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Cardinals camp preview on offense: Questions abound

Howard Balzer Avatar
July 25, 2023

Questions, questions, questions. There are many for the offense, which will be coordinated by first-timer Drew Petzing.

But, as often is the case, answers are fleeting on every unit of the offense. Look for more quarterback rollouts in Petzing’s scheme.

QUARTERBACKS (coach Israel Woolfork, pass game specialist Spencer Whipple)

David Blough, Jeff Driskel, Colt McCoy, Kyler Murray, Clayton Tune

Murray has to practice before he can play, so that is the key question. He’s had plenty of mental reps during the offseason with the new scheme, but that only goes so far. Murray has to show he’s ready to play, which is an issue for someone with the unique skill set he has. It’s difficult to replicate that in practice. It seems reasonable to believe he won’t play until at least October, but when games begin on Sept. 10, virtually all of the practice time is devoted to the other quarterback that is starting. It will be a fine line that Murray, along with the coaches and medical team, will have to navigate.

Tune will likely get a lot of snaps in camp and preseason games, but it’s a stretch to believe he would be ready to start in Week 1, leaving the job to McCoy. However, he hasn’t been a picture of health when he’s played during the last two seasons, leaving an important question: who will be the backup while McCoy is starting?

It could be Tune, but don’t sleep on Jeff Driskel. His name has rarely been uttered during the offseason, but he has size (6-4, 235) and can move. Driskel has played 23 games in five seasons with four teams (Cincinnati, Detroit, Denver and Houston). Blough showed grit when he had to play last season with little practice time, but was absent at the end of offseason work because, according to sources, he suffered a back injury while go-karting with teammates after being hit from behind.

RUNNING BACKS (coach Autry Denson)

Corey Clement, James Conner, Emari Demercado, Keaontay Ingram, Ty’Son Williams

Where’s the depth? The only newcomer is Demercado, an undrafted free agent. There has been a lot of talk in the offseason about committing to the running game, but there has to be success to do that.

Conner has never played every game during his six NFL seasons and has missed 20 with the Cardinals and Steelers. Last season, he missed four and left another two games early.

As for the depth, the growth of Ingram entering his second seasons will be important. Clement is a savvy veteran who can help in the run and pass game as well as special teams. Williams and Demercado will have to contribute on special teams to be active on game days if they are on the roster.

The Cardinals are scanning available running backs to supplement a scarce room.

WIDE RECEIVERS (coach/passing game coordinator Drew Terrell)

Daniel Arias, Andre Baccellia, Marquise Brown, Brian Cobbs, Davion Davis, Kaden Davis, Greg Dortch, Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal, Brandon Smith, Michael Wilson

The Cardinals added Davion Davis and Kaden Davis to this group for camp, but the unit will be built around Brown, Moore, Pascal, Wilson and Dortch.

Pascal and the rookie Wilson, both 6-foot-2, bring needed size with Brown at 5-foot-9 and Moore and Dortch 5-foot-7. Moore has to prove he can be durable and stay on the field. That was an issue in college at Purdue and with the Cardinals where he has missed 12 games in two seasons, including nine in 2022 plus one where he was injured on the first snap.

Wilson would likely have been drafted higher than the third round had he not experienced frequent injuries while at Stanford. He has talent and could help the production.

TIGHT ENDS (coach Ben Steele)

Zach Ertz, Joel Honigford, Trey McBride, Bernhard Seikovits, Geoff Swaim, Noah Togiai, Blake Whiteheart

Ertz suffered a torn ACL four weeks before Murray and was working hard on the side during the offseason program. It’s important that he’s ready to practice as soon as possible in camp to be fully ready when the season begins.

A healthy Ertz, along with McBride, could be frequent targets in the passing game to relieve some of the pressure on the wide-receiver group.

Who will be the third tight end, potentially counted on for blocking in the run game? Veteran Geoff Swaim was signed Tuesday and that could help. He played 17 games and started 13 for the Titans last season, but has remained unsigned since becoming a free agent in March.

Togiai and Whiteheart could earn a backup job or at least a spot on the practice squad if they show well during the summer.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (coach Klayton Adams, assistant Chris Cook)

T Jackson Barton, T Kelvin Beachum, G/T Dennis Daley, C Pat Elflein, C/G Hjalte Froholdt, G/C Jon Gaines II, G Marquis Hayes, G Will Hernandez, G Hayden Howerton, T D.J. Humphries, T/G Paris Johnson Jr., T Josh Jones, T/G Lachavious Simmons, C/G Lecitus Smith, T Badara Traore, T/G Elijah Wilkinson

Any success on offense begins with the line.

Questions abound at center, left guard and right tackle. Where will the rookie Johnson fit?

Presuming Humphries is totally healthy, he will be the left tackle with Hernandez at right guard. The other spots will be decided in camp.

With Beachum absent at the start of OTA work, Johnson was with the first unit in practices open to the media. He played guard and tackle at Ohio State, so either could be a landing spot for his first season.

Coaches always talk about playing the “best five” on the line, but how will that shake out? If Johnson opens at right tackle, there is an overload of tackles that includes Jones, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract.

At first glance, it appears the best five would have Johnson at left guard and Beachum at right tackle. If Johnson supplants Beachum, that leaves a hole at left guard, potentially filled by Elijah Wilkinson or Dennis Daley. The latter played poorly at left tackle when he was forced to play because of injuries in Tennessee last season, but would be better at guard. However, would either be a better choice than Johnson?

That’s the question coaches will have to answer in the next six weeks.

Froholdt might be the favorite at center with the advantage of knowing Petzing’s offense from being with the Browns last season. He will have competition from Elflein, Smith and the rookie Gaines. Elflein was signed Tuesday and has played six NFL seasons with 65 games and 64 starts. Last season, he started six games for the Panthers, but then underwent season-ending hip surgery. He was released March 14 with a failed-physical designation.

Also keep an eye on Hayes, who missed his entire rookie season in 2022 because of a knee injury.

It does appear there will be depth when the inevitable injuries occur.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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