Cardinals WRs, QBs jockeying for position

Steve Breaston (Getty)

Although the Cardinals still possess one of the better wide receiving corps in the NFL, life without Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin won't be easy. While Matt Leinart remains the center of attention at quarterback, two rookies are starting quite a battle for the No. 3 spot. Find out how Arizona will cope with the loss of Boldin and how the race for the third quarterback spot is unfolding inside.

For the first time since 2002, the Cardinals will open a season without receiver Anquan Boldin, who was traded to Baltimore this offseason. Boldin's absence will be felt, but it will be underneath the surface.

Steve Breaston, his replacement in the starting lineup, has excelled whenever called upon to play in Boldin's spot. The No. 3 receiver, Early Doucet, could have a breakout season if he stays healthy.

The impact of Boldin's departure will be felt further down the depth chart and in the leadership of the team. With Boldin gone, the fourth- and fifth-receiver positions are open.

Andre Roberts, a third-round pick from The Citadel, has looked good in offseason work. He runs good routes and seems to understand the concepts on the pass game. As a fourth receiver, he should be able to capably play in the slot and work his way into a larger role.

The fifth position is open, and Ed Gant and Onrea Jones are the leading contenders. Both spent time on the practice squad last season. Jones seems to have the edge. He played well in the preseason last year and has been consistent through this offseason.

Gant has been inconsistent through the offseason, dropping too many passes. He needs to show dramatic improvement over the summer to have a shot at the 53-man roster.

NOTES

  • Two rookies, John Skelton and Max Hall, could wage quite a competition to be the team's No. 3 quarterback.

    Skelton, a fifth-round pick out of Fordham, has the edge in physical tools. He's 6-5, 244 pounds and has a tremendous arm. Unlike some quarterbacks with a powerful arm, Skelton has a short, quick delivery.

    His biggest problems are accuracy and inexperience. He tends to throw all passes at the same speed, and he needs work on his fundamentals. Occasional poor footwork leads to passes that tend to sail. Skelton also faces a big adjustment in going from a small school to the NFL.

    In many ways, Hall is just the opposite. He's listed at 6-1, but seems shorter, and he doesn't have a great arm. But he's smart, as is Skelton, and he played in a sophisticated passing attack at BYU.

    A free agent, Hall was attractive to the Cardinals because of his knowledge and intelligence. Even though he is inexperience, Hall is going to be able to competently direct an offense in the waning minutes of preseason games.

    In voluntary practices, Hall has shown a good command of the offense. While he doesn't have a great arm, it appears strong enough to make all the necessary throws. If Hall can make good decisions, he has the tools to make it as a backup in the league.

    It's unlikely the Cardinals will keep a fourth quarterback on the roster or practice squad. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has never kept more than three quarterbacks, because it's difficult to get enough practice time for a fourth.

  • Coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to continue calling plays in 2010. "It's fun," he said. Whisenhunt called plays in his first season, 2007, and last year. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley called plays in 2008 and was hired as the Chiefs head coach in 2009. Whisenhunt said passing game coordinator Mike Miller will call some plays in the preseason. Miller, 40, could eventually take over play-calling duties, as Haley did in 2008.

  • Right tackle Brandon Keith played one offensive snap his first two seasons, but believes he has developed sufficiently to maintain his starting job. A tackle in college, Keith played guard last year because the Cardinals wanted him to have the ability to be a back up at both positions. Keith said playing guard gave him a broader concept of the offense. "It gave me a chance to understand the offense a little bit more," Keith said, "how double teams work, how pass protections work. Even on screens. I had never run a screen ever in my life."

  • The top three receivers' jobs are set with Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. The fourth and fifth spots are open, however, and rookie Andre Roberts, Ed Gant and Onrea Jones are the leading candidates. Roberts has been impressive in off-season workouts, while Gant has been inconsistent. Jones played well during preseason last year and is having a solid off-season. If the season started today, Gant would be the odd man out.

  • The Cardinals are almost halfway through voluntary practices, and coaches are going to increase the mental demands on players. The first five practices were a review of what was learned in minicamp. New concepts were being introduced at the end of the second week, and the load will become heavier as red zone and two-minute schemes are introduced. "There's a lot going in right now," said quarterback Matt Leinart.

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