OPENED CAMP: July 21, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.
LAST YEAR: A major disappointment after returning with essentially same squad that went 13-3 and made NFC championship game in 2015. Cardinals opened with home loss to Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots, started season 1-3 and didn’t really hit stride until it was too late. Arizona lost close ones it won previous year – five games by seven points or less plus 6-6 tie with Seattle. Brightest spot was second-year running back David Johnson, who led NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,118: 1,239 yards rushing, 879 yards receiving. He tied Barry Sanders’ NFL record by topping 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 consecutive games in same season, streak ended only when Johnson hurt knee in finale against Rams. It was first losing season in Bruce Arians’ four years as head coach.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: ILB Karlos Dansby, S Antoine Bethea, K PhiI Dawson, rookie LB Haason Reddick, QB Blaine Gabbert.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Calais Campbell, S Tony Jefferson, CB Marcus Cooper, S D.J. Swearinger, K Chandler Catanzaro.
CAMP NEEDS: As always, CB opposite Patrick Peterson is issue. Justin Bethel, finally healthy from foot injury, holds spot as camp begins. Reshuffled offensive line needs to jell, with D.J. Humphries switching to LT, Jared Veldheer to RT and former C Evan Boehm moving in at RG. Team will need to reconfigure secondary with last year’s leading tackler, S Jefferson, gone in free agency. Veteran S Bethea should help make up for that absence. S Tyrann Mathieu returns needing to make it through full season healthy, something he has yet to do. Robert Nkemdiche, 2016 first-round draft pick, will be under scrutiny as he tries to replace departed DT Campbell. Order of receivers behind Larry Fitzgerald is undetermined, but John Brown says he is his old speedy self after being slowed by illness last season. With QB Carson Palmer limited to preserve arm strength, expect to see more of Drew Stanton and lots of Blaine Gabbert in preseason.
EXPECTATIONS: High expectations of last season have evaporated and team seemed in offseason workouts to be relieved to no longer have that burden. This might be final go-round for trio of Arians, Palmer and Fitzgerald. At least one may retire after season. And there’s a feeling from within that Cardinals have talent to contend. Offense will revolve around dynamic Johnson, but Palmer will be center of attention in his 15th NFL season. Blitz-happy defense should have one of best past rushing groups, led by OLBs Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Special teams, awful last year, could be big issue again. Offensive line and secondary are question marks.
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