In just over a week, the Arizona Cardinals will begin their 2019 regular season. The final hurdle on the field comes in the form of the last preseason game against the Denver Broncos. Arizona is expected to rest most, if not all, of the starters. The final preseason game is for analyzing the bottom of the roster. Ahead of the contest, we take a look at three things to watch for against the Broncos.
Which Wide Receiver Stands Out
There have been rumblings about the number of wide receivers that will make the 53-man roster. Reports have suggested seven or eight. With rookie wide receiver Hakeem Butler set to join the injured reserve list, the Cardinals need to figure out which receivers will remain on the roster. The Cardinals currently list 11 receivers on the official team site. Arizona has until 4 PM EST on Saturday, August 31st, to get to 53. With possibly five locks at the position, it leaves two or three spots available for six players. The fourth preseason game is where the bottom of the roster players play for a job. A productive showing could secure a roster spot to begin the regular season.
Based on the depth chart currently on the team site, many of the third and fourth string receivers will get the most playing time. There could also be a Michael Crabtree sighting if the coaching staff feels he needs game time. Pharoh Cooper, Damiere Byrd, Chad Williams, A.J. Richardson, and Isaac Zico are all bubble players. The one with the highest level of positive coverage thus far has been Byrd. He is a speedster who can be a threat down the field. Cooper has the special teams designation, but there is competition for the returner spots, which could sink the veteran in the long-term. Which receiver will stand out against Denver?
Finding Offensive Line Depth
The Cardinals offensive line has been a weak spot for the past few seasons. Changes were made during this past offseason. A pair of free-agent signings to rebuild the right side of the line, in addition to selections in the draft. Through training camp and the preseason, the line has continued to struggle. A major issue has been the starting line lacking time together. Last week’s game against the Vikings was the first time that all five members played together.
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Arizona’s starting five is nearly set. The Cardinals have a battle at center between Mason Cole and A.Q. Shipley. Outside of that competition, the Cardinals are looking for another three or four linemen to round out the roster. Arizona is looking for a swing tackle and the main backup inside. Lamont Gaillard and Colby Gosset are possible interior depth players. Offensive line depth is important for the Cardinals. Injuries at the position group are all too common. The Cardinals need reliable backups. Thursday’s matchup will go a long way to finding the reliability.
Front Line Substitutes
The starting front seven is set, save for linebacker Haason Reddick’s injury concerns. However, the second unit is a major weakness, especially on the defensive line. The Cardinals have a group of youngsters eager to fill the holes. Five defensive linemen have played in the NFL for two seasons or less. Arizona brought in a veteran defensive tackle, Clinton McDonald, to add depth. The roster dictates as few as six or seven defensive linemen. Factoring in the starting three, that leaves as few as three remaining spots open.
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Rookie Miles Brown flashed against the Vikings, adding a few splash plays when pushing the pocket. Another rookie, Michael Dogbe, tallied a sack and showed some power upfront. The biggest factor should be effectiveness against the run. Arizona has struggled to stop the run over the last couple of seasons. The preseason has placed those issues in the spotlight. It begins with sound gap integrity upfront and effort. The Cardinals have the numbers to work with a healthy rotation. If one of these linemen can step up and make plays, it will go a long way to secure additional playing time come the regular season.
For the typical fan, the fourth preseason game is a laborious affair. However, the matchup provides the real opportunity for bench players to earn their shot, with the Cardinals or elsewhere. The final score does not matter but the events on the field are of paramount importance to the players and the teams. Good luck to all involved.