TEMPE, Ariz. -- Not every position on the Arizona Cardinals' depth chart is as clear cut as who their starting quarterback or running back is. While most of the Arizona’s top one or two players at each position are firmly set, there are a large handful of position battles that will encapsulate training camp this year when it begins Saturday.
Some will take until Week 1. Some will be decided within the first few days. But, for the most part, these battles will take weeks and a few preseason games to decide.
Here’s a look at the five best position battles that will take place during Cardinals’ training camp:
Justin Bethel vs. Brandon Williams: This will be, undoubtedly, the marquee position battle throughout training camp. Both have limited experience as starting cornerbacks in the NFL, but both feel they’ve earned the job outright after productive springs. Bethel will report to training camp healthy for the first time in two years, which should make the difference in him putting up a strong showing for the corner job against Williams, who was demoted from starter to the bench two games into his rookie season last year. But what either did during OTAs and minicamp wasn’t enough for coaches to determine a winner. Since contact wasn’t allowed during spring practice, neither could show their progress in man-press coverage. The general feeling around the Cardinals is that both grew significantly in their off-man coverage, but the real competition begins on the third day of camp when the Cardinals will be allowed to hit.
Drew Stanton vs. Blaine Gabbert: Stanton’s the longtime incumbent. Gabbert’s a former starter who is looking to catch on for a season. The battle for the backup quarterback job begins as soon as the Cardinals report for training camp Friday. As of now, Stanton holds a slight edge simply because he’s been with coach Bruce Arians since 2012 and Arians likes familiarity. Stanton knows Arians’ offense better than anyone else in the locker room, which gives him a major upper hand in the quarterback room because of how complex it is. But, as with any backup quarterback, the hope is that they aren’t needed for more than a game or two, so knowing the entirety of the playbook in great detail isn’t necessary. Gabbert has game experience, which is valuable in its own right. He’s known as a quick learner having gone through seven head coaches and six offensive coordinators in six NFL seasons. But this battle could be decided quickly in camp if Gabbert struggles even with having the most talent around him in his career.
Evan Boehm vs. a quartet: Arians was quick to announce the second-year Boehm as his starting right guard this offseason after he started the season finale there after injuries decimated the offensive line in 2016. But one start won’t guarantee his job. Although he’s the penciled-in starter, Boehm will have a quartet of contenders to fend off to keep his starting job, including Cole Toner, a fellow member of the 2016 draft class who has impressed coaches with his position flexibility. He can play four of five positions on the offensive line, including both guard spots. While he worked at center during OTAs and minicamp while A.Q. Shipley recovered from core surgery, Toner could give Boehm a run for his money. Three other players who will be pushing Boehm will be fourth-round draft pick Dorian Johnson, veteran John Wetzel, another versatile lineman who stared eight games last season including two at right guard, and Kaleb Johnson.
Robert Nkemdiche vs. Rodney Gunter: Calais Campbell’s departure to the Jacksonville Jaguars during free agency opened a spot on the defensive line’s first team, creating a prime opportunity for Nkemdiche, last year’s first-round pick, to take a firm grasp of a starting job he wouldn’t be expected to relinquish for years. However, Nkemdiche’s stiffest competition will come from Gunter, a third-year defensive tackle who started one game a year ago. He had a career-high 1.5 sacks last season and will again play a major role in the defensive line’s rotation. But Arians liked what he saw out of Nkemdiche this offseason, which could bode well for the second-year pass-rusher as long as he stays healthy.
The last WR spots: The first four wide receiver spots are set: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson. Who will fill the last two or three is still yet to be determined. Arians has said the 12 receivers on the Cards’ roster currently are the best dozen he’s seen on a team before in his career. All of them, he’s said, can make an NFL roster, which will make trimming the room all the more difficult. Arizona drafted receiver Chad Williams in the third round, so he’s likely to make the 53. That leaves seven receivers for one or two more spots. The Cardinals like what they saw out of Jeremy Ross both at receiver and on special teams last season and Aaron Dobson can emerge as a reliable No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. But there are other names that will make a case to stay on the 53: Brittan Golden, Krishawn Hogan and Carlton Agudosi all stood out during OTAs and minicamp.