Hall of Fame Game PreviewSunday, August 05, 2012
The NFL's sixth months of "offseason" -- and we use that term lightly -- officially concludes Sunday night when the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals square off for the annual Hall of Fame Game. Last year's Hall of Fame Game was canceled due to the league's labor dispute. It's back this year.
In the 2010 game, the Cowboys and Bengals played their starters for one possession. A similar approach can be expected from this year's title-contending Saints. The Cardinals figure to pull entrenched starters like Larry Fitzgerald after a series or two, but they are holding a number of camp battles and may let some fairly recognizable skill-position players go a little bit longer.
Tonight's Hall of Fame Game is scheduled to kick off at 8PM ET. Here are a few things to watch for and keep in mind:
1. We should get an extensive look at Michael Floyd tonight.
Reports out of Arizona have suggested Floyd might open the season as a fourth receiver after a slow spring and start to training camp. The organization remains high on 2010 third-round pick Andre Roberts, and Early Doucet is locked in at slot receiver. Some Cardinals beat writers have noted that Floyd might be better off shedding a few pounds to improve his separation skills.
The 13th overall pick in April, Floyd was rated as the No. 7 player in the entire draft on Cardinals G.M. Rod Graves' Big Board. Floyd's skill set on college game tape reminded of Brandon Marshall. He is a big, physical receiver who go gets the ball in traffic. If his weight is under control and he is on his game, Floyd should have no trouble overtaking Roberts. But for Floyd to do that, he must outplay the incumbent in preseason games.
2. The Saints are trying to replace Robert Meachem.
The Hall of Fame Game broadcast crew will likely discuss relentlessly the Saints' tumultuous offseason and speculate on the impact of Sean Payton's absence. Those stories are old to us by now. New Orleans has a few camp battles worth monitoring, and they begin at wide receiver.
While Marques Colston and Lance Moore are locked into prominent roles, Devery Henderson has struggled early in training camp and Adrian Arrington has shined. Rookie Nick Toon won't play tonight due to a setback with his troublesome foot. Arrington, Henderson, and second-year speedster Joseph Morgan are vying for snaps. An annual practice and preseason star, Arrington has his best chance at a major role in five seasons. He's a pass catcher on whom to keep tabs.
3. Kevin Kolb takes the first crack at Arizona's starting quarterback job.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has openly admitted the Cardinals are pulling for Kolb to beat out John Skelton in light of the organization's large 2011 investment. Arizona coughed up a second-round pick, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and a six-year, $65 million contract in order to land Kolb following last year's lockout. Kolb was outplayed by Skelton during the season. After a failed run at Peyton Manning, the Cardinals paid Kolb a $7 million offseason roster bonus.
The Cardinals obviously don't have full confidence in Kolb considering their Manning pursuit and camp battle with Skelton, so Kolb may end up seeing a more significant number of snaps than a normal first-team quarterback would get in a game like this. We'll just have to see. But the Kolb-Skelton competition takes on a new look tonight. Each will have some game tape under his belt.
Although sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley is not involved in the quarterback battle, he is a heady, toolsy prospect worth monitoring. Lindley possesses a power arm and scored an impressive 35 on his pre-draft Wonderlic. A theoretically strong fit for Whisenhunt's vertical offense, Lindley could score points with the coaching staff by delivering a composed effort off the bench Sunday night.
4. Keep an eye on the Saints' backfield; specifically Chris Ivory.
While he's gone full speed at training camp practices recently, it's hard to imagine 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram playing much or at all in the first of five Saints preseason games. Ingram is coming off turf-toe surgery and his second knee procedure in the past three offseasons.
The most underrated running back on either side in this game is Chris Ivory. An explosive, violent between-the-tackles power runner, Ivory has averaged 5.05 yards per career carry with six touchdowns among 216 rushing attempts. Ivory is a fourth-stringer in New Orleans, and it's fair to wonder if he might be on the trade block. Teams like Detroit, Arizona, and the Jets could use a backfield upgrade like him. Don't be surprised if Ivory handles 10-14 carries in a showcase attempt.
5. Don't expect running game fireworks from the Cardinals.
Beanie Wells has been alarmingly slow to recover from January 24 right knee surgery. He opened camp on active/PUP and has yet to practice. Wells will not play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Neither will Ryan Williams, the 38th pick in last year's draft who missed his entire rookie season with tears to his right patellar tendon and meniscus. Although Williams has generated positive early-camp reviews, we'd like to see him make explosive bursts and cuts on the knee before recommending him as a fantasy pick in advance of the way-late rounds.
Scatback La'Rod Stephens-Howling, pedestrian third-year runner Alfonso Smith, and 28-year-old camp body Thomas Clayton will handle the load for Arizona in this game.
6. Keep everything in perspective, and try to enjoy the game.
Full disclosure: this one's going to get boring by about the second quarter. Gino Crump and Andy Tanner may end up as the stars of the show, and neither of them is going to make a roster. But Sunday night's preseason opener is confirmation that football is back. Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays going forward will be action packed, filled with jarring hits and touchdown bombs.
It's getting to be the absolute best time of year.