The Arizona Cardinals managed to sneak past the Houston Texans in their preseason opener. While this four-game preseason stretch is arguably insignificant to some, here are five players with a lot to lose or gain when they take the stage in Music City.
5. LB Daryl Washington
The rookie linebacker impressed coach Ken Whisenhunt and all who were watching in the Cardinals preseason opener against the Texans. Washington's speed and play-making ability landed him a team-high of 13 tackles. The Cardinals second-round pick has more than enough company at inside linebacker, but another standout performance could earn him a promotion sooner than expected.
4. QB John Skelton
The Cardinals fifth-round pick completed a perfect passer rating (158.3), 5 of 6 passes, 84 yards and one touchdown to lead the Cardinals to a come from behind win against Houston last week. Round one goes to Skelton over fellow rookie Max Hall. The key for Skelton will be consistency, as he struggled in camp. Hall didn't see the field last Saturday against the Texans but is expected to receive playing time on Monday night.
Should Skelton continue to thrive while Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson struggle, is there a chance Skelton sees the field during the regular season? Probably not, but coach Whisenhunt did have some pretty good success with another young signal caller from the small-school circuit. Whisenhunt and Ben Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl win back in 2005 during Big Ben's second season after reaching the AFC Championship game in his rookie campaign.
3. QB Matt Leinart
While the Cardinals starting signal caller wasn't the only member of the first team to look sloppy against the Texans, he comes with the biggest target. The media, fans and teams alike brush off preseason, but if Leinart emerges as a strong, confident, accurate, consistent leader and player on Monday, his reputation on the field could pay dividends in terms of support. Leinart needs help from his offensive line that was as soft as silk.
Leinart's best playing time last season came against Vince Young's Titans. Leinart shouldn't leave Tennessee without a touchdown pass, which he hasn't managed since Week 3 of preseason last year. He's yet to throw a regular-season touchdown pass since 2008. Granted, there was that Kurt Warner guy, but Leinart's playing time yielded plenty of opportunities. Just one on Monday might get one monkey off his back for now.
2. CB Greg Toler
The Cardinals' secondary needs another impact player opposite of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the perimeter. Toler appears to be that guy. He's been head-to-head with the competition and keeps coming out victorious. Toler left an impression after keeping the Texans at bay in multiple red-zone opportunities. He's improving where it counts. Another solid preseason outing could keep Trumaine McBride at bay.
1. WR Stephen Williams
Whoever said luck is where preparation meets opportunity, must have met Williams. With the wide receiving corps ailing with injuries and Andre Roberts struggling, Williams is taking full advantage of the extra attention. Whisenhunt's response is somewhat tepid. He warns it's still very early in the progression of Williams' career, but coach likes his consistent ability to make plays. The Cardinals will likely stretch Williams' legs even more in the coming weeks, as we've all seen the training camp darlings oscillate.
The Cardinals will continue to limit the playing time of starters, as it's all fun and games until a player gets hurt. After the Titans, the on-the-cusp players will continue their evaluations at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears on Saturday, Aug. 28. The Cardinals preseason finale will be at home against Washington on Thursday, Sept. 2 where the Cardinals will debut their black jerseys.
Amberly Dressler is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America and has contributed to Scout.com since 2007. Her work has been published on FoxSports.com and MySpace Sports, with appearances on NFL Network, ESPN Radio and Pro Football Central. She has covered the Arizona Cardinals since 2006.
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