The first installment in a series of vital tasks for the Arizona Cardinals, Brad Wilbricht dissects…
Arizona Cardinals Players to Watch
Defensive end Calais Campbell: He's expected to take over at right end, replacing Antonio Smith, who signed with Houston in free agency. A second-round pick in 2008, Campbell played in all 20 games as a rookie but didn't start.
He was a capable rotation player, although he didn't register a sack, and was decent on special teams, too. Much more is expected this year.
The Cardinals don't have much experience at end, so there is a considerable amount of pressure on Campbell to perform. Coaches seem confident he'll come through.
At 6-feet-8, Campbell's long frame should be an asset as both a pass rusher and run defender. His long arms can create problems for quarterbacks looking for passing lanes, and he should be able to hold off run blockers.
Just as important, Campbell is bright and a hard worker. If he fails, it won't be because of laziness.
The Cardinals need him to come through. Behind him are Kenny Iwebema, also a second-year player, and Keilen Dykes, who spent last season on the practice squad.
Running back Tim Hightower: He showed more than flashes of ability as a rookie last year. He was effective near the goal line and in other short-yardage situations, while displaying an ability to make big plays, too.
But he also had too many negative runs and averaged just 2.8 yards a carry. Part of the poor average could be attributed to his role as short-yardage back, but there's no question Hightower struggled when he took over for starter Edgerrin James in the eighth game.
Coaches went back to James late in the year, and there was a noticeable improvement in the run game.
Hightower is the favorite to win the starting job, but he's going to be pushed by Beanie Wells, the first-round pick.
Wells needs to prove he's versatile enough to play on every down. At Ohio State he rarely was asked to catch the ball or block, and he'll need to do those things for the Cardinals.
Hightower has the advantage in those areas.
Nose tackle Gabe Watson: He never recovered from an offseason knee injury and struggled throughout the 2008 season.
Watson's injuries, along with the lack of progress by backup Alan Branch, caused the Cardinals to scramble to fill the job.
Veteran Bryan Robinson, more suited to playing end, started all but one game and played well.
If healthy, however, Watson brings superior size and strength to the position. He eased back into action during off season workouts and Watson is expected to be 100 percent for camp.
Positional battle: The tight end position was beset by injuries last season, with four different players starting games.
The situation isn't any clearer as the club heads to camp. Stephen Spach played well down the stretch but suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs. He hopes to return by the season opener but that's not assured.
Ben Patrick, who caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, is suspended for the first four games for violating the league's policy on banned substances.
Leonard Pope likely will be the starter coming out of camp, and it's hard to imagine veteran Anthony Becht won't make the team, too.
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