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The Fight for 53 has led to depth chart madness for Arizona Cardinals, NFL

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 9, 2023

The NFL might be missing out on another TV special.

After all, the draft is now on multiple channels after it began 43 years ago on ESPN.

Then came the Scouting Combine and a three-hour extravaganza in May when the schedule is announced, followed by wall-to-wall coverage of Back Together Saturday and this year Back Together Weekend in training camp.

What’s next? Perhaps a depth-chart reveal on the Monday or Tuesday leading into the first full preseason weekend. Surely, millions would watch as, division-by-division, breathless analysts break down the first depth chart of the year.

Doesn’t matter if they will change dramatically between now and early September; the viewers would eat it up.

That’s been the case throughout the league this week and since Monday when the Cardinals premiered their depth chart without bothering to say if it was unofficial or official. It only read in all caps, “AS PREPARED BY TEAM’S MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT.”

Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing acknowledged Tuesday it is “fluid,” which everyone knows. But, it does give a glimpse (maybe) of what will be seen Friday night when the Cardinals play the first of three preseason games against the Denver Broncos at State Farm Stadium.

While it is expected the offense will employ frequent two-tight end formations this season, the depth chart has three wide receivers and one tight end, likely because tight end Zach Ertz isn’t practicing as he recovers from a torn ACL and Trey McBride missed more than a week of work with an undisclosed injury. He was back practicing Tuesday in a limited capacity.

The defense is a 3-4, but will likely employ varying looks when the regular season begins.

On what he hopes to accomplish on offense beginning Friday night, Petzing said, “I think it changes each week depending on who’s healthy, how far into things we are, how long we’ve been together. I think a lot of it is knocking the rust off, getting comfortable with (the) game-day operation, communication in and out of the huddle.”

Said defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, “I want to see our guys go out there and compete and get to go live. I want to see how well we tackle; I want to see us take the ball away.”

The Depth Chart

QUARTERBACKS

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

Player to watch: Tune

Murray, of course, isn’t practicing and McCoy has worked with the first unit throughout camp with Tune the backup. He is expected to play a lot in the preseason and could be No. 2 assuming Murray isn’t ready for Week 1.

When asked how big Friday is for Tune, Petzing deferred to all the rookies, saying, “I think it’s big for any rookie. This is their first opportunity to play NFL football with the lights on in front of the fans. You talk about it, you certainly prepare for it in practice and go through the mental gymnastics of what it’s going to feel like. But the first time you do it, it’s different. I’m excited to see (all the rookies) go out there and compete.”

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LT D.J. Humphries, LG Elijah Wilkinson, C Hjalte Froholdt, RG Will Hernandez, RT Paris Johnson Jr.

LT Josh Jones, LG Dennis Daley, C Jon Gaines II, RG Marquis Hayes, RT Kelvin Beachum

LT Jackson Barton, LG Lachavious Simmons, C Pat Elflein, RG Lecitus Smith, RT Badara Traore

C Hayden Howerton

Player to watch: Wilkinson

That first line has been the same since OTAs. Wilkinson hardly raised an eyebrow when he signed a 1-year contract in the offseason, but he did play and start nine games at left guard for the Falcons last season, but also suffered knee and calf injuries that kept him out the other eight games.

Asked about the line going against another team, Petzig said, “Certainly you want to get as many game reps against a different front, different personnel where there’s some unknowns because out there in practice, by about the third or fourth day, you’re going against the same guy or the same type of guys, the same technique. So I think it is nice to get a different color jersey, different people, different techniques where you can kind of work through some of the other stuff.”

Elflein is listed as the third center after being signed as camp opened, but has had work with the No. 2 group, while Gaines has had an impressive camp.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Marquise Brown, Daniel Arias, Kaden Davis

Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, Andre Baccellia, Brian Cobbs

Zach Pascal, Michael Wilson, Davion Davis, Brandon Smith

Player to watch: Wilson

Many eyes will be on Wilson, who has been a standout since the start of offseason work in May.

When coach Jonathan Gannon was asked this week what the next step is for Wilson, he said, “See if he can get open on Pat Surtain,” referring to the Broncos’ cornerback.

Petzing said he’s watching Friday night for Wilson “going out and competing in run game, pass game, whatever it is. Doing his job at a high level on every play. One of the things you’re going to look for in a guy with his kind of talent is consistency, being that same guy every down and going out and competing and knowing that when your number’s called, you’re going to go out there and make the play.”

TIGHT ENDS

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

Player to watch: Swaim

Togiai was having a good camp, including in Saturday’s Red & White Practice, but didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday because of an undisclosed injury. Swaim has been with the team for two weeks.

RUNNING BACKS

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

Player to watch: Ingram

Marlon Mack was signed last week and had impressed in practice, but then had to be helped off the field Tuesday with what turned out to be a torn left Achilles. He was placed on reserve/injured Wednesday and will miss the entire season. Mack played one game for the Colts in 2020 because he tore the Achilles on his other leg. He reached for a pass from McCoy and lost his footing on the chopped up turf at State Farm Stadium. After Wednesday’s practice, the ground crew will have its work cut out having the field playable Friday night.

Petzing said Tuesday before practice, “He’s a pro, he’s done it at a high level, he’s come in and really integrated himself well into the offense.”

Gannon had said Saturday, “He’s had some really good years. He’s been nicked like a lot of running backs have. Phenomenal person, phenomenal teammate.” Wednesday he said he felt “terrible” about the injury.

Ingram, who missed some time because of an unknown injury, returned this week and is expected to see plenty of snaps in the preseason games. The Cardinals signed Stevie Scott, who has been in training camp with the Saints and Broncos in 2021 and 2022, but has never been on a regular-season roster or practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

DE L.J. Collier, Eric Banks, Dante Stills

NT Leki Fotu, Kevin Strong, Rashard Lawrence, Jacob Slade

DE Jonathan Ledbetter, Carlos Watkins, Ben Stille

Player to watch: Ledbetter

Ledbetter showed improvement last season. However, he was injured in Week 17, missed the season finale and then worked only on the side in the offseason. But he hasn’t missed a beat since camp opened.

Asked what he likes about Ledbetter, Rallis said, “Lots of things. Start with the leadership. Great teammate, great locker-room guy. In the run game, he’s an excellent technician, plays really well with his hands. He’s strong at the point of attack. If he gets double-teamed, he can anchor it down; he’s not getting moved. If he gets single-blocked, he can play primary or secondary gap. He’s pushing the pocket in the pass game.”

Rallis then added that he likes what he sees from the entire line, noting, “I’m impressed with the group.”

LINEBACKERS

OLB Dennis Gardeck, Victor Dimukeje, Myjai Sanders, David Anenih

ILB Kyzir White, Josh Woods, Kyle Soelle

ILB Krys Barnes, Ezekiel Turner, Owen Pappoe

OLB Zaven Collins, Cameron Thomas, BJ Ojulari, Jesse Luketa

Player to watch: Luketa

On the outside, there are six edge rushers listed and there likely won’t be roster spots for them all. Competition will be intense with only 20 days until the cutdown to 53 players.

Rallis referred to Luketa as “violent, athletic,” while Gannon called Gardeck “the ultimate pro. He really goes out of his way to help his teammates understand, gives them cheat points and tips here or there. He’s a guy that comes to mind that’s always very curious, asking offensive players, ‘Hey, why did you set like this? Why did you make that call? If I do this, what would you do?’

“He’s a student of the game, he’s got a growth mindset, his football character is through the roof and I’m glad we have him. I like where he’s going.”

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Antonio Hamilton Sr., Christian Matthew, Garrett Williams, Rashad Fenton, Quavian White, Kyler McMichael

CB Marco Wilson, Kei’Trel Clark, Nate Hairston, Kris Boyd, Bobby Price

S Jalen Thompson, Isaiah Simmons, Jovante Moffatt

S Budda Baker, Andre Chachere, JuJu Hughes, Kendell Brooks

Player to watch: Simmons

The biggest question heading toward the season is how the secondary will be deployed with Baker, Thompson and Simmons along with the cornerbacks on the edge and in the slot. Williams hasn’t been on the field yet as he recovers from a torn ACL while at Syracuse last season.

Gannon said of Simmons this week, “He’s been reliable back there, which is the first trait of a safety to me. He’s in the right spot all the time. He shows range and some hitting ability, a little bit of coverage ability, downhill striking ability. Long way to go, but I like where he is at.”

Asked how his size can help, Gannon said, “If he plays to his strengths. He realizes how that can help him and also it can hurt him, and make sure we work on those things.”

Rallis said of the corners, “It’s a young group, with talent, with a high ceiling. I like the way they show up and work, in meetings. You have to be obsessed with that spot and your craft. I am pleased with where those guys can go.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Matt Prater

P Nolan Cooney or Matt Haack

LS Aaron Brewer

H Cooney or Haack

KOR Greg Dortch, Kaden Davis

PR Greg Dortch, Davion Davis

Players to watch: Cooney and Haack

That duo is waging a battle this summer. Haack is left-footed, so that can be an advantage. Cooney has the stronger leg, which can help to give Prater a breather. Being a consistent holder for Prater on field goals and extra points will be crucial.

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