American Football

Fringy young Cards to keep an eye on during training camp

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Can UDFA Jacob Slade force his way into the D-line rotation with a strong camp? | Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With training camp underway, let’s take a look at some young players on the fringe of the roster who could be the next camp/preseason hero a la Greg Dortch and Dennis Gardeck?

It’s been a slow few months since the draft for the Cardinals, but training camp is finally here! Sure everyone is in shorts, but it’s still football. The Ossenfort/Gannon era of Cardinals football is officially underway.

This week, Walt has been doing a great job taking a look at potential camp standouts on both sides of the ball. I thought I’d offer my own $0.02 and focus on some young players on the fringe of the roster. I’m talking guys who have two years of experience or less, weren’t recent draft picks of consequence, and don’t have much, if any, starting experience. Can any of these guys stand out from the rest and become a training camp/preseason hero?

Let’s start with the offense and one of the biggest areas of need on the team.

Marquis Hayes/Hayden Howerton/Lecitus Smith (Interior OL)

Interior OL might be the most unsettled position on the entire roster, so guys like Hayes, Howerton, and Smith might have a real shot to make a name for themselves in training camp. You figure Will Hernandez will man one of the starting guard spots, but the other guard spot and center gig could be up for grabs.

This trio would have to leapfrog the likes of Elijah Wilkinson, Hjalte Froholdt, Jon Gaines II, and recent pickup Pat Elflein, but those aren’t the most imposing names in the world. (Paris Johnson could also figure in at guard, but I think he’s too valuable at tackle to even start the season at guard.) Hayes is back from a lost rookie season, Howerton was claimed off waivers from the Patriots, and Smith is still trying to find his way in the NFL after being a late draft pick a couple years ago by the previous regime. All still have enough talent/potential to make an impact at a thin position.

Noah Togiai/Blake Whiteheart (TE)

We still don’t know quite what to expect from OC Drew Petzing’s new offense, but one thing we’ve been hearing consistently is that it will feature plenty of 2TE sets. That’s probably smart given that our top two TEs, Zach Ertz and Trey McBride, make it one of the stronger units on the team.

It’s also great news for guys further down the depth chart, including the likes of the recently signed Geoff Swaim. But names like Togiai (brought in by the new coaching staff from Philadelphia) and UDFA Whiteheart (12.3 YPC and 6 TDs his final two years at Wake Forest) are more intriguing to me. Ertz is almost a sure bet to miss time this season, so maybe one of these two can step up and earn some playing time in that scenario. If you want to throw names like Bernhard Seikovits and Joel Honigford in this category, go ahead, but they’re even fringier and seem more like blockers/special teamers to me.

Emari Demercado (RB)

There aren’t really any notable RBs besides starter James Conner on the roster. Keaontay Ingram did next to nothing as a rookie (2.2 YPC), Corey Clement is a journeyman receiving back, and Ty’Son Williams spent most of last season on the practice squad.

It’s a perfect opportunity for a UDFA like Demercado to make a splash. He was an effective part of the TCU rushing attack (1,000+ yards and 10 TDs his final two seasons) and was a factor in the passing game as well (40 career receptions). Given that teams are always on the lookout for cheap RB production, Demercado could be just what the team is looking for behind Conner.

Eric Banks/Jacob Slade/ Ben Stille (DL)

Like the O-line, the D-line is in major need of reinforcements. We have plenty of bodies, but none of them seem likely to give us anything but league-average performance at best this season. Just look at the names: Rashard Lawrence, Leki Fotu, Jonathan Ledbetter, Carlos Watkins, Kevin Strong, L.J. Collier, Dante Stills. (I’d have put stills in this group but he was a draft pick this year and seems pretty likely to make the roster. And I view Zaven Collins, Myjai Sanders, and Cameron Thomas as more EDGE players, not true D-linemen.)

So there’s room for former UDFAs like Banks and Stille and a member of this year’s UDFA class like Slade to move up the depth chart with a strong camp. Banks and Stille have both had a cup of coffee in the NFL, while Slade was a productive college starter at a major program (Michigan State). This position desperately needs someone to step up. Maybe one of these guys answers the bell.

Kendell Brooks/ Dylan Mabin/Kyler McMichael/Quavian White (DB)

The Cardinals are pretty set at safety with plenty of bodies behind top-tier starters Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, so it’ll be tough for Brooks to crack the rotation, but he played with Slade at Michigan State and was a very productive starter last season (100 tackles plus 3 PDs/FFs). At the very least he could be a special teams contributor and Budda insurance in case he and the team part ways after the season.

The cornerback room is much more unsettled, with only Marco Wilson a sure thing. Rashad Fenton and Antonio Hamilton are both experienced but might not be CB2 material. And then there’s Isaiah Simmons…. who knows what you will get from him or if he’ll even stick at CB. There are plenty of other names behind them (Kris Boyd, Kel’Trel Clark, Nate Hairston, Bobby Price) but waivers veterans Mabin and McMichael and UDFA White will get their shot. And, hey, at least we’ll have one Kyler on the field during training camp!

Final Thoughts

Many, if not most, of these guys won’t make the regular season roster. A few will probably get cut sooner rather than later. Some probably won’t even make the practice squad. That’s just life for players on the fringe of NFL rosters.

But teams have training camp and preseason heroes every year. Greg Dortch and Dennis Gardeck were both such players once, and now they’ll likely be key contributors on this year’s team. It might be a longshot for one of the players listed here to make an impact this year, but they could always be the next Dortch or Gardeck in a year or two. And teams can always use players like that.

Who do you see as the next training camp/preseason heroes, RotBers? Do you see any of them developing into steady NFL contributors this year or next? Let us know in the comments.

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