I have no idea what the season will bring for the Cardinals. It's easy to assume there won't be a trip to the playoffs, but in the NFL, there's always a surprise team.
The Cardinals have a lot of ingredients that would normally put them in the mix as being one of the teams experts pick as a dark horse. Unfortunately, there's one major issue keeping them from being included in any postseason discussion: the NFC West.
Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt did a masterful job of setting up the franchise to dominate the West at the beginning of their tenure together. But as much credit as they deserve, they made a laundry list of bad decisions coupled with stubborn attitudes to open the door for other teams in the division while erasing everything they previously accomplished. Due to those decisions, it will take quite a few lucky breaks for the Cardinals to compete for the postseason in a division where splitting games with NFC West foes would exceed expectations.
So here we are in 2013 with the positives, questions and negatives for the season.
Today's close-up is on the offensive questions.
THE COACHING STAFF
I love the hire of Bruce Arians. He's clearly the most experienced head coach in NFL history due to the sad yet triumphant events in Indianapolis last year.
He's great with the players. Every person in the game of football loves his infectious passion. Doesn't matter if your name is Larry or you happen to be the 53rd player on the roster, no one is immune from Arians' biting criticism. He treats every player as an unfinished product. There's no way to know how a man will do in his first role as an NFL head coach. Logic dictates you get a question mark, but emotion looks at this as a positive.
This is the perfect spot for Carson Palmer. What isn't sure is if Carson Palmer is perfect for the Cardinals.
Palmer brings a level of professionalism, maturity, work ethic and durability that hasn't been seen in the quarterback room since Kurt Warner. Of course, Warner will be going into the Hall of Fame and Palmer will not.
Fitzgerald said Palmer is the first Cardinals' quarterback to spend the entire week in Minnesota with him at his passing camp. Palmer is a smart guy with a devotion to family and football. He'll talk to the media because he knows it's his job as the starting quarterback, but he doesn't need to from an ego standpoint. Credit is the lowest priority to him. Drama is a waste of time. Although he's had a very up and down career, every franchise he's worked for has surrounded him with either drama or divas, which doesn't fit who he is. The combination of Arians, assistant Tom Moore and Larry Fitzgerald could bring out a much more successful Palmer.
The only question about the number one receiver is if he's the number one in the league (I vote Calvin Johnson). The major question is the other receivers, namely Michael Floyd. Ever since Steve Breaston left, Ken Whisenhunt tried to explain the Cardinals had their number two receiver on the roster. Either he knows nothing about player personnel or he was covering for a general manager that refused to stock the position.
Floyd is the only receiver who can remotely take pressure off of Fitzgerald. Every other receiver on the roster struggles to reach number three status. The other receivers' only chance of success is against the lowest cornerbacks on the opposing roster. Floyd must keep building on the positive end to last season.
At the beginning of 2012, Floyd was above "bust" stage. By the end of the season, things seemed to click a little. There's normally a routine for a second-year player. They know where the dorms are. They know where to go after a meeting. They know the offense so the install is so much easier in camp. None of this will be that way for Floyd. New campsite, new offense, new coach so take away those advantages. The Cardinals won't surprise anyone if Floyd doesn't surprise.
Where do we begin?
Health of Lyle Sendlein and Levi Brown?
What is the production to be expected from Brown?
Did Bobby Massie struggle early because he was a rookie or because he struggles to learn a new offense?
Will Massie's vast improvement at the end of the year continue?
Is Jonathan Cooper equal to all that we've been sold as fans?
Was Daryn Colledge just a below-average player who is vastly overpaid (therefore his lack of production is not his fault), or is he a solid player who became complacent after signing a major contract? How will he handle changing positions?
Is Nate Potter a legitimate starter at the NFL level?
I can keep going.
The exciting news here is that the Cardinals won't be 32nd in rushing attempts anymore. There is no questioning the talents of the two main backs. Unfortunately, there are major questions for the men themselves. Rashard Mendenhall has only had two touchdown runs in his career longer than 10 yards, and they came before a torn ACL. Did last year show he's old and slow or just simply slow to recover?
Ryan Williams is a different question. He's electric. He's passionate. He's played five games in two years. In his career, he averages a half game played more per year than fumbles per year.
The Cardinals showed how little faith they have in him by drafting two running backs April. He's an enormous wild card. A successful 16-game season for Williams dramatically changes the chances for the Cardinals to be successful.
Play-action for Palmer becomes a weapon. Jeff King is a wonderful run-blocking tight end who can hurt you in the pass game on third and short, but he's worthless without an effective run game. Mendenhall could hurt you if he's only used in spurts due to a successful Williams. If not, Williams is a bust and there's no other label for a second round pick with so little production.
I'm not arguing with anyone who says Carson Palmer or the offensive line are the biggest questions entering the season. However, if Floyd and Williams have good seasons, all other questions about the offense will be answered.