ARLINGTON, Texas – If you’ve ever seen the movie “Jaws,” you know what it feels like to hear the words “Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water …”
Sorry, but Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford and his surgically-repaired left knee want to get wet Sunday night when Arizona meets the Cowboys here at AT&T Stadium. Bradford knows full well he has to test his knee at some point, and the Cardinals’ third game of the preseason schedule is the perfect place to dive in and do it.
If he gets bit, so be it. Bradford is brave enough to wade through the waters and see how he and his knee respond to a fuller plate of action in what amounts to the Cardinals’ final dress rehearsal before the team opens the regular season Sept. 9 against the Redskins.
“I think anytime you can get out there and just feel the speed of the game,” Bradford said, asked about the importance of this particular game. “It’s just hard to really simulate the game speed in practice. After having the injury last year and not playing a ton of football, just feeling bodies in the pocket, feeling people around my legs and being able to move around, that’s really what I’m looking to get out of it and just get comfortable with that feeling.”
It’s got to happen at some point, doesn’t it?
Greg Moore and Bob McManaman make predictions for the Cardinals’ third preseason game.
Diana Payan, The Republic | azcentral.com
Through the Cardinals’ first two preseason games, Bradford has yet to really take a hit at all. No defender has come anywhere near his legs or his unsteady knee, which has undergone two ACL surgeries and also a complicated follow-up operation this past season while he was still a member of the Vikings.
As quick as he’s been getting rid of the football thus far, relying on a power running game behind David Johnson and using smart, three-to-five-step drops to utilize play-action calls, Bradford knows there are going to be times when he is literally hung out to dry. He’s going to eventually take a hit, probably a hard one, too.
“Then let’s protect him. Let’s keep people off his knees and from around his legs,” coach Steve Wilks said. “That’s what I want to be able to see. But when it happens, he has got be ready for it and I think he’s gotten enough of that really in the first couple of preseason games. Hopefully again, we can do a great job of protecting him Sunday night.”
Keeping Bradford healthy is a major goal, but it’s not the only goal on the Cardinals’ agenda. Wilks and his coaching staff have several areas where they still need to see improvement and separation:
*The rotation of wide receivers slogging it out for starting spots and final positions on the depth chart, where youngsters Christian Kirk and Chad Williams so far have the upper hand on veterans such as Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson and Greg Little, not to mention a handful of undrafted rookie free agents.
*The starting No. 2 cornerback job, which has become a competition between Jamar Taylor and Bene Benwikere and may end up turning into a rotational situation.
*The starting gig opposite defensive end Chandler Jones, which currently is being primarily waged between Benson Mayowa and Vontarrius Dora. The two are vying for temporary first-team status until Markus Golden can return from his knee injury.
*There is even competition with the kicking duties, where incumbent Phil Dawson is trying to hold off a challenge from upstart rookie Matt McCrane.
Anything can happen based off of this game. It’s not necessarily the same elsewhere, however, where many NFL teams have decided there is simply too much to risk by playing their starters too long in the third game of the preseason. Take the Cowboys, for instance, who have decided it doesn’t make sense to play starting quarterback Dak Prescott or stud running back Ezekiel Elliott at all against the Cardinals because of injuries up front along the Dallas offensive line.
Wilks said he understands the growing theory that seems to be spreading across the league, but for him and the Cardinals, it doesn’t really hold water.
“I think it’s really based off each team,” Wilks said, “but when you look at myself being a first-year head coach with a first-year staff and players still trying to get to know the coaches, that kind of thing, I think you have to stick to what I consider the normal routine.
“You’ll get some teams like the Cowboys, who have already stated that Dak is not playing, Elliott is not playing, but those guys have been playing together for a while now. That’s different. But we feel we still need to get our timing down, we’ve still got to be able to communicate and play with one another so that’s important to me.”
Equally as important is getting first-team reps for rookie quarterback Josh Rosen behind Bradford, although that remains up in the air as the first-round pick is still nursing a sore right thumb on his right passing hand. Rosen hurt it when he slammed it against a helmet the other day in practice, although he seemed to be throwing the ball well on Friday.
Rosen, however, remains a game-time decision, Wilks said, adding that Mike Glennon and rookie Charles Kanoff will pick up the playing time behind Bradford, if necessary.
“We’re going to try and split it with both of those guys and try to give them equal reps,” Wilks said. “Mike will be the first guy that comes in, of course, and with him missing last week (with a sore forearm), we really want to see how he performs. He’s had a great week of practice, so I’m excited about that.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.