Time is running out on the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff. The squad will open up the 2023 campaign in five weeks, and there are several starting positions in the Redbirds lineup that are still unresolved. Change is running rampant in the desert, so it's not surprising that Jonathan Gannon and his assistants are still evaluating the squad they've been handed.
What's particularly alarming about the situation is that three of those unsettled spots are on the Cards offensive line. At the moment, only left tackle D.J. Humphries and right guard Will Hernandez are guaranteed starters. There's an ongoing competition at center, left guard and right tackle that is quite intriguing to say the least.
For several months this offseason, the prevailing thought was that free-agent addition Hjalte Froholdt would be anchoring Arizona's blocking unit. Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing was familiar with the 26-year-old from the two seasons (2021-22) they spent together with the Cleveland Browns. However, the Cardinals did bring in an experienced center last week who is talented enough to overtake Froholdt for the starting gig.
Pat Elflein, a 29-year-old veteran, has logged 64 NFL starts in stints with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. By comparison, the 6 foot 5, 310 pound Froholdt has been in the starting lineup just six times since he entered the league back in 2019. It would be somewhat surprising if Elflein doesn't come out on top of his battle with the inexperienced Denmark native.
The Arizona Cardinals have a trio of tough decisions to make regarding the offensive line in the coming weeks
The situation at left guard is a bit more disconcerting for "Big Red". At the moment, journeyman like Elijah Wilkinson and Dennis Daley appear to be vying for the job. There was even speculation that first-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. could fill the vacancy.
It just so happens that there are a couple of candidates on the free-agent market who would be outstanding at the position for the Cards. Surprisingly, top-notch guards like Andrew Norwell (127 career starts) and Dalton Risner (62 starts) are still searching for employment. Both players would be a huge upgrade over uninspiring options like Wilkinson and Daley.
When Kelvin Beachum inked a two-year contract-extension this past spring, the general consensus was that the 34-year-old would once again be Arizona's first-string right tackle. After all, the 6 foot 3, 308 pounder has logged 48 starts at the post since he arrived in the desert back in 2020. While no one would argue with what Beachum brings to the table, the squad's sixth-overall selection from this past April's draft could be even better than advertised.
Simply put, the 22-year-old Johnson may be too good to be a backup. Beachum's accomplishments with the Cardinals are highly-appreciated, but it would be silly to impede the progress of a highly-touted youngster like Johnson. In fact, the rookie's emergence could ultimately make the well-liked Beachum a candidate for a trade.
All of these questions will have to be answered before the season gets underway on September 10th. Tough decisions need to be made, and it's imperative that those in the know get them right. The success of the Cards offensive line will certainly depend on it.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)