coached up."
--Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said he will not skip minicamp or training camp in a contract holdout.
Concerns over his attendance arose after Peterson's absence for voluntary workouts, but he said he chose to spend time with his wife -- a medical school student -- rather than attend OTAs.
"Like I told you guys, I won't hold out so we got that done," Peterson said. "I will be there ... be there full tilt ready to roll, taking that final step into camp."
Peterson, under contract through 2015 after Arizona picked up his player option for his fifth season, is in line for a huge raise with the market set by several significant deals this offseason.
Darrelle Revis signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the New England Patriots -- not including a $20 million team option for 2015 -- and Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks received a four-year, $56 million contract last month.
--Coaches continued to rotate multiple players at right guard and right tackle. There isn't much they can find out about the players physically, not in practices in shorts and helmets. But coaches can get an idea of how much each player is learning and retaining.
"You can't make mental errors," head coach Bruce Arians said. "You see all the gaps, blitzes and stunts - that's where your eyes are supposed to be all the time. It's about making no mental errors and staying off that (critique) list."
Paul Fanaika started every game last year at right guard and has the edge over Earl Watford and Ted Larsen. The right tackle job is wide open. Bobby Massie, Nate Potter and Bradley Sowell are competing.
--The Cardinals practiced in broiling heat the last two weeks of OTAs. Arians likes to split his 90-man squad in two, thus doubling the repetitions players receive. He backed off that tact later in the week as temperatures stayed well over 100. The Cardinals have an indoor facility, but it won't accommodate 90 players.
"Right now we need the heat to get in shape," Arians said."We got way too many young guys, especially getting tissue injuries an hour and a half into practices. That just tells you they're not in shape. It's good for them mentally to fight the heat."
--Ryan Lindley faces competition from Logan Thomas for the third quarterback spot. But Lindley is still helping Thomas. It's something Lindley learned as a rookie in 2012 from Rich Bartel, a journeyman trying to stick with the Cardinals.
"The analogy he (Bartel) gave is that you can give somebody the recipe but it doesn't mean they are going to make the bread as good as you," Lindley said. "You get into the between the lines, you're on your own."
--Rookie Kareem Martin, a third-round pick, already has gained 10 pounds since arriving in Arizona, Arians said. That would put Martin in the 285-pound range, and Arians thinks the 6-6 defensive end/outside linebacker can accommodate more weight.
"He can be 300 before you know it and still keep his quickness and his pass-rush ability," Arians said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Cardinals' picks:
Round 1/27 -- Deone Bucannon, S, 6-1, 211, Washington State
--The Cardinals traded down seven spots in the first and drafted the safety they say they targeted all along. Bucannon adds size and youth to a position where it was badly needed. He's a big hitter, although there are questions about his coverage abilities. The Cardinals think he will help defend tight ends, a weakness in 2013.
Round 2/52 -- Troy Niklas, TE, 6-6, 270, Notre Dame
--Niklas left after his junior year and played tight end for only two seasons. The Cardinals think he is just scratching the surface of his abilities. They believe he already is a solid blocker and will give them play-action options.
Round 3/84 -- Kareem Martin, DE/OLB, 6-6, 272, North Carolina
--The Cardinals targeted another need: a young pass rusher. Martin could play in passing situations and on special teams right away. He could develop into end Darnell Dockett's eventual replacement. The Cardinals wanted to get taller and more athletic at defensive end, and they did with Martin.
Round 3/91 -- John Brown, WR/KR, 5-11, 179, Pittsburg State
--Coach Bruce Arians wants another Antonio Brown or T.Y. Hilton, receivers he helped develop in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Brown has that kind of speed. He ran the 40 in 4.34 seconds at the combine, second among receivers. He has good hands and Arians said Brown is fearless going over the middle.
Round 4/120 -- Logan Thomas, QB, 6-6, 250, Virginia Tech
--The major surprise of the Cardinals draft. Just the day before, coach Bruce Arians said no quarterback remaining was better than the three on the team's roster. Thomas is a project who won't play for at least a year or two. He had trouble with accuracy in college.
Round 5/160 -- Ed Stinson, DL, 6-4, 287, Alabama
--A productive player in college, he was nagged by a groin injury his entire senior season. It kept him from playing in the Senior Bowl and working out at the combine. He's known as a solid run defender who can play both nose tackle and end.
Round 6/196 -Walt Powell, WR, 5-11, 189, Murray State
--He was productive in college but he's not a speedster. That will make it more difficult for him to make the roster, given the signing of Ted Ginn, JR., and the drafting of John Brown in the third round.
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).
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