Arizona's running backs have struggled to be consistent in recent years and must do better in 2012.
Cardinals: Unit-By-Unit Analysis
The trade for Kolb hasn't worked out yet for the Cardinals, but they retain hope that it will. Skelton went 5-2 as a starter last year and shows composure and creativity in bringing the team from behind. But he also had the advantage of starting at a time when the defense was playing well. Kolb never had that. Bartel is very smart and will make an excellent coach one day. He is just hoping for a chance to play and must hold off Lindley for a roster spot.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Beanie Wells, FB Anthony Sherman. Backups - Ryan Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith, Javarris James, William Powell, FB James Crank.
Wells played through a knee injury for most of the season and still gained more than 1,000 yards. But he likely will have to share more carries with Williams in 2012. Williams missed the season with a knee injury but if he's healthy, he's a big-play threat. Stephens-Howling is a situational player who excels in the open field. Smith has great speed and intriguing ability. James gives the team some experience in the event of injury. Sherman should remain the starter at fullback; he played well as a rookie.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Jeff King. Backups -- Todd Heap, Rob Housler, Jim Dray, Martell Webb.
King missed most of the offseason after suffering a partially torn quadriceps tendon in workouts. He didn't need the work. He's smart and played well last year in his first season with the team. This is a deep, talented position if Heap and Housler stay healthy. That didn't happen a year ago as both struggled with leg injuries. If healthy, they are solid receivers and should give the team two scoring threats. It will be especially intriguing to see how they are used in red-zone situations. Dray isn't spectacular but he's smart and doesn't make mistakes. The team kept four tight ends coming out of camp a year ago.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts. Backups -- Early Doucet, Michael Floyd, Stephen Williams, DeMarco Sampson, Tre Gray, LaRon Byrd, Stanley Arukwe, Isaiah Williams, Jaymar Johnson, Gino Crump.
Everyone knows what Fitzgerald can do. He had one of his better seasons in 2011, despite the team's troubles at quarterback. Many people will expect Floyd to start over Roberts, but don't count on it. Whisenhunt likes to bring rookies along slowly, and Whisenhunt is a big fan of Roberts. He didn't produce great numbers a year ago, but coaches think mistakes by the quarterbacks were mostly responsible for that. Doucet is an underrated third receiver. He had a couple of key drops a year ago, but he also made big plays and is a good blocker. Floyd didn't look especially quick or fast in offseason work, but no-contact drills don't play to his strengths. Like Fitzgerald, his forte is size and strength. Look for him to start the season as the fourth receiver. The other receivers will battle for the final roster spot or two. Byrd, an undrafted rookie, made a position impression over the off-season.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Levi Brown, LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Adam Snyder, RT Bobby Massie. Backups - G/T Jeremy Bridges, G Senio Kelemete, G Blake DeChristoper, G Braeden Clayson, G Chris Stewart, C Scott Wedige, T Nate Potter G/T D'Anthony Batiste, T D.J. Young.
There could be two new starters on the right side, with Snyder and Massie. Snyder gives the team some toughness and mobility inside. At 6-6 and 316 pounds, Massie looks the part. He will need to hold off veteran Jeremy Bridges, who can also play guard. Brown played the best of his five-year career over the latter half of 2011. He needs to replicate that, and the Cardinals will struggle if he doesn't. Colledge and Sendlein are solid starters inside. The team drafted three offensive linemen, giving assistant Russ Grimm some young talent to work with for the first time in several years. Massie is the only one of the three (Kelemete and Potter) expected to play much this season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LE Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams, RE Calais Campbell. Backups - NT David Carter, DE/NT Nick Eason, DE Vonnie Holliday, DE Ronald Talley, DE Landon Cohen, DT Ricky Lumpkin.
Dockett and Campbell are elite players who should be together for some time. Williams could be a solid nose tackle if he got into shape and stayed there. That's been a problem. But he spent the offseason at the team's facility and his weight stayed in the 330s, just where coaches want it. Carter is an excellent backup, and Eason is valuable because he can play two spots. Holliday signed for another year and gives the team excellent spot play behind Dockett and Campbell.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB O'Brien Schofield, SILB Paris Lenon, WILB Daryl Washington, ROLB Sam Acho. Backups - ILB Reggie Walker, ILB/OLB Stewart Bradley, OLB Clark Haggans, OLB Brandon Williams, ILB Quan Sturdivant, OLB Antonio Coleman, OLB Quentin Groves.
Schofield moves into the starting lineup. This is his third season and it will be a huge bonus if he can provide a pass rush. Bradley will push Lenon, so that should be a position of strength. Washington is becoming an elite player, and Acho played like a veteran, not a rookie, in 2011. He had seven sacks. This area has been upgraded greatly over the past two years. The club added some depth by picking up Quentin Groves this offseason.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Greg Toler, RCB Patrick Peterson, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Kerry Rhodes. Backups - CB William Gay, CB Jamell Fleming, CB Michael Adams, CB Marshay Green, CB A.J. Jefferson, S Rashad Johnson, CB Crezdon Butler, S Justin Bethel, S Blake Gideon, S Eddie Elder, CB Larry Parker, CB James Nixon, S James Sanders.
The cornerback position could be a deep one. Peterson is an elite talent who has the skills to be as good as any corner. Four players will compete for the other job: Toler, Gay, Fleming and Jefferson. Toler missed all of last year with a torn ACL, but is expected to be ready for camp. Gay, a free-agent acquisition, knows the defense well after playing with the Steelers. Fleming, a third-round pick, made a great impression during the offseason. He could be a valuable player in nickel and dime packages. The safety combination of Wilson and Rhodes is formidable. Wilson is coming off one of his best seasons, and at age 32 remains in great condition. The depth at safety is a concern. Johnson hasn't proven he can take over as a starter. Everyone else is young.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil, KOR LaRod Stephens-Howling, PR Patrick Peterson, LS Mike Leach, K Ricky Schmitt.
Leach (35), Zastudil (33) and Feely (36) raise the average age of the team. All had decent seasons in 2011 and won't be challenged in camp. Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns, tying an NFL record. He obviously is one of the best in the business. Stephens-Howling didn't do much as a kick returner a year ago, but he didn't have much help from his blockers, either.
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