Time running out in Cardinals' position battles

As preseason winds down, clock is ticking for Cards' roster battles, at QB and elsewhere.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two years ago today, Matt Leinart went to Tennessee as the Cardinals starting quarterback and returned as its backup.

Kevin Kolb might already have lost his starter’s role to John Skelton, but it should become obvious after Thursday’s game in Nashville, even if coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t make the announcement for another week.

In that previous quarterback battle, Leinart was viewed as the soft quarterback, while Whisenhunt praised Derek Anderson for his toughness and leadership. Now the negative tags are on falling on Kolb, while Skelton has assumed Anderson’s role.

And what was the concern on everyone’s mind when Anderson took the reins two years ago? No, not that he would have an infamous blow-up with a local reporter in a post-game press conference.

The concern was that Anderson had looked woefully inaccurate in training camp. The same has been true of Skelton.

Sorry. We tried not to dwell on the quarterback situation, but we just happened upon a column from two years ago, and the memories came flooding back.

At the very least, you can count on the Cardinals keeping Kolb around, even if he is the No. 2 QB. They’ve already paid him his roster bonus, and he’ll still count about $13 million against the salary cap if they cut him, so it makes no sense to send him packing like they did with Leinart. And Kolb is still a better backup option than anything they have or can find.

Besides, as we said, that ship has likely sailed. This game and the final preseason game on Aug. 30 against Denver are about roster spots, so we thought we’d take a stab at the select 53 players the team must determine by Sept. 2.

We’re also highlighting a few players’ whose stock has either risen or fallen.

Stock rising: LB Stewart Bradley, LB Reggie Walker, S Justin Bethel, RB William Powell, WR LaRon Byrd, QB Ryan Lindley, LB Quentin Groves.

Stock falling: RB Alfonso Smith, CB A.J. Jefferson, QB Kevin Kolb, WR Stephen Williams.

QBs -- In: (3) John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley. Out: Rich Bartel.

Analysis: Coach Ken Whisenhunt won’t announce a starting QB until after the final preseason game, but the battle for the No. 3 spot may have already been won with Lindley (San Diego State) showing promise thus far in the preseason. It’s possible they could keep him on the practice squad (if he clears waivers) and also keep Bartel, but Whisenhunt believes there aren’t enough practice reps for three quarterbacks, let alone four.

RBs -- In: (6) Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell, Javarris James, Anthony Sherman (FB). Out: Alfonso Smith, Reagan Maui’a, Jared Crank, Thomas Clayton.

Analysis: With Wells’ injury rap sheet and Williams also coming off knee surgery, the Cards will keep five running backs for insurance. James has been hampered by an abductor strain in camp but impressed in mini-camp and OTAs. Powell has turned heads in the preseason and might have turned the tables on Smith, who now appears on the outs.
WRs -- In: (6) Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, Michael Floyd, DeMarco Sampson, LaRon Byrd. Out: Jaymar Johnson, Stephen Williams, Isaiah Williams, Tre Gray, Gino Crump.

Analysis: Floyd’s development will obviously aid the passing game and relieve pressure on Fitzgerald. That would also allow Roberts and Doucet to assume lesser roles more suited to their capabilities. Sampson and Byrd have had good camps and preseason. That likely means Johnson, despite his deep speed, and Stephen Williams, who doesn’t play special teams, are out.

TEs -- In: (4) Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray. Out: Stephen Skelton, Martell Webb.

Analysis: King is back in action and should be ready for the opener. The Cards like what Heap and Housler can provide in tandem in the passing game. Dray is a solid blocker who will stick because the Cards use multiple tight end packages.

OL -- In (8): Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Adam Snyder, Jeremy Bridges, Bobby Massie, D’Anthony Batiste, Senio Kelemete, D.J. Young. Out: Nate Potter, Russ Hochstein, Rich Ohrnberger, Chris Stewart, Scott Wedige.

Analysis: Veteran depth was a major concern along the line even before Levi Brown went down with a potentially season-ending triceps injury. Kelemete and Massie are both rookies, and Batiste is inexperienced. Young and Potter are candidates for the practice squad if the Cards choose to shop the free-agent market for a better replacement for Brown – a move they’d be wise to make.

DL -- In (6): Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, Calais Campbell, Nick Eason, David Carter, Vonnie Holliday. Out: Zack Nash, Ricky Lumpkin, Everrett Thompson, Landon Cohen, Ronald Talley.

Analysis: The starters and the reserves are the same as last season at the strength of the Cardinals defense.

LBs -- In (8): O’Brien Schofield, Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon, Sam Acho, Reggie Walker, Stewart Bradley, Clark Haggans, Quentin Groves. Out: Brandon Williams, Quan Sturdivant, Antonio Coleman, Colin Parker, Marcus McGraw, Paul Vassallo.

Analysis: The Cards have depth at every one of their linebacker positions, and Bradley can play both inside and outside. That might ward off the temptation to keep nine linebackers at a position that also dominates special teams.
DBs – In (9): Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Greg Toler, Jamell Fleming, Michael Adams, Rashad Johnson, Justin Bethel. Out: A.J. Jefferson, James Sanders, Marshay Green, Blake Gideon, Eddie Elder, Larry Parker, James Nixon, Crezdon Butler.

Analysis: The Cards have a wealth of NFL-caliber, if not high-quality, cornerbacks competing for the starting spot opposite Peterson. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wants depth, given the frequent injuries that occur at this position, but there are still NFL-capable personnel here, like Jefferson, who will be cut in a numbers game. Bethel could be a candidate for the practice squad, but his speed and play-making ability on special teams have been evident, so the guess is he sticks, rather than risk exposing him to waivers before becoming practice squad eligible.

Special teams -- In (3): P Dave Zastudil, PK Jay Feely, LS Mike Leach. Out: Ricky Schmitt.

Analysis: The Cards are locked in with Zastudil, Feely and Leach. PR Patrick Peterson and KR LaRod Stephens-Howling give the Cards a dynamic pairing in the return game.

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