One of the biggest questions facing the Cardinals headed into training camp is at the cornerback position. One thing is certain, and that is Patrick Peterson will be the teams number one cornerback. After that, there are more questions than answers. So who should be the starting cornerback opposite of Peterson?
Last year, the Cardinals had a revolving door at the second cornerback position. William Gay was a bust of a free agent signing and struggled here for two years. Greg Toler also got some playing time at the number two spot, and showed flashes. However, Toler was inconsistent and struggled at times, and was often beat with the deep ball. The Cardinals also drafted Jamell Fleming last year in the third round hoping he would become a solid number two next to Peterson. However, Fleming struggled in the preseason and early in the regular season, and just never got going.
This year, the Cardinals experienced a lot of change at cornerback. Gay was released, Toler signed a three year 15 million dollar free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts, and Fleming’s roster spot is considered to be in jeopardy. The Cardinals also brought in many new faces to try to supply some depth at cornerback. The Cardinals signed veterans Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, and Bryan McCann, as well as trading for return specialist Javier Arenas. The Cardinals also drafted defensive back Tyrann Mathieu from LSU, and while Mathieu will see most of his time at safety, the Cardinals do have plans to use him as a slot cornerback as well. Justin Bethel, the Cardinals sixth round pick from last year, put on weight and will move from safety to cornerback as well.
Clearly the Cardinals have done a great job of building themselves depth at cornerback, but who in that group will be the other starter. Arenas and McCann were acquired primarily for their ability on special teams, and while I think they can contribute in nickel, dime, and even quarter packages, I don’t expect them to be in contention for a starting spot. Mathieu will spend a lot of time on the field on both special teams and defense. However, at 5’9”, I don’t think Mathieu has the size to play outside, so I suspect most of his time will come at safety, and covering the slot. So that leaves Powers and Cason. Cason is a local name, as he graduated from the University of Arizona. Cason was also a former high draft pick, and has had experience as a starter in San Diego. Also at 6’1” 195 lbs. Cason has great size to play against big receivers on the outside. However, Powers was signed to a three year deal this offseason and came from Indianapolis, where Bruce Arians was the interim head coach last year. But Powers is smaller and a little less proven than Cason.
This is going to be one of the most interesting things to watch in training camp. Hopefully one of these guys can have a great preseason and win the job for themselves. At this point and time though, I think Powers will end up being the number two corner for the Cardinals. I think his familiarity with Bruce Arians gives him a bit of an advantage. Just looking at the two head to head, if it was up to me I would start Cason because of his size and experience. Both of these guys should end up being major contributors for the Cardinals this season, no matter who ends up being the starter.