5 key players to watch in the Arizona Cardinals' preseason opener against the Raiders

Posted at 1:15 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 21:01:09-04

Practice is one thing. A real game under the lights and in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans is quite another.

On Friday, Arizona Cardinals fans will get their first real look at this year's team when they take the field to host the Oakland Raiders in their preseason opener.

The preseason is an opportunity for younger players to see playing time and impress coaches. The Cardinals have plenty of guys who will be looking to do just that.

Here are five key players to keep an eye on when the Cards take the field. The game starts Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ABC15!

1. Brandon Williams

The Cardinals have selected studs like Tyrann Mathieu, John Brown and David Johnson with their recent third-round NFL Draft picks. Williams, who has looked extremely impressive at cornerback throughout training camp, just might be another Round 3 steal.

Williams is the only rookie on offense or defense to be listed as a starter in the Cards' initial depth chart released Monday. Incredibly, he's played the cornerback position for less than two years, as he was originally a running back at Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

Williams is an extremely respectful young man, answering questions with "No, sir" and "Yes, sir," and five-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson has already taken him under his wing. But how will the 5-foot-11, 197-pounder look under the big lights in his first real NFL test?

2. Matt Barkley

The Cardinals acquired Barkley in a trade with the Eagles at the end of last year's preseason schedule, so Friday will be the third-year NFL quarterback's first in-game action in a Cardinals uniform.

He'll see plenty of it. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Barkley will likely play the majority of Friday's game, in between appearances from starter Carson Palmer, second-stringer Drew Stanton and undrafted rookie Jake Coker. Arians said Barkley has been an up-and-down "yo-yo" throughout training camp, but the Cards' No. 3 QB is confident in what he'll be able to do against the Raiders.

3. Evan Boehm

The Cardinals drafted the 6-foot-2, 309-pounder from Missouri in the fourth round of the 2016 draft to potentially challenge veteran A.Q. Shipley for the starting center position. Coming into Friday's game, however, Boehm (pronounced BAY-m) remains a distant third on the team's depth chart behind Shipley and Earl Watford.

But with Watford out for at least two weeks with a knee injury, Boehm should have ample opportunity to show what he's got against the Raiders. 

4. Troy Niklas

The former Notre Dame tight end was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2014 draft, but injuries have hampered his growth at the NFL level. Niklas has been healthy through training camp this year, however, and has earned praise from Arians -- even though Niklas doesn't hear it often.

Niklas still has a lot to prove, however, as Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham remain ahead of him on the depth chart. He should have ample opportunity to impress Arians and the rest of the Cards coaching staff Friday.

5. Marqui Christian

The third rookie on this list is currently the third-string strong safety on the Cardinals' depth chart. But there's no doubting the toughness and potential of the 5-foot-10, 196-pounder from a small liberal arts college in Texas whom the Cards drafted in the fifth round.

Christian has been one of the hardest hitters on the team throughout the first two weeks of training camp. He developed a reputation for doing the same at Midwestern State, winning the 2015 Cliff Harris Award given to America's top small-college defensive player. There's a good chance Christian will apply a big hit or two on a Raider on Friday.