Voluntary organized team activities are a thing of the past following this week’s wrap up for the Arizona Cardinals.
The offseason now gets a little more serious.
No, we’re not quite to training camp, preseason or regular-season action, but the Cardinals’ upcoming mandatory minicamp gives players another solid opportunity to begin standing out among their teammates.
Arizona’s starting lineup is largely set, but there are a few key positions up for grabs this offseason.
And beyond the first wave lies even more positional battles as players fight for a spot on the 53-man roster and snaps.
With minicamp on the horizon, here is a look at some of the Cardinals with a lot to win or lose as things ramp up ahead of training camp.
ILB Zaven Collins
Cardinals inside linebacker Zaven Collins was open and honest on his failures as a rookie and how he’s using the lessons of last year to take that next big stride in Year 2.
If his play on the field matches up with the talk off of it, Collins appears to have taken his offseason goals and routine seriously.
But until we see the young linebacker in action, the questions as to whether or not he can take the reins as the team’s quarterback of the defense will linger.
It also seems like defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a backup plan if Collins can’t command the defense, with the linebacker highlighting the fact that the ILBs room can be “interchangeable” and he might not be the sole play-caller along the inside this season.
For Collins, this minicamp and training camp are his avenues to show he can confidently make the calls and be that man in the middle the Cardinals envisioned him being last season before the real test begins.
If not, veterans like Nick Vigil and Tanner Vallejo could be in line to garner more of that role this season.
RBs Eno Benjamin, Darrel Williams, Jonathan Ward and Keaontay Ingram
Outside of James Conner being the team’s unquestioned starter, there will likely be three spots are up for grabs in the running backs room.
Given Darrel Williams’ resume, it would appear the late addition is the leader in the clubhouse for that No. 2 role behind Conner.
While it looks like it’s his job to lose, head coach Kliff Kingsbury isn’t ruling out a pair of incumbent running backs in Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward just yet.
“We’ll see how it all plays out,” Kingsbury said Thursday. “Between Ward, Eno, Darrel, there’s guys that are really going to be battling for that second spot and we’re going to need all of them at some point I’m sure.”
As for the final two spots in the room, special teams will once again play a big part in who stays and who goes.
Looking at last year’s snaps, Ward (201) holds the advantage over Benjamin (44). Benjamin, however, did get more run on offense, scoring his first NFL touchdown in 2021.
And with their familiarity with the team and ability to play special teams, what does that mean for rookie runner Keaontay Ingram? He’s been a player to watch in fantasy circles and was a popular late-round pick, but can he do enough to crack the 53-man roster?
The first-year pro looks smooth in his route-running and pass-catching abilities, but must make a name for himself in special teams to have a chance at usurping the guys ahead of him.
OLBs Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders
It’s no secret the Cardinals must address the edge-rushing void left behind by Chandler Jones opposite Markus Golden.
In an effort to do so, the team added a pair of third-round pass rushers in Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Thomas’ sheer size and motor are already standing out, while Sanders’ body type and length could make him an absolute problem for opposing offensive linemen.
The opportunity for meaningful snaps is there for the taking for both rookies. It’s just a matter of who will take it and run with it.
CB Antonio Hamilton
With the passing of projected key contributor Jeff Gladney, Arizona’s depth at cornerback is once again thin behind Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson.
Of the cornerbacks currently on the roster, Antonio Hamilton is the most logical name to secure that third spot on the depth chart.
Over 17 games played (two starts) for Arizona last season, Hamilton recorded a career high 38 tackles to go along with four passes defensed.
The biggest question surrounding Hamilton this offseason is, where has he been?
With the role there for the taking, Hamilton has been a no-show for voluntary work this offseason. When asked about the cornerback’s attendance, Kingsbury said that’s a question for the cornerback.
TE Trey McBride
McBride has the golden opportunity of learning from a pair of veterans in Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams this offseason as he gets his feet wet in the offense.
He has a natural ability as a route runner and pass catcher, but can he make an impact on this team right away, whether that’s on offense or special teams?
The biggest thing for McBride is getting up to the NFL speed and really understanding the playbook on top of proving himself to special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.
WR Antoine Wesley
There are snaps up for grabs with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the shelf for the first six games of the season due to a PEDs suspension.
The trio of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, A.J. Green and Rondale Moore figures to be the main receiving threat to start the season, but another name in Antoine Wesley could wedge his way into the mix with his continued progression in Kingsbury’s offense.
On top of his familiarity with Kingsbury from his Texas Tech days, Wesley saw an uptick in play in the back half of last season when Hopkins was sidelined due to injury.
In the seven games Hopkins wasn’t on the field last season, Wesley reeled in 18 of his 29 targets for 201 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in a close win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16.
“It helped a lot, it built up a ton of confidence for not only me but for my teammates,” Wesley said back in May. “The trust was there for whenever I got out on the field and when the ball was in the air they knew I was going to come down with it.”
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