Arizona begins the first of its final three practices of the offseason Tuesday when mandatory veteran minicamp commences. Here are five things to watch for over the next three days:
Right tackle battle. There are two positions that will be fought over hard during the Cardinals’ final three practices in front of coaches before training camp begins: right tackle and inside linebacker. Bradley Sowell, Bobby Massie and Nate Potter will continue to compete for the starting job but neither has an upper hand, as was seen with head coach Bruce Arians’ comments last week and with Arizona offering a contract to Tyson Clabo on Monday. Each of the three have their faults and they’re significant enough to prevent the coaching staff from labeling one the starter. While none of the trio will make enough strides in the next three days to convince Arians they should be the starter, this week is a chance for them to leave a good impression with the coaching staff before breaking for summer.
Inside linebacker battle. Unless Arizona adds another inside linebacker, the competition for the starting job next to Kevin Minter will be between Larry Foote and Ernie Sims, both veterans. Foote has experience with Arians, having played for the Pittsburgh Steelers while Arians was the team’s offensive coordinator. Arians has said Foote can only be a two-down backer, which opened the door for Sims to prove he can be the three-down linebacker that he was early in his career. With a reputation as a hard hitter, Sims can make serious headway this week if he can learn the Cards’ system and display his athleticism.
Abraham should return. Unless he’s going to willingly accept a fine, linebacker John Abraham will make his offseason debut on the field Tuesday. He skipped the voluntary organized team activities as a way to preserve his body. What will be interesting is where he fits in during team drills. He earned a starting job after his Pro Bowl performance last season but will the coaches insert him with the first team immediately? Or will Sam Acho run with the starters in place of Abraham. If Abraham doesn’t report for minicamp, he’ll be fined $11,575 on Tuesday, $23,150 on Wednesday and $34,730 on Thursday for a total of $69,455, according to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
Bucannon’s health. Rookie safety Deone Bucannon has missed a handful of practices recently with a turf toe injury. Arians has kept him out as a precaution and not to let the injury become a nagging problem, but how much time can Bucannon miss before he begins to struggle picking up the defense? If there was a time to return to the field, it’d be this week because everyone is there and it’ll be the Cardinals’ first chance to see the majority of their talented secondary put together in the offseason on the field together. With free safety Tyrann Mathieu still out with an injury, Rashad Johnson will be his replacement for as long as it takes Mathieu to recover.
Punt returns. At one point during OTAs, the Cardinals had the quartet of Ted Ginn, John Brown, Bryan McCann and Jerraud Powers working on returning punts. It’ll be interesting to see how much work Patrick Peterson gets on special teams this week. During the draft, Arians said Peterson’s days as a punt returner were dwindling; we’ll see if that’s the case or not. We’ll also see who the front-runner is to replace Peterson.