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The reality of the NFL is ever-present and it will be for the Cardinals following their 18-17 victory over the Vikings in Saturday’s battle of the backups.
In the game, 35 of the 91 rostered players did not play, not including quarterback Kyler Murray and cornerback Garrett Williams, who are both not yet practicing because of injuries. For the Vikings, that total was 44.
Consider that Cardinals tackle Jackson Barton played all 76 offensive snaps, while cornerback Bobby Price played all 60 on defense and added 16 on special teams. Linebacker Kyle Soelle played 23 of 28 special-teams snaps.
Amid that backdrop, rosters must be reduced to 53 by 1 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday, so many of the players on the field for the come-from-behind victory won’t be around when the team begins preparations in earnest for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Washington Commanders.
Many decisions have to be made with Jonathan Gannon and Monti Ossenfort presiding over them for the first time as a head coach and general manager, respectively.
“You want to keep everybody, but you can’t,” Gannon said early last week. “The decisions we make in the next couple weeks will be for the betterment of the team and what we think is the right thing to do for everybody.
“But those are tough days, because you love everybody in there and you appreciate all their hard work and their effort and what it takes to go through an offseason or go through a training camp. They make a lot of sacrifices and we appreciate that. They’re hard days.”
Additional players did get extra opportunities because there were no mandatory cutdowns prior to Tuesday. In the last few seasons, there was a cut to 85 players after the first preseason game and to 80 after the second.
Those additional snaps can sometimes make the difference between some of the final spots on the roster or on the 16-player practice squad, which can include six veterans with no limitations on experience. On game day, two practice-squad players can be elevated to the roster and returned without going through waivers. However, that can only be done three times during the season with any player.
There is also the reality that some players can’t rest easy if they are on the roster Tuesday because additions could be made from the waiver wire beginning Wednesday.
As 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Saturday, “Everyone makes such a big deal about the final 53. But as I’ve always said, there’s never been a final 53 in the history of football. That’s just the final 53 for Tuesday.”
Aside from the cuts, there is the status of Murray, who if he’s placed on reserve/physically unable to perform by the Tuesday deadline, will be sidelined from practicing and playing for at least the first four weeks of the season.
Then, there is the matter of naming a starting quarterback to begin the season, which has the fan base vociferously debating the wisdom of opening with Colt McCoy, rookie Clayton Tune or even Joshua Dobbs, who was acquired in a trade from the Cleveland Browns Thursday and would have to prepare for the opener with very limited practice time. The team is expected to be on the field for at most two times and potentially once this week after the roster is set.
While Gannon claimed Saturday that Dobbs has played “a lot of football,” actually he’s played in only eight games and started two with a total of 85 pass attempts since entering the league as a fourth-round pick of the Steelers in 2017 and has had subsequent stops in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh again, Cleveland twice, Detroit and Tennessee.
The organization elected to show a video during Saturday’s game that featured McCoy as part of an upcoming Flight Plan. It sure sounded as if McCoy knows he will at least open the season as the starter even if Gannon has thus far refused to confirm it publicly.
McCoy said, “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve gone into the season as the starter, but I’m very confident or else I wouldn’t be doing it. I feel really good. It’s a new system. It’s new coaches. There’s a lot of change. A lot of new faces in the building. Change can be good, right? I’m not scared of change. But when you narrow it back down to football and this year and this season both sides of the ball are gonna look different to everybody and we just have to go out there and execute. That’s the name of the game and I’m excited about it and I feel good about it.”
Asked about Gannon, McCoy said, “From the very beginning, I think he’s just been honest. He’s been up front. He’s communicated. And guys have bought in to what he’s preaching and what Nick (defensive coordinator Nick Rallis) is preaching on defense and what Drew (offensive coordinator Drew Petzing) is preaching on offense. How we want to look and how we want to operate. Everything from Day 1 has been consistent. I think that’s how you build because everybody knows the expectations. Everybody knows what’s expected of them when they walk through the doors every day. And so that has been no secret and I, as a veteran player, really appreciate that. And I can buy into something like that. It’s team above you and that’s kinda been my goal.”
While every player has a certain amount of ego, McCoy acknowledged, “I have personal goals that matter a lot to me. But at the end of the day, it’s team above you and what we’ve gone through as a team so far. I think I read there’s 47 new players on our team or something like that right now. It looks drastically different than what it has over the last couple years. And I’m just embracing that and understanding that the most important quality above anything else as we’re building who we want to be, is the team.
“What can I do today to be the best I can be? The best version of myself for our team. What’s going to give us the best chance to win? That has been sorta my focus as I step out on the field literally every day. I think we’re doing it collectively with the idea that if we play well together as a team, like we’re gonna be all right.”
That remains to be seen, but McCoy’s experience and leadership can’t be overlooked as this group begins a journey that could be very rough this season. Additionally, one thing Gannon has preached is developing a winning culture and making choices that gives the team the best opportunity to win.
It would be difficult to sell that approach if a raw rookie like Tune or the newcomer Dobbs would be named the starter unless McCoy has health issues with his elbow.
Consider that since 1970, only four rookies that were selected after the first 100 players in the draft opened the season as the starter:
*The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott in 2016 (135th overall) after Tony Romo was injured.
*The Bears’ Kyle Orton (106th overall) in 2005.
*The Panthers’ Chris Weinke (106th overall) in 2001.
*The Buccaneers’ Randy Hedberg (196th overall) in 1997, the team’s second season of existence.
Tune was selected 139th overall this year.
We’ll know soon enough what the Cardinals decide, while also knowing we could see changes after Week 1. After all, four quarterbacks – Murray, McCoy, David Blough and Trace McSorley – started games last season.
The projected roster
Along with PHNX Cardinals podcast hosts Bo Brack and Johnny Venerable, we give our thoughts on what the roster and practice squad will look like as Tuesday turns to Wednesday, knowing unpredictable changes might occur to the group of 53 Wednesday.
It is also complicated not knowing the status of center Jon Gaines II (knee) and guard Dennis Daley (ankle), who were both injured against the Vikings. Wide receiver Daniel Arias is in concussion protocol, while wide receiver Andre Baccellia and linebacker Myjai Sanders have been sidelined by injuries along with center Pat Elflein.
My 53 and practice squad
Quarterbacks (3): Colt McCoy, Clayton Tune, Joshua Dobbs; PUP: Kyler Murray
Wide receivers (5): Hollywood Brown, Michael Wilson, Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal, Greg Dortch
Johnny and Bo project: Davion Davis will be a sixth receiver.
Tight ends (4): Zach Ertz, Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim, Noah Togiai
If there’s a fourth tight end, it could be between Togiai and Blake Whiteheart.
Bo projects: A roster without Togiai.
Running backs (4): James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Corey Clement, Emari Demercado
Offensive linemen (9): LT D.J. Humphries, LG Elijah Wilkinson, C Hjalte Froholdt, RG Will Hernandez, RT Paris Johnson Jr., T Kelvin Beachum, G Marquis Hayes, G Dennis Daley, C Jon Gaines II
Defensive linemen (6): L.J. Collier, Jonathan Ledbetter, Leki Fotu, Carlos Watkins, Dante Stills, Keivn Strong
Rashard Lawrence, a fourth-round pick in 2020, is notably absent from this group, but he has played sparingly in the preseason. It’s a thin unit, so the waiver wire will be watched closely.
Johnny projects: After much deliberation, he has Lawrence as a seventh lineman.
Linebackers (10): OLB Zaven Collins, ILB Kyzir White, ILB Krys Barnes, ILB Josh Woods, OLB Dennis Gardeck, OLB Jesse Luketa, OLB BJ Ojulari, OLB Cameron Thomas, ILB Owen Pappoe, ILB Ezekiel Turner
Turner is here because of his special-teams prowess. Myjai Sanders has been injured and Victor Dimukeje has not impressed. They might find spots on the practice squad if they clear waivers.
Johnny and Bo project: Sanders as a sixth edge rusher and doesn’t include Turner.
Defensive backs (9): S Budda Baker, S Jalen Thompson, CB Marco Wilson, CB Kei’Trel Clark, CB Antonio Hamilton Sr., CB Christian Matthew, CB Nate Hairston, S Andre Chachere, S Jovante Moffatt; NFI: CB Garrett Williams
Bobby Price or Kris Boyd could supplant Hairston, while JuJu Hughes is a close call with Chachere and Moffatt. Like the defensive line, there will be a watchful eye on the waiver wire.
Johnny projects: Only seven defensive backs without Hairston and Moffatt.
Bo projects: Nine defensive backs that include Boyd and Hughes and also without Hairston and Moffatt. We all believe S Sean Chandler, whose suspension for two games begins Tuesday, has a great chance of being on the roster when it ends. The Cardinals wouldn’t have signed him on Aug. 15 knowing the suspension was looming if they didn’t like his ability. Of course, much could depend on what the position looks like in the first two games and whether there are other notable acquisitions after Tuesday.
Special teams (3): K Matt Prater, P Nolan Cooney, LS Aaron Brewer
Practice Squad (17): WR Andre Baccellia, WR Daniel Arias, WR Davion Davis, WR Kaden Davis, TE Blake Whiteheart, TE Bernhard Seikovits (international exemption), RB Ty’Son Williams or Stevie Scott III, but likely Williams, OL Hayden Howerton, C/G Braylon Jones, C/G Lecitus Smith, DL Eric Banks, OLB Myjai Sanders, OLB Victor Dimukeje, LB Zach McCloud, CB Kris Boyd, CB Bobby Price, S JuJu Hughes
Other possibilities are LB Kyle Soelle and S Kendell Brooks.
Johnny and Bo project: Seven players not on my list that includes Hairston and Moffatt, who are on my 53. Both have QB David Blough, Brooks, T Jackson Barton and LB David Anenih.
All three of us have Baccellia, Williams, Howerton, Jones, Lecitus Smith, Whiteheart and Dimukeje. Johnny also has Boyd, who is on Bo’s 53, Kaden Davis and WR Brandon Smith, while Bo also has Arias, McCloud and Togiai, who is on Johnny and my 53.
Mine is the only one that includes Banks, Davion Davis, Hughes and Price although Davis is on Johnny and Bo’s 53 and Hughes is on Bo’s 53.
Notable overall is that we believe all nine of the team’s April draft picks will be on the 53-man roster save for cornerback Garrett Williams, who is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in college last season.
For us, it’s making projections from a distance. For those involved, it’s their livelihood. As Gannon said after Saturday’s game of the many choices that have to be made, “Obviously, I lean on Monti, but we’re going to do what’s best for the team and talk to everybody involved, the players, and make the decisions based on that.”
Undoubtedly, that task won’t end when the day ends Tuesday.
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