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Arizona Cardinals 2017 training camp preview, projected team depth chart

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The Sports Xchange
Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim (L) and head coach Bruce Arians talk before the Cardinals-Los Angeles Rams game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, October 2, 2016. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI
Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim (L) and head coach Bruce Arians talk before the Cardinals-Los Angeles Rams game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, October 2, 2016. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals begin workouts upon their official start of training camp, the first questions to head coach Bruce Arians aren't going to be about the health of his team, position battles, the rise of David Johnson or what went wrong a year ago.

What everyone will want to know is whether the 2017 season might be the last for not only the 64-year-old Arians, but also the final year in the careers of quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Palmer turns 38 in December while Fitzgerald turns 34 in August.

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And if it is the final go-round for all three, does that mean the Cardinals' window of opportunity to get back to the playoffs and make a possible Super Bowl appearance is about to slam shut after this season?

A new head coach likely means wholesale changes to just about everything. And since there is no young protege to learn and study under Palmer at quarterback, it could also mean there is no "quarterback whisperer" to teach him. It also means the best and most popular player in the history of the organization might not be around either to help soften the losses of the other two.

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It's the most pressing issue entering Cardinals' camp and until or unless Arians, Palmer and Fitzgerald make their intentions fully known about their futures beyond this season, it can be assumed that 2017 could be the end of the road for all of them.

Arians revealed in his new book, entitled "The Quarterback Whisperer," that he underwent surgery in February to remove cancerous cells in his kidney. He had been diagnosed, he wrote, with renal cell carcinoma in December.

"Now I feel great," Arians said in his book. "My energy has returned. I'm told I'm cancer-free again. I'm ready for at least one more season of NFL football -- maybe more."

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One more season? Maybe more? What about Palmer? What about Fitzgerald? Both players have said for the past couple years that they evaluate their futures at the end of every season. Fitzgerald, entering the final year of his contract, has indicated he will make some sort of announcement in training camp.

As for Palmer, who technically has another year left on his deal, it seems just as up in the air as Arians and Fitzgerald. To hear Arians tell it, however, Palmer could play as long as he wants.

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"Physically, he's probably body-wise like if he was 28 right now," Arians told CBS Sports Network last week. "The sports science is unbelievable, you know with the stuff right now, nutrition, all of the training stuff, he could play easily 'til he's 40-42 probably -- if he wants to."

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TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

--Keeping Carson Palmer fresh. With four quarterbacks in camp, this normally wouldn't be an issue. But with an extra week of camp, five preseason games and Palmer turning 38 in December, it could be. For that reason, look for the Cardinals to try and rest Palmer as much as they can before the start of the regular season, relying on Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and yes, undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Knight. Gabbert, specifically, figures to see more action than most No. 3 quarterbacks so coach Bruce Arians and staff get a better idea if he can ultimately be the man to replace Palmer in another year -- or two.

--Finding the No. 2 starting cornerback. The leaders in the clubhouse to start opposite Patrick Peterson are, in order, Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams, but don't discount general manager Steve Keim throwing a big-name veteran free agent into the mix like he normally does when there are pre-camp questions about a concerning starting position on this team. He's basically done it every year since assuming full control of the front office and for the most part, it's always seemed to work. In this situation, it may not be necessary unless Bethel or Williams prove after a few weeks that neither is trustworthy enough to handle the role, which is incredibly tough considering opposing teams rarely throw in Peterson's direction and this spot usually gets all the serious action.

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--Making sure the Badger and Money-backer are ready. Two incredibly important players on defense, safety Tyrann Mathieu and inside "money" linebacker Deone Bucannon, are returning from injuries and the Cardinals plan to be mindful of that in regard to how hard they push each player early on. Bucannon, in fact, might not even be ready for Week 1 after undergoing foot surgery to fix a problem he thought was past him. Mathieu, meanwhile, has dealt with numerous injuries virtually every year since turning pro in 2013 and hasn't been able to finish a season without some sort of issue. What could be considered just as troubling is that the Cardinals may have to rely on two rookie draft picks if either player isn't ready. The good news is, the team loves both first-year players in No. 1 pick Haasan Reddick, an inside linebacker, and second-round pick Budda Baker, a seemingly do-everything safety who has patterned his game after the Honey Badger.

PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Carson Palmer. Backups -- Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Trevor Knight.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- David Johnson. Backups -- Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny, T.J. Logan, James Summers.

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TIGHT ENDS: Starter. -- Jermaine Gresham. Backups -- Troy Niklas, Ifeanyi Momah, Hakeem Valles, Ricky Seals-Jones, Steven Wroblewski.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, J.J. Nelson. Backups -- Aaron Dobson, Jaron Brown, Chad Williams, Brittan Golden, Jeremy Ross, Kris Hogan, Larry Clark, Marquis Bundy, Carlton Agudosi.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C A.Q. Shipley, RG Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer. Backups -- T Will Holden, G/C Cole Toner, C Tony Bergstrom, G Dorian Johnson, T John Wetzel, G Kaleb Johnson, T Ulrick John, T Givens Price, C/G Daniel Munyer, C Lucas Crowley, T Jonathan McLaughlin.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Robert Nkemdiche, NT Corey Peters, RDT Frostee Rucker. Backups -- DE Ed Stinson, NT Xavier Williams, DT Josh Mauro, DT Rodney Gunter, NT Olsen Pierre, DE Tasini Pasoni.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SOLB Chandler Jones, SILB Karlos Dansby, RILB Haasan Reddick, WOLB Markus Golden. Backups -- OLB Jarvis Jones, MLB Deone Bucannon, MLB Gabe Martin, OLB Kareem Martin, ILB/OLB Alani Fua, MLB Scooby Wright, MLB Tre'Von Johnson, OLB Capi Cap, MLB Zaviar Gooden, OLB Alex Bazzie.

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DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Patrick Peterson, RCB Justin Bethel, FS Tyrann Mathieu, SS Antoine Bethea. Backups -- CB Brandon Williams, CB Jumal Rolle, FS Budda Baker, SS Tyvon Branch, CB Rudy Ford, S/CB Harlan Miller, CB Elie Bouka, S Ironhead Gallon, CB Ronald Zamort, CB Sojourn Shelton, CB Daniel Gray, CB Gump Hayes, CB Ryan Lewis.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Phil Dawson, P Richie Leone, P Matt Wile, LS Aaron Brewer, KOR T.J. Logan, PR Patrick Peterson.

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