Lockout limbo: Cardinals report

Posted May 09, 2011 @ 1:04 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Updated 3:20 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, May 10

With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Cardinals.

Top three story lines

1. Who's the starting quarterback? There's no way it's going to be 2010 free-agent addition Derek Anderson, who failed miserably in the starting role last season. And it will be a huge surprise if the starter is John Skelton, who had a 2-2 record in that role down the 2010 stretch but is still considered a year or two from being a legitimate candidate. Rumors persist that the Cardinals will be first in line to pull off a trade for Eagles QB Kevin Kolb at whatever point the league opens up for business again. If Kolb is stolen away by another team, other options include current Ravens backup Marc Bulger, who has been on Arizona's radar for a while now, and Kyle Orton, who looks stuck behind Tim Tebow in Denver. 

2. Who's the starting running back? Nobody close to the team had reason to expect there would be a big-time position battle at running back, but that all changed when the Cardinals pulled a stunner in the second round with the selection of Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams. With former first-rounder Beanie Wells, dependable dual threat Tim Hightower and third-down dynamo LaRod Stephens-Howling already on the roster, something's got to give. Williams is going to play a lot from the start. Does that mean the Cardinals might have lost their patience with Wells, who has had problems staying healthy and hasn't exactly had the best relationship with the team? Inquiring minds in the desert are dying to know.   

3. Can Ray Horton revive a Cardinals defense that greatly underachieved last season? More than a few Cardinals defenders had really down years last season, most notably LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Adrian Wilson and DE Calais Campbell. As much as anything, Horton, a product of the Steelers' coaching pipeline, must light a fire under these players. He already might have done so with Rodgers-Cromartie, who has added about eight pounds to his frame this offseason after playing soft most of the time in 2010. The presence of first-round CB Patrick Peterson, considered by many to be the best defensive player available in the draft, certainly figures to help Horton's cause.

2011 free-agency — whenever that happens

Unsigned players: S Hamza Abdullah (5), CB Michael Adams (3), OL D'Anthony Batiste (4), DT Alan Branch (4), WR Steve Breaston (4), FB Nehemiah Broughton (3), C Ben Claxton (4), WR Early Doucet (3), DT Keilen Dykes (1), LB Curtis Gatewood (2), P Ben Graham (6), CB Marshay Green (1), RB Tim Hightower (3), DE Kenny Iwebema (3), CB A.J. Jefferson (1), OT Brandon Keith (3), WR Max Komar (1), OG Deuce Lutui (5), FB Reagan Maui'a (3), CB Trumaine McBride (3), LB Cyril Obiozor (1), TE Ben Patrick (4), NT Bryan Robinson (14), C Lyle Sendlein (4), TE Stephen Spach (4), LB Reggie Walker (2), CB Matt Ware (7), DT Gabe Watson (5), RB Jason Wright (6). (Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years)

Analysis: As we've already indicated, the Cardinals figure to seriously scour the free-agent QB market, with Marc Bulger and perhaps a veteran like Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck being a potential target. Beyond their dire need at quarterback, the biggest focal point has to be the offensive line, with two starters from last season — ORG Lutui and ORT Keith — being potential free agents. Another free-agent starter, veteran OLG Alan Faneca, announced his retirement Tuesday afternoon, setting the stage for a possible free-agent replacement, although veteran Rex Hadnot has been patiently waiting in the wings. Lutui wants to at least test the market and could have his share of suitors. Also worth monitoring closely is the status of Breaston and Doucet at wide receiver. Have their issues with injuries become too big a cross to bear? Only the Cardinals know for sure. 

2011 rookie class

First-round CB Patrick Peterson (No. 5 overall) — Peterson, who fancies himself as a young Charles Woodson, immediately becomes the starting right cornerback opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Peterson also could become the team's primary punt returner.

Second-round RB Ryan Williams (No. 38 overall) — The Cardinals did not draft this determined runner to sit on the bench. But it would be a stretch to mark him down as an every-down back right away, especially considering his injury history.

Third-round TE Rob Housler (No. 69 overall) — Housler should immediately contend for the starting tight end role. He definitely will be the tight end in three-WR sets with his ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches with his speed and size.

Fourth-round OLB Sam Acho (No. 103 overall) — Acho figures to have a good shot at one of the starting OLB positions, even though he played end the past two seasons at Texas. Acho's strong suits are his nonstop motor and superior intelligence.

Fifth-round FB Anthony Sherman (No. 136 overall) — Sherman is a sturdy lead blocker who would appear to be the front-runner for the starting FB job. He is also expected to make a major contribution on special teams.

Sixth-round ILB Quan Sturdivant (No. 171 overall) — The Cardinals are dangerously thin at inside linebacker, and Sturdivant offers a serviceable body. He's a bit undersized but has decent instincts.

Sixth-round DE David Carter (No. 184 overall) — Carter is a project who is expected to be groomed at the five-technique position. He has the right kind of specs for that spot.

Seventh-round DeMarco Sampson (No 249 overall) — Sampson was a productive pass catcher at San Diego State who could figure in the mix if Breaston and/or Doucet bolt.

Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Cardinals be by the work stoppage?

On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Cardinals rate a 9. Start with the fact that they have two new coordinators — Horton on defense and Mike Miller, who served as the passing-game coordinator the past two seasons, on offense. Horton wants to install a much more aggressive Steelers-like scheme and faces a gigantic challenge as far as getting his players properly indoctrinated. While the Cardinals' offensive scheme is expected to essentially remain the same, the uncertainty at the all-important QB position is a handicap that becomes more detrimental the longer it lingers. On a positive note, it appears that star WR Larry Fitzgerald, whose contract expires at the end of the 2011 season, is going out of his way to try and organize voluntary workouts while the lockout continues. Fitzgerald sure doesn't seem like a guy very anxious to desert the desert.