GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals open training camp on July 22 at University of Phoenix Stadium here. Here’s a 53-man roster projection:
Palmer is a gimme. Stanton will survive a long competition against Blaine Gabbert during training camp, because he’s more familiar with the offense -- having played in it since 2012 -- and coach Bruce Arians likes familiarity with his backups. That’s exactly what Stanton provides.
Arizona could easily keep five running backs (with Eli Penny joining the group), considering Ellington was once slated as a wide receiver this year. But everyone behind David Johnson needs to show they can play special teams at a high level in order to see the field, because he will rarely be coming out this season.
The first four are now staples on the roster. Dobson and Ross are veterans who add size. Williams is a third-round pick who is freaky fast and can be a playmaker at this level. Arians has said this year’s receivers room is the deepest he has ever been around, which will make cutting it down extremely difficult.
The fourth tight end spot will likely end up being a battle between Valles and Ricky Seals-Jones, an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M. But if Valles wins the job, Seals-Jones could end up on the practice squad, waiting for his break. And that might come early, if Niklas can’t break his habit of getting injured.
For years, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin has stressed “position flexibility.” Well, now he has it. Basically, all eight of the offensive linemen can play multiple positions, including Toner, who can play four of the five.
The responsibility of replacing Calais Campbell up front won’t be on one player, although Nkemdiche is the likely candidate to fill Campbell’s vacated starting spot. As a unit, this year’s defensive linemen will fill in for Campbell -- now with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- by committee. There’s a familiarity and understanding among them with the scheme they run.
Last season, Jones played 86.8 percent of the defense’s snaps, and Golden played in 70.5 percent. In other words, those two rarely came off the field, so the Cardinals don’t need to stockpile their roster with outside linebackers. Jones is a former first-round pick whose talent might be rekindled in a new setting, and, if needed, defensive coordinator James Bettcher can turn to rookie Haason Reddick, who is a converted defensive end.
Bucannon is out after ankle surgery, so Reddick will start from Day 1. And depending on how Dansby looks at age 35, Bucannon might be slow to return to the lineup when he’s healthy. The other option is that Bucannon is inserted back into the rotation the day he’s cleared. Fua and Wright are standout special-teamers, which will punch their tickets to the 53-man roster.
Peterson is a lock and will have a front-row seat to the most anticipated position battle of training camp: Bethel vs. Williams. Both looked impressive during OTAs and minicamp, but they could not really show how far they have progressed since last season because they weren’t allowed to make contact. Ford, meanwhile, will get a first-class education from the three above him on the depth chart.
In some ways, this is an entirely fresh secondary. Mathieu and Branch finished last season on injured reserve. Bethea was a free-agent signing. Baker was drafted. Miller is a converted cornerback. All five will likely have a role in Arizona’s multiple defensive schemes, making them all valuable to Bettcher.
Dawson instantly made the Cardinals a better team because of his experience and cold-blooded demeanor. Leone is a former CFL punter who will compete with incumbent Matt Wile for the job. Brewer has the job to lose.