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DETROIT — Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson did not break his wrist in his team’s 35-23 loss to the Lions, and the team believes the injury is a “bad sprain,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. Johnson will undergo an MRI on Monday.

A source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Monday’s MRI will determine whether Johnson misses a “few weeks” or “half the season or more,” in a worst-case scenario.

Johnson appeared to have hurt his wrist after a 24-yard catch in the third quarter, but Arians said the injury happened when Johnson fumbled the ball on the only play of Arizona’s next drive. Johnson left the game and did not return.

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For most of Sunday’s game, the Cardinals looked like they were knocking the rust off. Add to that now fresh questions about David Johnson’s wrist.
“We’ll find out the severity of that,” Arians said after the game.

The results of Johnson’s X-rays came back negative, a source told ESPN, confirming a report by Pro Football Talk. Arians declined to confirm the report.

“I don’t know anything about X-rays yet,” he said.

Johnson struggled to get going all game. He finished with 23 rushing yards on 11 carries and six receptions for 68 yards, giving him 91 yards from scrimmage. He started the previous season with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in his first 15 games.

This is the second straight game in which Johnson suffered an injury. He left the season finale in January with a sprained MCL.

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The Arizona Cardinals must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 2. Here’s a final 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACK (3): Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert

Once Bruce Arians named Drew Stanton the backup last week, the rotation was set. It’s highly unlikely the Cardinals release Gabbert, which means they’ll be willing to carry three QBs on the 53. However, the question becomes whether or how often he’ll be active on game day.

RUNNING BACK (4): David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams, Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington

Whether to keep four or five running backs will be either the toughest or second-toughest decision the Cardinals make during cuts because of T.J. Logan. He’ll end up on injured reserve before the season as he continues to recover from a dislocated wrist, which could open the door for Ellington to make the roster. If the Cardinals choose to keep four with Logan, they’ll be thin at backup help for David Johnson.

WIDE RECEIVER (7): Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams, Britt Golden, Jeremy Ross.

The other tough decision for the Cardinals will be whether to keep six or seven receivers. Golden has been consistently good during camp but Ross is an asset on special teams that may make him too valuable to release.

TIGHT END (4): Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Ifeanyi Momah, Ricky Seals-Jones

There’s a chance the Cardinals could go with three tight ends but the injury history of Niklas makes it likely they keep four. Seals-Jones has shown progress during camp as a converted receiver, especially as a blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): A.Q. Shipley, Evan Boehm, Mike Iupati, D.J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, Cole Toner, John Wetzel, Dorian Johnson

Position flexibility will go a long way for the Cardinals this season and will be why Toner and Wetzel will be valuable pieces to the offensive line. Johnson is still a project but he’ll get reps during practice that could help bring him along. Don’t be surprised if Arizona ends up keeping nine offensive linemen, with rookie Will Holden as the final member of the room.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7): Rodney Gunter, Josh Mauro, Robert Nkemdiche, Corey Peters, Frostee Rucker, Olsen Pierre, Xavier Williams

This is a rotation the Cardinals like. Pierre was one of the players that had training camp buzzing this year. Williams has continued to grow into his own and develop as a solid rotational back-up. Keep an eye on Ed Stinson if the Cardinals go with eight defensive linemen, but his injury history had him on the outside looking in.

LINEBACKER (8): Deone Bucannon, Karlos Dansby, Haason Reddick, Josh Bynes, Scooby Wright, Markus Golden, Chandler Jones, Kareem Martin.
Arizona can get away with keeping three outside linebackers because of Reddick’s experience as a defensive end in college. Bynes impressed enough during camp in a short amount of time to make him a suitable option to back up the inside linebackers while Bucannon continues to get ready for the season. Wright is too good of a special-teamer for Arizona to let go.

SECONDARY (9): Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Brandon Williams, Tramon Williams, Budda Baker, Antoine Bethea, Tyvon Branch, Tyrann Mathieu, Rudy Ford.

Harlan Miller will end up being the odd man out of the secondary room this season as the Cardinals commit to Ford, a rookie draft pick.

SPECIALIST (3): Phil Dawson, Aaron Brewer, Richie Leone

Even though Matt Wile punted for the Cardinals last year, Leone could end up taking his job after a preseason of solid punting.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It seems like all the criticism the Arizona Cardinals receivers took during training camp has died down. The unit has gotten healthy and began playing more consistently toward the end of camp. Still, there are questions.

How does the WR group look after camp for the Cards? #cardsmailbag

— Nathan (@TheNathanKropp) August 25, 2017
Overall, I think this receiver group can be solid. It’ll have a lot of speed and good depth, and give quarterback Carson Palmer enough options to improve on last year’s offense.

Here’s what we know about the Cardinals’ wide receiver room: There are five spots secure out of six, maybe seven, potential openings.

It’s tough to argue that Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown, John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams won’t make the 53. That leaves six players vying for one, maybe two spots. But realistically the battle will be between Brittan Golden, Jeremy Ross and Aaron Dobson.
Aaron Dobson appears to be among six receivers vying for one or two spots on the Cardinals roster. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Two weeks ago, head coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will “probably” keep six. That gives him the flexibility to keep seven.

But what I think what this group of receivers will be missing is a clear-cut No. 2 option to Fitzgerald, like it had the last five years with Michael Floyd. What Floyd gave Arizona was a tall, big-bodied receiver who could work the sideline and take a big hit across the middle.

Floyd was 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. No other receiver on the current roster — aside from Fitzgerald and rookie Krishawn Hogan, who will likely end up on Arizona’s practice squad — fits that type of profile. Ross is 6-feet and 215. Dobson is 6-3 and 205 pounds. Jaron Brown is 6-2 and 205 pounds.

While I think the Cardinals can still be successful — quite successful, at that — with the current crop of receivers, I do also think they would benefit from adding a receiver the size of Floyd.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are three traits that Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians thinks every punt returner needs to have.

Good hands. The ability to stretch the field. Fearlessness.

It looks like Kerwynn Williams can check all three.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on trusting Kerwynn Williams as a return man: “He’s extremely competitive but he’s extremely reliable, too.” Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
Once rookie T.J. Logan went down with a fractured wrist during the Hall of Fame game two weeks ago, the Cardinals were on the hunt for a new return man for kickoffs and punts. They had two options. Find someone for each or find someone to do both.

“So many guys can’t do it because they can’t catch (punts),” Arians said. “And you have to be fearless. If you can just make one guy miss, that’s the key. Just make one guy miss, you’re going to make yards so if you can stretch the field, make one guy miss and you have those three things, it’s pretty much all there is to it.”

Arians knew if he gave Williams a chance, the fifth-year player would come through — just like Arians has seen before.

“Kerwynn’s one of those guys that if you just give him his opportunity, he does great with it every time,” Arians said. “And you’re kind of stupid if you don’t give him one. I’m sure he’ll do a great job with the punt return, kick return job right now.

“He’s extremely competitive but he’s extremely reliable, too.”

That could allow Williams to bring some consistency to the Cardinals’ return game. They’ve had 10 kick returners and six punt returners since Arians was hired in 2013. He thought the battle for the job was over in 2014, when the Cards drafted J.J. Nelson but he was injured in the second game of the season after muffing a punt against Chicago, all but ending his tenure as Arizona’s punt returner.

The carousel of returners has been frustrating, Arians said. It’s included running back David Johnson, who won’t be allowed to return another kick for as long as he lives; safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had his knee torn up the last time he returned a kick; cornerback Patrick Peterson, who’s ultimately too valuable to the franchise to be put out there as a sitting duck but is still in Arians’ back pocket as an option; and wide receiver John Brown, who wants to do it and was finding some success with 17 punt returns for 119 yards last season before health issues curtailed his performance.

 

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Finding a kick returner this time around was going to be the easier of the two. Kicks have a tendency to be more routine. They tend to come straight at the returner and take longer to get there. Fielding punts, on the other hand, is a hidden talent.

“It’s just a rare, rare knack to return punts,” Arians said.

There are more factors involved.

“Really, the timing,” Williams said. “You have more time to catch a kick because there’s no one inside your face. You’re catching a kick moving forward whereas a punt, you got to be stationary. You got to make sure you have a good feel for how long the ball’s in the air because that determines whether you get blown up by somebody.

“I feel like with punts, the biggest difference is you have to trust your teammates more on punts. You got to trust they’re going to keep the guys out of your face and you get a secure catch.”

Or as Nelson put it, a punt returner needs to pray.

“You’re praying that this guy on the outside got his block as well as you have eight or nine more guys in the box, praying that they got their block,” Nelson said. “With you looking up, hoping you catch the ball and hoping that the defender don’t run into you while you catch the ball. There’s a lot that goes into it.

“I feel like it’s one of the toughest jobs out there.”

And it’s Williams’ for now.

He’s not a complete novice at returning punts. He’s fielded punts before, during practice. He’s also spent time during offseasons working on his punt and kick returns to make sure his timing is right.

But there are aspects of returning punts that Williams won’t be able to prepare for.
It’s more of a judgment play than anything else, Nelson said. The wind could be a factor. There are various kicks — Aussie-style, spiral, end-over-end — and various ways to angle a punt. A punter might place it outside the hash marks or outside the numbers or on the sideline or over Williams’ head. Punts can come from different depths, whereas a kickoff is usually launched from the 25-yard-line.

However, Williams feels “pretty comfortable” doing it. In his debut as the Cardinals primary returner in Saturday’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Williams returned a punt for 13 yards and a kickoff for 35. If he can average those types of numbers during the regular season, Arians feels Williams could lead the NFL next season.

“I thought he was very decisive, took it north,” Arians said. “Just continue doing what he’s doing.”

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last time cornerback Tramon Williams was a free agent, he was coming off eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who had averaged 11 wins per season and had won Super Bowl XLV.

In the Cleveland Browns, he saw a franchise that, on the surface, was building toward winning. The Browns had just finished 7-9 in 2014 under first year coach Mike Pettine. It looked like the right fit for Williams, who signed a three-year contract worth $21 million with the Browns.

But over the next two seasons, Williams won only four games.

“I actually thought those guys were on the right direction,” Williams said. “They had just come off a good year and then once I signed, they started going in another direction right away. You got to live and learn. That’s all it is. Experience.”
Tramon Williams and the Browns won just one game last season. Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire
So after his release in February, Williams wanted his next team to be, well, built to win.

The 34-year-old versatile defensive back feels rejuvenated with the Arizona Cardinals, who have averaged 10.25 wins since 2013. He knows he won’t be winning just one game next season like the Browns did last season.

“It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” Williams said. “I’ve won a Super Bowl and we won one game last year, and we played our heart out to win that game. And I feel that’s my second best game winning in my career.

“And I won a Super Bowl, so that tells you how it was.”

When Williams was evaluating potential destinations, he saw the opportunity to compete for and potentially win the right cornerback job. He also looked at how former Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper turned his performance last season, when he had four interceptions and was a Pro Bowl alternate after being traded for in September and not starting the first two games, into a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears worth a reported $16 million.

 

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Williams said he studies other cornerbacks around the league, focusing in on the ones who are playing well. He wants to know what defenses they’re playing in and how their skills fit the scheme. Cooper was one of the corners Williams studied last season.
When Williams had the opportunity to sign with Arizona, he saw the same defense he played in with the Browns just with different terminology. Williams was confident he’ll have the defense down by Week 1, should he make the 53-man roster.

Should Williams make the team, he knows what it’ll be like playing alongside a star cornerback and the effect that causes. He played with Charles Woodson and Al Harris in Green Bay and Joe Haden in Cleveland. Williams knows he’ll be tested if he’s on the field.

And while Williams is aware nothing in the NFL is guaranteed, he’s comfortable with his decision to sign with the Cardinals last week.

“I can truthfully live with it because I know these guys try to win,” Williams said. “And if we don’t, I can live with it.”

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The Arizona Cardinals could have as many as five new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:

Offense

Quarterback (Carson Palmer): As long as he’s healthy, Palmer will be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in four of the past five seasons, and another such season will be expected if he can stay upright in 2017. This might be his last chance to win an elusive Super Bowl trophy.

Running back (David Johnson): In his second season, Johnson proved himself to be one of the best players in the NFL — not just one of the best running backs. He had more than 100 all-purpose yards in his first 15 games last season, setting an NFL record. He finished with 1,239 rushing and 879 receiving yards — 121 short of becoming the third running back in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

Wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald): The older Fitzgerald gets, the better he is. He led the NFL with 107 receptions last season and had his second straight 1,000-yard campaign. The question that will linger for Fitzgerald this season is whether it’s his last.

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Tight end (Jermaine Gresham): Gresham returned to the Cardinals after signing a four-year deal in March. He has become part of the heart and soul of the offense after displaying raw emotion throughout the past season, though at times it was detrimental when he drew penalties for his outbursts. Another season with Palmer, his former teammate in Cincinnati, might mean more action for Gresham in the passing game.

Right tackle (Jared Veldheer): After an entire career at left tackle — dating to his junior year of high school — Veldheer is moving to right tackle. Well, that’s the plan at least. He transitioned to the other side of the line during OTAs and minicamp, but his biggest test will come during training camp, when contact with defenders is allowed. Veldheer is coming off a torn triceps.

Right guard (Evan Boehm): It took Boehm one season to prove to head coach Bruce Arians that he’s capable of being a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. Arians installed Boehm as the starting right guard after last season, and it’ll be his job to lose during camp, with a handful of competitors pushing him.

Center (A.Q. Shipley): Shipley will be enjoying his first season starting at center with a two-year contract after he secured his status as the starter last season.

Left guard (Mike Iupati): One of two offensive linemen returning to play the same position he played last season, Iupati has been consistent for the Cards since he came over from the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.

Left tackle (D.J. Humphries): Humphries is the other half of the Veldheer switch, moving back to his natural position. He played on the left side for three games last season after Veldheer was hurt but finished the season on injured reserve because of a concussion.

Tight end (Troy Niklas): On IR for the final 13 games last season, Niklas has plenty to prove this year. He impressed enough during OTAs and minicamp, so it’s likely that he’ll be part of the offensive plans as long as he’s healthy. But with Niklas, that’s a big if.

Wide receiver (John Brown): Coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2015, Brown struggled last season, as health issues plagued him on and off the field. He was diagnosed as a carrier of the Sickle Cell trait in October and revealed in May that he had a cyst on his spine drained after the season. By all accounts, Brown is looking more like the receiver he was two years ago than the one from 2016.
The Cardinals have been impressed with Haason Reddick’s transition to inside linebacker this offseason. AP Photo/Angie Wang
Defense

Outside linebacker (Chandler Jones): He got a new deal, and now Jones has to prove that he is worth it. He signed a five-year contract in March that’s worth $82.5 million. That’s a ton of money, but Jones has had double-digit sacks the past two seasons, and he told ESPN last year that with another season in the Cardinals’ scheme, he’ll get even better.

Defensive tackle (Frostee Rucker): Mr. Steady. Rucker played through a lingering ankle injury last season but is healthy and recovered. Although he has been an influential presence in the Cards’ locker room during his time in Arizona, he’ll have to step up his game on the field and in the locker room with the departure of Calais Campbell in free agency.

Defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche): After a disappointing rookie season in which the first-round pick played in just five games, the expectations are great entering his second season. With Campbell gone, the Cardinals need him to secure a starting role and be productive in 2017.

Defensive tackle (Corey Peters): Peters has become a key cog in the Cardinals’ defensive pressure up front. That should continue this season, as his role becomes more important with Jones’ continued success and Markus Golden’s breakout season a year ago.

Outside linebacker (Markus Golden): Speaking of Golden, he had a team-high 12.5 sacks a year ago, his second season in the NFL. This season, sacks might be harder to come by as offensive lines, which focused on Jones last season, focus their game plans on Golden. But he has shown that he can adapt and learn, and he should produce another double-digit-sack season.

Inside linebacker (Haason Reddick): Arizona’s first-round pick this year found himself practicing with the first-team defense during OTAs and minicamp after inside linebacker Deone Bucannon had ankle surgery. The starting job will be Reddick’s to lose during training camp, and thus far, the Cardinals have been impressed with his transition from hand-in-the-dirt edge rusher to standing up at inside linebacker.

Inside linebacker (Karlos Dansby): He’s back for a third stint with the Cards, but with him 35 years old, the biggest question surrounding Dansby will be how much he can contribute. He started seven games last season and played in all 16. His presence in the locker room and as a mentor to Reddick will be invaluable.

Cornerback (Patrick Peterson): Simply put, no quarterback wants to throw Peterson’s way anymore. He averaged a league-high 8.5 coverage snaps per target last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Each year, it seems, Peterson turns in performances worthy of being in the conversation for the NFL’s defensive player of the year, but because he doesn’t have sexy statistics, he tends to not be part of it.

Safety (Tyrann Mathieu): This might be Mathieu’s most important season in the NFL. He finished last season on injured reserve — the third time in four years that his season concluded with an injury. There’s no doubting Mathieu’s talent, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season. He practiced without a knee brace toward the end of offseason workouts, a sign that the Honey Badger of old is back.

Safety (Tyvon Branch): Another defensive back who suffered an injury last season, Branch was able to come back from groin surgery, albeit briefly. He finished the season on IR.
Cornerback (Justin Bethel): Bethel will be part of the most hotly contested position battle in training camp, against Brandon Williams at cornerback opposite Peterson. After looking strong in OTAs and minicamp, Bethel has shown that his experience might be enough to get him the starting job, but there isn’t a clear favorite because contact isn’t allowed during offseason practices, and the Cardinals are a press-man team.

Specialists

Kicker (Phil Dawson): Forget his age. Dawson was the most important offseason acquisition for this franchise. His foot could win the Cardinals close games, which last season’s kicker couldn’t do.

Punter (Richie Leone): This position is a toss-up. Leone is a bit bigger than Matt Wile, who punted for the Cardinals last season. Leone is also a convert from the CFL, which might make for some interesting stories.

Long snapper (Aaron Brewer): Unless the Cardinals bring in another long snapper to compete with him during training camp, the job is Brewer’s.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the past five months, as the debates about who will be in the Arizona Cardinals’ rotation at right cornerback raged on, one name was often left out.

Until Friday.

Anytime the right cornerback battle was discussed, Ronald Zamort was rarely, if ever mentioned. That’s not hyperbole. On paper, it’s been a two-man race between Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. But when Zamort took the field at right cornerback with the first-team defense Friday as an injured Bethel watched from the sideline, the conversation about right cornerback quickly changed.

The undrafted Zamort had scaled the depth chart, leaping Williams in the process.

“[Read] whatever you want to read into it,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s playing with the first team instead of Brandon.”

To some degree, Zamort’s appearance with the first team shouldn’t be a surprise.
Cornerback Ronald Zamort, who made a play to make the team as an undrafted free agent last season, is having “a great camp,” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. Matt York/AP
Arians said a decision whether to keep Zamort on the 53-man roster last year “went right to the wire.” Zamort was released during final cuts and returned home to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he attended Western Michigan University. The former criminal justice major got a job as a counselor at a local detention center and spent the next three months working with kids until the Cardinals called again on Dec. 20, signing him to their practice squad for the rest of the season. He was then signed to a futures contract on Jan. 3.

That led him to taking first-team reps Friday.

“It means a lot,” Zamort said. “It’s a humbling experience just to be out there competing day in and day out.”

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Zamort’s ascent has been due in part to simple improvement.

“Ronnie’s having a hell of a camp,” Arians said. “He had a good camp last year, went right to the wire. He’s better outside. He was more of a nickel last year. But he’s really worked himself into the outside rotation and is really solid. He’s having a great camp.”

Zamort said he left Arizona last year with improved technique, a better knowledge of how to play against bigger receivers and more confidence.

“I put myself in better positions and learned the defense,” Zamort said.

 

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When Zamort returned to the desert last December, he was a better man from his experience at the detention center. He listened to their stories, which often included adversity. And they listened to his. He could tell his presence “was a blessing to them.”

“It was very humbling,” he said. “It was a great experience, just to go out there and see how kids react, see if I could drop a positive value in their life.”

As the 25-year-old Zamort continues to prepare for first-team reps as long as Bethel is out with a hyperextended knee, he’s not paying attention to the battle at right cornerback that he’s crashed.

That shouldn’t be surprising. He didn’t even know he wasn’t part of the conversation.

“I ain’t even know y’all were talking, honestly,” he said.

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Joe Thomas will take part in an NFL version of “Celebrity Family Feud” on Sunday night.

Expectations of “good answer” shouts might best be kept to a minimum.

Thomas will join four other current NFL players against a team of NFL legends for a Family Feud that will benefit charity. The hour-long show on ABC starts at 8, and was put together by the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA All-Stars team includes Thomas, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Five Hall of Famers will play for the NFL Legends team: Marshall Faulk, Andre Reed, Anthony Munoz, Derrick Brooks and Rod Woodson.

The “Feud” involves contestants trying to choose the answer picked most by a crowd of 100 before the show. Traditionally, players yell “good answer” and applaud their teammates’ choices — unless the answer is a dud. Those answers draw blank stares.

The pressure will be on Thomas to avoid that stare from host Steve Harvey.

The present-day players will donate their winnings to the Professional Athletes Foundation, which helps retired players transition after retirement. The legends will play for Active Minds, which raises mental-health awareness among college students.

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Robert Nkemdiche had a season to forget in 2016.

The Cardinals selected the defensive lineman out of Ole Miss with the 29th overall pick, but Nkemdiche only saw the field in five games and registered just three tackles on the entire season. The one headline the rookie made was when his coach Bruce Arians called him out for a lack of “maturity.”

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One year later, Nkemdiche is back at the Cardinals’ facility, looking to right whatever wrongs derailed his first season as a professional athlete.

“It’s staying on the path of what I am doing, staying focused, trying to be as pinpoint perfect, not being on the [mental error] sheet and not making minute mistakes,” Nkemdiche said to the team’s website of his mentality entering 2017. “Keep working hard, take it day by day.”

According to those immediately surrounding Nkemdiche, the end has come into organized team activities with a different attitude toward the game.

Veteran defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said of the second-year pro, “He’s changed. For the good. He’s changed.

“I’m very proud of him. I’m not going to tell him to his face yet, but toward the end of training camp, I’ll probably tell him. Because I know he’s trying to become a dominant player. He’s trying to step up and make his name and make a role for himself, and that’s all you can ask of him.”
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Nkemdiche’s defensive line coach, Brenston Buckner, was equally optimistic, but cautioned that attitude improvements in May don’t automatically translate to the regular season.

“People want football to be microwavable, Buckner explained. “Football is not microwavable, especially on the defensive line.”

The coach continued: “I told him, ‘Robert, you don’t have to be anything but the best Robert Nkemdiche you can be, and I’m cool with that. If you give me 100 percent of Robert Nkemdiche — not what people expect you to be — give me what you can give me, your honest 100 percent, I’m going to be cool.'”

Arizona’s players and staff can be patient with Nkemdiche now, as we’re in the pigskin doldrums of May. But come September, the Cardinals will be relying on the lineman to fill some massive shoes, literally. The hole left by Calais Campbell on the Cardinals’ three-man defensive line is notable and one that Nkemdiche, as a former first-rounder, is expected to occupy.

If Nkemdiche fails to get his game or his work ethic right by the season’s dawn, then the Cardinals will have to reckon with yet another failed first-round selection. But all indications are, as of now, that the end will get a fresh start in 2017.

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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, and organized team activities and minicamps in full swing, here’s a starting lineup projection for the Arizona Cardinals:

OFFENSE (ONE RB, TWO TEs, TWO WRs)

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QB: Carson Palmer: Despite his age (37), Palmer is still one of the few no-brainers on the roster because he hasn’t dropped off in production.

RB: David Johnson: Who else would the Cardinals start above one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position?

TE: Jermaine Gresham: He re-signed with Arizona over the offseason and brings a mix of athleticism and passion to the field.

LT: D.J. Humphries: The plan is for Humphries to play left tackle, his natural position, for the first time as a professional.

LG: Mike Iupati: One of the toughest players on the roster, Iupati continues to be one of the best run-blockers in the league.

C: A.Q. Shipley: Rewarded with a multiyear contract, Shipley has established himself as a firm starter in the Cardinals’ offense.

RG: Evan Boehm: Drafted in 2016 as a possible replacement for Shipley, Boehm moved to guard late in the season and flourished.

RT: Jared Veldheer: Veldheer may be under the brightest spotlight this offseason as he moves from left tackle to right tackle for the first time in years.

TE: Troy Niklas: Niklas is penciled in as the starter for now, but injuries have set his progress back, which could put him in jeopardy of losing this spot.

WR: Larry Fitzgerald: Will this be Fitzgerald’s last year? He’s hinted at it, but the future Hall of Famer keeps putting up 1,000-yard seasons into his early 30s and he led the NFL in receptions last season.

WR: John Brown: Brown’s performance will be dictated by how well he’s handling his health issues stemming from being diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle-cell trait.

DEFENSE (3-4-4)

OLB: Chandler Jones: Now that he has a long-term mega-deal, Jones has to live up to the expectations that accompany it, but he said another year in the Cardinals’ defense will mean more opportunities for him to get to the quarterback.

DT: Frostee Rucker: Rucker has established himself as a foundation of the locker room and defensive line, and he will be relied on even more this year with the departure of Calais Campbell.

DT: Corey Peters: A steady veteran, Peters is expected to see more snaps now that the defensive line room has shrunk a bit.

DT: Robert Nkemdiche: The hopes are that Nkemdiche can build on an underperforming rookie season and be the first-round talent the Cardinals hoped he’d be.

OLB: Markus Golden: There’s some pressure on Golden to repeat or better his 12.5-sack performance from 2016, but he’s continued to improve each season.

ILB: Karlos Dansby: Dansby will make his third stint with the Cardinals, but at 35 how much does he have left to be an everyday starter?

ILB: Deone Bucannon: Like the linebackers before him who worked alongside Dansby, Bucannon will be given an opportunity to be mentored by an experienced veteran.

CB: Patrick Peterson: He wasn’t talked about much as the Defensive Player of the Year last season because quarterbacks stayed away from him, which likely will happen even more this year.

FS: Tyrann Mathieu: This could be a make-or-break season for Mathieu, who’s returning from another serious injury (shoulder). But if Mathieu can regain his Honey Badger form, everybody will forget about his recent run of ailments.
SS: Tyvon Branch: Injured for most of last year, Branch brings a steady and veteran hand to a Cardinals secondary that added young faces through the draft.

CB: Rudy Ford: There’s no clear-cut starter at cornerback, but the rookie Ford has the most experience at the position among the Cardinals’ other defensive backs. It could put him in a position to beat out both Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams .

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Phil Dawson: He was signed to make field goals, and that’s just what Phil Dawson does.

P: Matt Wile: The job is his for now, but he could face competition in camp.

KR: T.J. Logan: He’s a proven kick returner who was drafted for his speed.

PR: T.J. Logan: He’s not a proven punt returner but said he’ll spend the offseason learning how to field punts.