- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer
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NFL Nation's Josh Weinfuss examines the three biggest issues facing the Arizona Cardinals heading into training camp.
Replacing Washington: Losing Daryl Washington to at least a yearlong suspension before training camp was the only positive that came out of the ordeal. It gave the Cardinals time to process the loss and figure out how to replace him. But that’s easier said than done. One starter is locked in: Kevin Minter. The other? Well, that’s up in the air and might take all seven weeks of training camp and preseason to determine. Arizona’s options aren’t just thin, they’re older as well, meaning the Cardinals don’t have another three-down linebacker who can seamlessly replace Washington. The battle next to Minter will begin with Larry Foote, Ernie Sims and Lorenzo Alexander. Foote, coach Bruce Arians said, can play as many as two downs. Sims didn’t impress during offseason work. And Alexander is still recovering from a Lisfranc injury. Don’t be surprised if the starter at inside linebacker for “Monday Night Football” in Week 1 isn’t running conditioning sprints on the first day of camp. Arizona doesn’t want just another body at inside linebacker –- although that’s what they might have to settle for -– they want to replace Washington’s speed, size and agility. And that likely won't might not happen.
Right tackle: Arizona thought it would end organized team activities and minicamp with a better idea -– if not a clear-cut idea -– of their starting right tackle. All that was determined? If combined, Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell would be the team’s ideal tackle. Individually, however, neither blew coaches away. Both still will have a chance to win the job during training camp, although, like at inside linebacker, the starting right tackle might not be on the roster. Massie has an advantage in size and experience, having started at right tackle for the entire 2012 season. He was replaced last year by Eric Winston, who the Cardinals haven’t re-signed but is being considered for the job. Massie’s ability to retain the playbook has come into question throughout his stay in Arizona and was again at the forefront of the conversation during the offseason. Sowell has experience on both sides of the line, but more so as a left tackle, where he started for the final 12 games last season. His fundamentals were lacking at times throughout the offseason. It won’t be surprising if neither Massie nor Sowell start the season at right tackle.
Avoid a plateau: Around Week 8 last season, the proverbial light bulb went on for almost everyone in the Cardinals' locker room. It seemed like overnight, Arizona went from a confused offense that wasn’t progressing to a unit that begin firing on all cylinders for the final half of the season. It led the Cardinals to a 6-2 finish and a 10-6 overall record while missing a playoff bid in the final weekend of the season. In order to return to double-digit wins, Arizona needs to continue to build offensively. The Cardinals need to avoid a plateau and continue evolving offensively, especially with new pieces such as Ted Ginn, John Brown, John Carlson and Troy Niklas having large roles and returning running back Andre Ellington inheriting Arizona’s starting running back job after Rashard Mendenhall retired. Arians is an offensive genius, but with every season comes new players, which means there’ll always be a span of practice that’s dedicated to learning the offense in detail. Arizona just can’t let that stretch into the regular season. Any kinks need to be ironed out during camp, and the Cardinals need to finish training camp ready to roll.