Familiarity fosters increased expectations for Cardinals

Learning schemes, personnel no longer the main challenge for Cardinals as OTAs begin.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer talks with rookie wide receiver John Brown during a break from organized workouts at the Cardinals training facility in Tempe.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

TEMPE, Ariz. -- What a difference a year makes. When the Cardinals reported for OTAs last year, a new coaching staff greeted a new roster that had turned over nearly half its players. That lack of familiarity carried right over into training camp. 

"Nobody was talking. Everybody was just quiet," said linebacker John Abraham, who invented a word to describe the scene. "You could tell the comfortability wasn't there."

When the Cardinals reported for the first day of 2014 OTAs on Tuesday in Tempe, friendships had already been formed, playbooks had been studied and chemistry had been built.

"Today I was thinking about one thing and that was my first progression, my second progression, my third progression. So it was actually enjoyable," quarterback Carson Palmer said.

"It's much easier to get in and teach," added coach Bruce Arians, who was hired last year after spending the previous 11 as an assistant with the Steelers and Colts. "Instead of watching Pittsburgh tape or Indianapolis tape -- (we) watch ourselves." 

The Cardinals believe that familiarity will help the team avoid the slow start that ultimately doomed its playoff chances despite a 10-6 record.

"Knowing the facilities, knowing where you're going, just being comfortable going to work and knowing who to talk to," Abraham said, "You can see the confidence and I think it's coming through the whole team."

POSITION BATTLES

There aren't a lot of starting positions truly up for grabs with the Cardinals this season, but there are a few. It's too early to into the current depth chart. The real battles will come in camp, but for what it's worth:

-- Bradley Sowell and Paul Fanaika were the starters at right tackle and right guard, while Bobby Massie and Earl Watford were their respective backups. When asked about Sowell's performance, Arians said he didn't have a chance to watch players' individually, "other than he jumped offside on a big 20-yard pass. That doesn't help. You have to be able to count to two."

-- At tight end, it's been interesting to see how much work John Carlson and Jake Ballard are getting, even with draft pick Troy Niklas still not participating. It appears Rob Housler is going to have to battle to keep his spot on the depth chart -- and perhaps on the team -- as he enters the final year of his contract.  

-- At outside linebacker, Sam Acho and Matt Shaughnessy were getting first-team reps, but Abraham isn't practicing right now since all workouts are voluntary.

"It's going on 15 years," Abraham said of his non-participation. "If I still have got to prove myself, it's a damn shame."

ROAD TO RECOVERY

Aside from Abraham, second-round pick Niklas is not practicing as he recovers from hernia surgery. Arians said he hopes to have Niklas back by the team's second mini-camp (June 10-12).

Tuesday marked the first time outside linebacker Acho and left guard Jonathan Cooper have participated since suffering season-ending injuries last year. 

"It's been about nine months since I've been able to play football," said Acho, who broke a leg in Week 3 at New Orleans. "That's the longest I've gone without playing. (Today) was a reminder how much fun it is and how difficult it is."

MINTER'S CHANCE

Inside linebacker Kevin Minter was taking snaps with the first unit alongside Daryl Washington. Minter took one snap on defense all of last season, stuck in the shadows of Karlods Dansby's brilliance.

"It's like being in college again -- doing all the adjustments, making all the calls, being the guy that they depend on to run the show. It's cool and it's pretty humbling," Minter said. "I took (last) year as a learning year. The guy in front of me was amazing. He had the best year a damn linebacker can have. I had to pay attention. A guy like that, he came every day ready to work. I just hope I can bring that to the table as well." 

EXTRA POINTS

-- Arians said the team will try out 15 to 20 players this weekend to se if any could supplant payers currently on the roster.

-- The Cardinals signed fifth-round pick Ed Stinson on Monday to a four-year, $2.406 million deal.

-- Safety Tyrann Mathieu and outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander both attended camp, but watched. Mathieu is still rehabbing the knee in which he suffered a torn ACL and LCL on Dec. 8 against St. Louis. Alexander is still recovering from a Lis Franc injury suffered in Week 3.

-- NFL owners tabled discussions about an expanded playoff system until the fall meeting, Oct. 7-8. The league will not expand the format for 2014, instead focusing on building Thursday Night Football.

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