There are three significant position battles that will begin Friday, when the Arizona Cardinals line up for their conditioning test. At this point anyone competing to be Bruce Arians' starting right tackle, right guard or inside linebacker can use any advantage they can find.
Right tackle won't be decided Friday or even likely a month from now. It'll be an ongoing competition between Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. Coming out of offseason workouts, it looked like Massie had the upper edge -- but only slightly. Neither impressed during organized team activities or minicamp. Both had their performances riddled with either physical or mental errors.
But until Arizona either trades or signs for an outside participant, the battle between Massie and Sowell will begin, in earnest, Saturday afternoon. Both have starting experience at tackle.
As a rookie in 2012, Massie started all 16 games at right tackle. And despite being ranked as the second worst right tackle in the NFL midway through that season allowing 13 sacks in six games, Massie finished the year without a sack surrendered in his final eight games, according to Pro Football Focus. How bad was Massie in the first half in 2012? He "allowed some form of pressure on 14.5 percent of his pass-blocking snaps," according to PFF. In his final nine games of 2012, Massie allowed more than two total pressures just once. In a PFF story from the 2013 offseason, the website claimed Massie had 47 total pressures in the first seven games of 2012. Over the final nine that number dropped to 14.
But it wasn't enough for the new Cardinals coaching regime. Arians and new general manager Steve Keim brought in Eric Winston to start at right tackle while relegating Massie to the bench. Massie saw 57 snaps in 2013, according to PFF, the majority of which came in the three games when Arians and Keim wanted to evaluate him.
Massie's biggest issue throughout his career has been his ability to absorb the playbook.
In May, when asked why Massie has struggled to learn the offense, Arians' response was "Ask him. It ain't that hard."
Sowell understands inconsistency. He talked during the offseason about his lack of consistency and how it's hurt his chances of being named the starter.
"I show signs of being a really good tackle and there's signs of 'where'd that come from?,'" he said. "If I can ever hone in and be a consistent player and stop making some dumb mistakes technique wise, I think I'll be a really good tackle."
Sowell replaced Levi Brown as Arizona's starting left tackle for the final 12 games of the 2013 season, allowing seven sacks. According to PFF, he was the worst tackle in the NFL last season despite giving up just four sacks in Arizona's final nine games, in which they went 7-2.
There's no doubting Sowell's struggles. Even though he prevented quarterback Carson Palmer from getting sacked, he allowed a staggering 25 quarterback hurries in the final eight games and six quarterback hits in the final five games.
Sowell was adequate last season playing his natural position while Massie watched. Both have areas they need to improve before they reach a level of starting again in the NFL.