The Sports Xchange

NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - INSIDE SLANT

As if being in the same NFC West division as powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco weren't enough, the Arizona Cardinals have a sizeable list of concerns to confront when they begin training camp practice July 26 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

Considerable attention will be paid to two spots involving four positions: inside linebackers and the right side of the offensive line.

Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby left via free agency (to Cleveland Browns for a bundle of money) and Daryl Washington is suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Losing both Dansby and Washington is significant since both are great athletes that made the Cardinals' defense strong against the run and the pass.

Kevin Minter and Larry Foote, their replacements, are vastly different players. Minter is more of a physical, run stopper. Foote is older, 33. Both might have to come out in passing situations.

Here is a closer look at the Cardinals' primary concerns and possible good news as they head to camp:

KEY POSITION BATTLE

Offensive line: The right side of the Cardinals' offensive line is still a work in progress with Bradley Sowell trying to hold off Bobby Massie for the starting tackle position and Paul Fanaika fending off Earl Watford for the starting job at guard.

Coach Bruce Arians said both position battles are going well and he noted that all four players got equal time working with the first units through all of the team's offseason workouts. He said the competition remains "wide open," but added that Sowell and Fanaika have slight edges simply because they have more experience at this point.

Massie continues to make some mental errors that have confounded the staff and Watford just hasn't shown enough consistency yet. The starters at right guard and tackle likely won't be named until some point during training camp.

WEAKEST POSITION

--Inside linebacker: Losing Dansby in free agency was hard enough. Now the Cardinals are without Daryl Washington for the whole season on suspension. Those two inside linebackers never came off the field a year ago and head coach Bruce Arians said they "led the National Football League in the linebacker coming free last year," referring to the number of times they went unblocked on a play.

Although Arians attributed that to the coaching of Todd Bowles, somebody still needs to make the strategy work. Dansby had 135 tackles, four interceptions and 6.5 sacks and Washington added 81 tackles in 12 games, with three sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. That's a lot of production.

Minter, one replacement, played one defensive snap a year ago as a rookie. Foote, signed after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is smart but it's fair to wonder how much game he has left.

PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE

--Kevin Minter, ILB: He must rise to the challenge of replacing another one of the Cardinals' vacant inside linebacker spots - the one that used to belong to Dansby, who signed a $24 million free-agent deal with the Browns.

Minter only took one defensive snap at the position last season, getting the rest of his time on special teams. Arians, however, believes the former LSU star has a chance to thrive because of what he learned under Dansby.