With two preseason contests left to play, the Arizona Cardinals have already decided on starters at 21 of 22 positions. The entire offense is set, while the cornerback spot opposite veteran Patrick Peterson remains the only starting job up for grabs.
Third round draft choice Brandon Williams began training camp as the Cardinals' second starting cornerback, but his main competition, Justin Bethel, was sidelined and listed on the team's physically unable to perform list as he needed extra time to rehabilitate from offseason surgery.
Bethel needed nearly three weeks of training camp to return to the practice field, and will see his first action of the preseason on Sunday against Houston. In Bethel's absence, Williams earned high praise from the Cardinals' coaching staff and his teammates for his work ethic.
At one point during camp, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said the starting job was Williams' to lose, but his up-and-down play in his first two preseason games combined with a string of impressive practices from Bethel has reopened the competition.
"Really it's just who ends up as the corner opposite of Patrick (Peterson), there really aren't any other," Arians said of ongoing competitions. "There's some battles going on for backup spots and rotation spots."
One of the backup spots likely up for grabs is the Cardinals' fourth cornerback spot, as players like Cariel Brooks, Alan Ball and Mike Jenkins have competed throughout camp for a place on the team's depth chart.
On Friday morning, Arians said Ball would miss Sunday's preseason contest against Houston due to an injury, and praised the play of Jenkins who has reentered the conversation for a roster spot with his performances in practice over the last week.
"Mike Jenkins has come back and had a really good 10 days after his cast and that's pretty much, Cole Toner had a really good couple of days when he was working with the ones," Arians said.
Aside from Toner, a fifth round draft pick of the Cardinals in April, another offensive lineman Arians highlighted during his media availability on Friday was veteran reserve Earl Watford. Like a number of Cardinals offensive linemen, Watford has missed practices in recent weeks due to an injury, and his return to health is critical for a team with limited depth options at guard and tackle.
With the training camp struggles of backup tackles Robert Crisp and John Wetzel hindering their chances of making the Cardinals' 53-man roster, Arians sounded as if the Cardinals are counting on Watford to become the unit's primary backup at offensive tackle.
"He's (Watford) struggling with that brace on, but he's got two more weeks to get to where he needs to be," Arians said. "I'd like to see him have one more solid week of practice, especially at tackle."
After Sunday's contest in Houston, the Cardinals have fewer than 48 hours to cut their roster from 90 players to 75 players to meet a league-wide deadline. After the first round of cuts, Arizona will play again on Thursday evening before needing to solidify its final 53-man roster by Saturday.
As of Friday morning, Arians said the Cardinals are uncertain regarding which players will fill roughly eight of the team's 53 roster spots, but said as many as 20 players are competing for those spots. With about 45 to 46 spots settled and 20 players still competing for jobs, Arians' comments suggest the Cardinals have around 65 players who have the potential to help the team this season, which is a vote of confidence in the work of general manager Steve Keim and the team's scouts.
The competition for roster spots remains heated, and Arians said it contributed to intense, focused practices throughout the month of August.
"Guys came to work every day, we had maybe two lull practices, mostly young guys," Arians said. "This last week, the assignment sheet was very very short, penalties a little bit high yesterday defensively, but I think it was a little bit over-anxiousness but I thought the speed of practices was really, really good."null