Trying to figure out the depth chart in the offseason is always a sketchy thing, especially early on in the process. What happens in May can impact where the team is in September, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the lineup.
A quick story (and those of you who remember back to 2004, this may ring a bell): In Denny Green’s first offseason after taking over the Cardinals, he came in and made a host of changes right away, which you would expect, one being benching long-time left tackle L.J. Shelton and taking guard Leonard Davis (the same Davis who would later become a Pro Bowl guard in Dallas) and putting him at left tackle because, as Green put it, you can’t take a lineman No. 2 in the draft and pay him left tackle money to be a guard. So they made him a tackle.
That wasn’t unexpected. But at the end of OTAs that summer (in those days, minicamp was first, before OTAs, whereas now minicamp is the last part of the offseason), Green made a big deal about his depth chart. The Cardinals called an impromptu press conference on the final OTA day (most media would not have attended). First, Green called his team together and made a point of announcing his starting lineup heading into training camp — remember, the vets were about to disperse until then. He then did the same in front of the media.
Most spots were as expected. Two moves caught the attention at that point. One was the naming of Quentin Harris as free safety instead of Dexter Jackson. Jackson was coming off a six-interception year in his first season as a Card, but he had some back issues and more importantly, he and Green didn’t see eye to eye at all. Jackson was gone before the season started (and with all due respect to Q, now the team’s director of pro scouting, he was mostly a place-holder, starting the first three games that year before being benched for Ifeanyi Ohalete.) The other big deal at the time was Green naming Emmitt Smith the starting running back, a surprise to everyone (including Emmitt) after Marcel Shipp — now interning as a Cards’ coach — had run first-string the entire offseason until that point.
One move that didn’t bring any attention. Pete Kendall was named starting center.
That was a big deal six weeks later, when Kendall — who again, hadn’t been on the field since that day Green named him a starter — was cut on report day for training camp. Green said it was because the Cards needed a change; It was likely because Green thought Kendall had said something to the NFLPA about breaking rules in OTAs, which led to a league punishment. Whatever the reason, it was a drastic upheaval. (Alex Stepanovich was not Pete Kendall.)
Now, Bruce Arians is not Denny Green. I wouldn’t expect anything like the Kendall situation. But things are in flux. Jonathan Cooper is running second string right now. But yes, I expect him to be the first-string left guard sooner rather than later. Will it be by minicamp? By the start of training camp? By mid-preseason? We’ll see. Is Daryl Washington running second string as a message or because they want Karlos Dansby ready for those first four games? We’ll see. The same goes for other spots (like cornerback. Or outside linebacker). There is a long way to go before September rolls around and games count. One thing to keep in mind: Arians has reiterated a couple of times that he sees “starters” in all his different packages, offense and defense. It gives you a sense of how he views the depth chart.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Dennis Green, Dexter Jackson, Emmitt Smith, Jonathan Cooper, Karlos Dansby, L.J. Shelton, Leonard Davis, Marcel Shipp, Pete Kendall, Quentin Harris
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Once upon a time, Nate Potter was considered a possible first-round pick.
Sure, that was almost a year before he was drafted, long before his final college season was played and long before the scouts got a hold of him and broke him down every which way. But it’s not like he came out of nowhere when the Cardinals took him in the seventh round this past April. While it’s not news he is finally getting his chance to start, nine games into the season with one Levi Brown injury and one failed D’Anthony Batiste experiment setting up the situation, he was officially placed atop the depth chart Tuesday.
Former Cardinals left tackle L.J. Shelton was a guest on the Big Red Rage last week — L.J. was another of those great guys I covered on not-so-good teams of the early 2000s — when he was asked to what Potter’s biggest challenge was.
“The biggest challenge for him,” Shelton said, chuckling, “is John Abraham.”
Abraham is, of course, the Falcons’ top pass rusher.
“Just going against experienced, Pro Bowl players like that is a challenge,” Shelton added. “He has teammates and coaches that will put him in the right position and give him help. I’d advise him, on any short pass early on, cut him to slow him down, and from there on, just play football. Once you are out there and the ball is snapped and the helmets hit, it’s football again. Trust your instincts.”
Asked what he sees when he sees Potter and fellow rookie tackle Bobby Massie, Shelton said, “I see rookies.”
“I see promise — I do see promise — but I see rookies,” he said. “The biggest thing they need is experience. There are hundreds of different looks you see every Sunday, with different coordinators. As they get experience, they’ll start to recognize different looks. Right now, it’s a learning game for them.”
How this turns out is a guessing game right now. Finding solid tackles in the fourth- and seventh-round isn’t unheard of. To say that’s what these players can become is premature at best. I’ve had questions about whether Brown, for instance, could move to guard if Potter does well. Certainly — and I have said this in the comments before — that’s not a subject that can be reasonably discussed yet. Not with Potter just getting started, and not when the earliest you need to do something would be at minicamp in May, months — and both free agency and the draft — away.
Given the defenses the Cards and Potter are slated to face in the stretch run (Falcons, Rams, Jets, Seahawks, Lions, Bears, 49ers), there should be plenty with which to judge Potter’s future going into the offseason.
Tags: Bobby Massie, D'Anthony Batiste, L.J. Shelton, Levi Brown, Nate Potter
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