Thursday, August 11, 2011
Three things: Cardinals-Raiders
By Mike Sando
Three things to watch for in the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET.
Kevin Kolb's protection: All eyes will focus on Kolb during his debut behind center for the Cardinals. That includes all eyes from the Raiders' defense. Arizona is breaking in new starters at both guard spots. Right tackle Brandon Keith is returning from knee surgery. Coordinating protection during the exhibition season, when game-planning is light, becomes nearly impossible if an opposing defense decides to unleash blitzes. Kolb will have a tough enough time with the basics after only one week with his new team. An impressive performance from him will qualify as a pleasant surprise under the circumstances. Advice to Kolb: Don't throw high for Larry Fitzgerald over the middle. Matt Leinart did so in the first exhibition game last year. Fitzgerald absorbed a shot to the legs, injuring his knee and affecting him early in the season.
The running backs: Beanie Wells suffered an injury during the 2010 exhibition season that eventually required surgery. He needs to get to the regular season healthy. Second-round draft choice Ryan Williams has nothing to lose at this point. He's a rookie. The pressure is on Wells. Playing later into the game against Oakland's backups could put Williams in better position to shine. The Cardinals will also be watching to see how their running backs handle their duties in pass protection. No one wants to get the new quarterback roughed up.
Young pass-rushers: As much as the Cardinals would love for safety Rashad Johnson to shine in Adrian Wilson's absence, the safety position isn't what threatens to hold back this defense the most. An inability to acquire and/or develop outside pass-rushers stands as easily the biggest issue for Arizona on defense. The Cardinals pursued a trade for Kamerion Wimbley before last season, but Arizona's concerns about his contract helped steer Wimbley to the Raiders. O'Brien Schofield and rookie Sam Acho are two young pass-rushing prospects to watch for Arizona.