GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tracking the number of new faces in training camp has been a fluid process for the Cardinals’ media relations staff. The number keeps increasing.
Following the addition of tight end Mickey Shuler this weekend, 51 new players (including rookie free agents and draft picks) are wearing Cardinal red and white on the 90-man roster at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Unusual? Not exactly.
The Cardinals had a glut of new faces in camp following the lockout in 2011, and new coaching staffs often turn over a high number of players in an effort to change the existing culture and find guys who fit specific schemes they want to run.
“I think last year in Indianapolis it was close to 58,” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who served as the Colts’ interim head coach while first-year coach Chuck Pagano was receiving treatment for leukemia. “That’s the NFL today. The entire bottom half of the roster you’re trying to turn over. You know where your top 30 are. The rest of it is up for grabs.”
Arians chose those final words wisely, because “up for grabs” is exactly how he views a lot of the roster spots at this early stage of camp. While many of the starting positions appear to be locked up, particularly on offense, there are plenty of key reserve slots still available.
“It’s highly competitive. It makes for good practices and a lot of fun,” Arians said. “This is not a time for chemistry. My philosophy is we’re not the Cardinals yet. It’s 90 guys trying to get a job. We’ll become the Cardinals when 53 of them are picked. Then we’ll be a team.”
While roster turnover may be common, general manager Steve Keim acknowledged that such a flurry of activity with key players at the start of camp — the signings of free agents John Abraham and Eric Winston and the release of linebacker O’Brien Schofield — is far less common.
“At this point of the year that’s unusual,” he said. “But going back to what I said in January, we’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to take every opportunity we can to improve our team, whether it’s a starter or whether we’re going to build depth.”
As intriguing as all the new faces and ongoing battles are, there is an impressive list of one-time Cardinals who are no longer here.
Gone are significant 2012 contributors, including quarterback Kevin Kolb, running back Beanie Wells, receiver Early Doucet, tight end Todd Heap, lineman Adam Snyder, safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, cornerbacks Greg Toler and William Gay, linebackers Paris Lenon, Schofield and Quentin Groves, and return man LaRod Stephens-Howling.
It’s enough to bring the survivors to tears. Or not.
“It’s tough, but you might get desensitized to it year in, year out,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “You make a lot of friends, and then they go to other places. It’s part of this business. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately deal, and if you’re not winning, they’re going to find a way to get the right pieces in order to start winning.”