<
>

Cardinals head to camp with sights locked on Super Bowl LI

play
Cardinals out to prove they can repeat playoff run (0:57)

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss says the team has one goal this season: win Super Bowl LI. It'll only happen if quarterback Carson Palmer stays healthy and safety Tyrann Mathieu can return from an ACL injury. (0:57)

The Arizona Cardinals open training camp on July 29 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Here's a closer look at the Cardinals camp, which wraps up on Aug. 26.

Top storyline: After setting a franchise record for wins, points and yards last season while coming up a game short of the Super Bowl, the top storyline for 2016 has written itself: It's Super Bowl or bust for the Cardinals.

That was the goal last year but late-season injuries and an embarrassing showing in the NFC Championship Game at Carolina prevented the Cardinals from getting to Super Bowl 50 despite a 13-3 record. The Cardinals are primed for another run while returning every player who caught a pass from quarterback Carson Palmer and scored an offensive touchdown in 2015. That type of continuity is rare in the NFL.

If Palmer doesn't get hurt, the Cardinals enter the season as a Super Bowl favorite: The Cardinals have had double-digit wins the past three seasons with the combination of Palmer and coach Bruce Arians. Palmer, 36, isn't getting in younger and has had two ACL tears in his career. He needs to stay healthy if the Cardinals expect to make the playoffs.

Player who will have fans buzzing: Outside linebacker Chandler Jones. The offseason acquisition is one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL. Watching him work a tackle off the edge is a thing of beauty and something the Cardinals have not had for a full season since John Abraham in 2013. Jones is younger and quicker than Abraham or Dwight Freeney, who had eight sacks last season, and will be helped by having one of the league's best secondaries behind him and a two-time Pro Bowler in Calais Campbell working next to him.

Position battle worth watching: Keep your eyes on the battle at center. A.Q. Shipley enters his second straight training camp as the presumptive starter. But there's competition waiting in the wings in rookie Evan Boehm, whom the Cardinals drafted in the fourth round this year. Shipley had the starting job pulled out from under him last season when the Cardinals re-signed veteran Lyle Sendlein. This year, the front office put the heat directly on Shipley by drafting who could be Sendlein's successor.

That rookie should start: If defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche can do to offensive lineman with pads on what he did to them during OTAs and minicamp sans pads, he should -- and probably will -- be the Cardinals' newest starting defensive lineman. He has the skill set and talent of a top-five pick, but teams were scared off by an off-field incident in December 2015. He fell into the Cardinals' hands late in the first round and has the explosiveness, hands, feet and talent of a young Darnell Dockett -- but better.

Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Red Bryant was exactly what the Cardinals needed last season: A veteran with experience in the postseason who could plug the run. But the 32-year-old could lose his job in the Cardinals' defensive line rotation because of four reasons. The Cardinals have too much depth there, Rodney Gunter progressed better than expected last season, nose guard Corey Peters returns from an Achilles injury, and Xavier Williams proved he could be a suitable backup to plug the run.

Honey Badger's health: For the second time in three years, safety Tyrann Mathieu enters training camp on the mend. He tore his right ACL in Week 15 last year, which, after surgery, placed his return target for Week 1 of the regular season. One of the biggest questions heading into camp will be how Arizona will bring Mathieu along. He may not see any contact until Week 1. The Cardinals want to be careful with Mathieu, to get the type of impact this season he had last year.

Positional focus: Five positions require attention, either because of positional battles or depth issues: Safety -- With Mathieu injured and Rashad Johnson in Tennessee, the Cardinals could have two new starters in Week 1. One probably will be Tyvon Branch and the other Tony Jefferson. Jefferson gets another opportunity, as in 2014 when Mathieu was last hurt, to prove he's capable of being an every-down safety. Defensive line -- Arizona has 10 players for a rotation of about seven or eight. Right tackle -- With former first-round pick D.J. Humphries penciled in as starting right tackle, the question becomes: Is he ready? Center -- See above. Running back -- Coach Bruce Arians has said David Johnson will be the bell cow this year, but it's tough to believe veteran Chris Johnson will roll over and let the second-year back have the job.

What fans will be saying after camp: If the Cardinals can avoid the injury bug during training camp, their fans will walk out of University of Phoenix Stadium and into the blazing hot August heat with smiles. This team is, on paper, at least, more talented than last year.

For daily updates at camp, check out the Arizona Cardinals clubhouse page.