A Changing of the Guard?

With an abundance of young prospects on the Cardinals roster, a handful of emerging stars are primed to breakout in 2008. The potential for change atop of the depth chart lies at numerous positions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Brad Wilbricht analyzes which players could be affected in this AZRedReport.com exclusive

Running Back: Edgerrin James vs. Tim Hightower

With James slowing down, the Cardinals drafted Hightower in hopes of being James' long-term replacement. However, Hightower has been extremely impressive during offseason workouts and could be called upon quicker than anticipated. Hightower features similar characteristics as James did earlier in his career. Not only does Hightower demonstrate the ability to pick-up tough yardage up the middle, he has a knack for bouncing runs to the outside when necessary. While James should continue to carry the load this season, Hightower could play a larger role than originally expected.

Center: Al Johnson vs. Lyle Sendlein

While Johnson has done an admirable job since arriving in the desert, he hasn't been the dominant force the team desires at center. Johnson lost his starting position in Dallas and may be headed for the same fate in Arizona. Sendlein has received high praise from the Cardinals coaching staff and will be expected to compete for the starting role during training camp. Sendlein, entering his second season in the NFL, also displays the ability to line-up at guard. However, with LG Reggie Wells and RG Deuce Lutui firmly planted on the Cardinals offensive line, Sendlein's main contributions will likely come at center.

Defensive End: Antonio Smith vs. Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema

Although Smith has shown consistent improvement throughout his career, he now has two rookies looking to dethrone him from atop the depth chart. Smith had a career year last season, totaling 44 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He'll need to sustain that success to keep a solid grip on his starting position. Campbell and Iwebema are expected to immediately contribute in situational packages but could close the gap on Smith with a stellar performance during training camp. Both players have tremendous skill-sets and should experience steady growth under defensive line coach Ron Aiken.

Defensive Tackle: Gabe Watson vs. Alan Branch

The Cardinals coaching staff took a liking to Branch last season, and fully expected him to push Watson for the starting spot at nose tackle this year. Branch is an ideal fit in the 3-4 defense and could jump Watson on the depth chart now that the Cardinals defensive transition is complete. Although Watson should be ready for training camp, he's still recovering from a broken kneecap he suffered this offseason. If Watson struggles to return to form off his injury, Branch could capitalize and become the new anchor of the Cardinals defensive line.

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