Cardinals vs. Raiders: 5 key players to watch in the Cards' preseason home opener

They won't be on the field for long, but Arizona Cardinals fans will finally get to see their team's starters in action when they take the field for their preseason home opener Saturday against the Oakland Raiders.

But Cards fans should also keep a close eye on several backups who have a chance to move up the depth chart before the regular season begins in four weeks.

Here are five key players to watch on during the Cards-Raiders clash at University of Phoenix Stadium, which begins Saturday at 7 p.m.:

1. David Johnson: Most of the Cardinals' starters aren't expected to play beyond the first quarter Saturday, but we'll at least get a glimpse of the Cards' Pro Bowl running back in his first in-game action since his knee injury in last year's regular-season finale. Johnson says he's 100 percent and in even better shape than he was last year, and it should be fun to see what he can do with the ball back in his hands, even for just a handful of plays.

2. Robert Nkemdiche: The Cardinals' 2016 first-round draft pick is still listed as a backup at defensive tackle behind Josh Mauro, but coach Bruce Arians notes Nkemdiche has been practicing with the first-team defense lately. A strong showing from the 6-foot-5, 293-pounder from Ole Miss on Saturday could help him make a case for a starting role.

3. Brandon Williams: Speaking of 2016 draft picks... The Cards' third-round pick from one year ago had a very mixed performance vs. the Cowboys in last week's Hall of Fame Game.

Williams is presumably in the mix for a starting cornerback job with veterans Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams, the latter of whom was signed less than two weeks ago -- but Cards fans would love to see more consistent play from the 6-foot, 200-pounder Saturday.

4. Blaine Gabbert: The Cardinals' offseason quarterback acquisition couldn't have looked much better last week when he led the Cards to back-to-back touchdowns to open the game.

Yes, that performance came against second- and third-string Cowboys, but it's an encouraging sign for Gabbert, who seems to at least have an outside chance to supplant Drew Stanton for the rule of No. 2 QB behind Carson Palmer. Another stellar outing Saturday will only help Gabbert build that case.

5. Haason Reddick: The Cardinals' 2017 first-round pick has practiced with the first-teamers during training camp as fellow "dollar" linebacker Deone Bucannon continues to rehab from offseason ankle surgery. Reddick showed flashes of brilliance in his on-field debut for the Cardinals last week, and Cards fans hope to see more of the same against the Raiders on Saturday.

 

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