The warmup act is over and the regular season is about three weeks away. But as the Cardinals take the field for preseason game No. 3 against the Oakland Raiders on Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium, a host of questions remain.
Who’s the quarterback? Who’s the starting right tackle? Who’s the starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson? What will Peterson’s new touchdown dance look like?
With another game scheduled for Aug. 23 at Tennessee, most of the Cardinals’ major roster decisions will be made within the next week. Rosters will be pared to 80 players after Game 4; they’ll be at 53 players by Sept. 2.
With that in mind, here’s a laundry list of things to watch and evaluate in the next two preseason games. The Cardinals coaching staff will be doing the same, albeit with a far keener eye. Quarterback: There are significant concerns about Kevin Kolb and John Skelton in terms of talent and their potential to become effective starting quarterbacks. Regardless, one will earn that title for the regular-season opener against Seattle. Kurt Warner isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Peyton Manning or Tarvaris Jackson. There are no available upgrades on the market, and the time required to get a new quarterback up to speed on the offense negates any possible gains from a minor improvement anyway. These are the Cardinals’ two choices. Maybe, with a lot of luck, one will take a quantum leap forward. Running back: The rotation is clear, but questions remain about the health of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. Williams will play a bit against the Raiders, affording a chance to see how well he has learned his myriad duties and how confident he is in that surgically rebuilt knee. Wells is likely a week away from returning to game action, but his evaluation will come in the regular season, not the preseason. In other words, can he hold up health-wise for an entire 16-game schedule? LaRod Stephens-Howling, fullback Anthony Sherman, Alfonso Smith and Javarris James round out the position. Receivers: We think Larry Fitzgerald is pretty well set. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are the main alternate targets. But how quickly can top pick Michael Floyd progress? Who will nail down the other two roster spots? LaRon Byrd has shown well in camp, and DeMarco Sampson, Stephen Williams and deep threat Jaymar Johnson are possibilities. Tight ends: Jeff King is off the PUP list but won’t play for another week. That’s good. That means more reps for Rob Housler to find out if his blocking skills have improved and if he is indeed the pass-catching threat as advertised. Housler becoming a threat on seam routes would be a welcome addition to the offense — assuming the QB(s) can make that throw. Offensive line: Center Lyle Sendlein, left guard Daryn Colledge and left tackle Levi Brown are set. The big issue here is the right side, with coach Russ Grimm experimenting with Jeremy Bridges at right guard (in place of free-agent signing Adam Snyder) and D’Anthony Batiste starting at right tackle in place of Bridges and fourth-round pick Bobby Massie. Depth could become a concern this season if injuries occur. Draft pick Senio Kelemete should get plenty of playing time at guard the next three weeks. Secondary: Strong safety Adrian Wilson, free safety Kerry Rhodes and Peterson at one cornerback spot are locks. But who plays opposite Peterson? William Gay tops the depth chart, but Greg Toler was the starter last season before a preseason injury and rookie Jamell Fleming has made big plays in the preseason. A.J. Jefferson and Michael Adams are less likely. Rashad Johnson will be one of the backup safeties, and Justin Bethel has made too many eye-popping plays on special teams to say goodbye. That raises questions for free-agent signing James Sanders. Linebackers: There are still questions concerning outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield and their ability to handle permanent starting duties, although Acho seems to answer them more and more with each passing day. Schofield missed practice Wednesday with an injury to his left knee — the same knee he had reconstructed coming out of college. That means veteran Clark Haggans likely will start against the Raiders, but Quentin Groves also will get a look since he’s played so well in camp. Stewart Bradley is still trying to unseat Paris Lenon in the middle, but that may not be as important with Bradley showing an ability to sub on the outside as well. Reggie Walker and Brandon Williams appear to be solid depth guys. Defensive line: With the starting lineup of Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams and Calais Campbell set and a strong core of backups in place in Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and David Carter, there are no significant issues here — as long as Williams can stay in shape and keep progressing as the anchor of this line. Special teams: Punter Dave Zastudil and kicker Jay Feely have no significant competition. Peterson will return punts, Stephens-Howling will return kickoffs and Adams, Bethel and Anthony Sherman will make plays. Coach Kevin Spencer’s group looks solid throughout. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter