STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
In recent years, fantasy owners have found gold in the Valley of the Sun. That talent has
not led to much success for the Cardinals, however, who have posted only one winning
record in the last 22 seasons. The Cardinals were a trendy pick to make the playoffs
in 2006, but the squad underachieved during a woeful 1-8 start. Arizona won four
of its final seven games to finish 5-11, yet it was not enough to save head coach Dennis
Green’s job. Fortunately new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who most recently served as the
Steelers’ offensive coordinator, inherits a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.
The Cardinals’ attack is loaded at all of the skill positions, although the offensive line
remains a major question mark. The team rushed for the third-fewest yards in the NFL
last season. Whisenhunt has attempted
to overhaul the line and plans to install
a smash-mouth, run-first offensive
attack. It remains to be seen if the
newly configured blocking unit, which
is a mix of veteran castoffs and highly touted
youngsters, can shoulder the
burden in 2007.
Starting quarterback Matt Leinart
looked capable in 11 starts as a rookie
in 2006 and should progress markedly
in his first full year as a starter,
especially under Whisenhunt, who is
regarded by many as an offensive mastermind.
Leinart is surrounded by Pro
Bowl talent at receiver (Anquan Boldin
and Larry Fitzgerald) and running back
(Edgerrin James). James sputtered in
2006, partially because of his weak
offensive line, but there are concerns
that he has lost a step as he nears 30 years old.
Like the Cardinals’ offense, the Big Red defense includes several talented individuals
that have yet to mesh as a unit. Starting strong safety Adrian Wilson is one of the
league’s best and most versatile defensive backs. The rest of the secondary was dreadful in
2006. Arizona hopes that the offseason additions of safety Terrence Holt and cornerback
Roderick Hood will lead to better things in 2007.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby spent a considerable portion of 2006 in Dennis Green’s
doghouse, but he is a tremendous talent when he is healthy and motivated. The Cardinals’
defensive line, led by defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor, can put the heat
on opposing quarterbacks.
By and large, the 2007 Cardinals will look very similar to the 2006 Cardinals. The
team was not particularly active in free agency and did not suffer any unwanted losses.
Whisenhunt plans to bring a tougher brand of football to the desert this season and says
that he would like to run the ball 60 percent of the time. In that case, Arizona’s 2007 record
will largely depend on its ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (5) Levi Brown, OT, Penn State
Expected to step into an immediate
2. (33) Alan Branch, DT, Michigan
Could be a bargain if he answers
productivity and injury questions.
Likely a backup in 2007, although he
could win a starting nose tackle role if
he has a strong training camp.
3. (69) Buster Davis, LB, Florida State
Undersized for the NFL, but has good
intangibles. Likely a backup in 2007.
5. (142) Steve Breaston, WR, Michigan
Will have a hard time cracking
Arizona’s WR top three, but a
leading candidate to serve as the
team’s primary punt/kick returner.
7. (215) Ben Patrick, TE, Delaware
A potential steal. Some observers
thought this strong blocker and solid
receiver would go as early as the
2. Roderick Hood, CB (Eagles)
Should bolster a struggling unit. Will
battle for a starting cornerback position
during training camp.
3. Mike Gandy, OT (Bills)
Versatile offensive lineman brings
depth to a position of need.
1. Leonard Davis, OT (Cowboys)
Former first-round pick never lived
up to hype.
2. Orlando Huff, LB (FA)
Had a disappointing 2006 as a starter,
so not a big loss.
3. David Macklin, CB (Redskins)
Underachieved as a part-time starter
in 2006, so another minor hit.
1. EXPANDING THE STEEL CURTAIN
New Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers’ former offensive coordinator, is
going to try to turn Arizona into Pittsburgh West. He plans to call rushing plays 60 percent of
the time this season and has brought the Power I formation to Arizona. On defense, Whisenhunt
is installing several elements of the Steelers’ famed 3-4 alignment. He wants to bring more
toughness to a Cardinals team that has been criticized for its lack of grit in recent years.
2. FALLING OFF THE EDGE
Edgerrin James’ 3.4 yards per carry average in 2006 is the lowest of his career and well
below the 4.0+ standard he set from 2003-2005 in Indianapolis. He was used erratically by former
head coach Dennis Green in 2006, with 16 or fewer carries in five games, but 26 or more
rushes in another five games. James salvaged some measure of respectability with three rushing
touchdowns in the Cardinals’ final four contests, doubling his season total. Whisenhunt
promises to run early and often in 2007. James will be running behind a fullback this season
for the first time in his NFL career and he will have a revamped offensive line, albeit a patchwork
unit. Arizona hopes these changes will be enough to get James back on track.
3. TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Like many rookies, starting quarterback Matt Leinart showed flashes of brilliance in
2006 punctuated by moments to forget. Leinart threw 12 interceptions and 11 passing
touchdowns and was sacked 20 times in 11 starts. He showed signs of progress in his final
six starts, when he completed 61.8 percent of his passes. In Leinart’s first five starts, he only
connected on 51.8 percent of his throws. However, Leinart forced a lot of balls throughout
the season, largely because the Cardinals had a poor rushing attack and were often on the
wrong end of the score. His TD/INT ratio was consistent throughout the season. In 2007,
Whisenhunt is preaching a run-first attack and is expected to use Leinart a lot like he used
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh’s 2005 Super Bowl run.
4. THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
For a team that finished 5-11 in 2006, the Cardinals were surprisingly quiet this offseason.
They chose to rely on their existing talent (which is considerable), and supplemented
with a few complementary pieces. The Cardinals’ biggest question marks are offensive line,
secondary and special teams. Arizona is all too familiar with the fact that depth at the skill
positions does not necessarily lead to the playoffs. The Cardinals will have to perform better
in the less glamorous areas this season if they are to be successful.
Rising: Matt Leinart looked capable in 2006
among Arizona’s many offensive weapons. In
2007, he has a new offensive line, a new head
coach with a good track record tutoring a
young quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger, 2005)
and a year of experience under his belt.
Falling: Antrel Rolle had a disappointing
2006 and could lose his starting job this summer.
Rumors that he is overweight will not help.
Sleeper: Marcel Shipp established himself as
a goal-line threat late in 2006 and should receive
a more regular stream of carries this year.
Supersleeper: Leonard Pope was not
utilized very much as a rookie last year, but his
size makes him a strong red-zone target.
Adrian Wilson, S
Expected to blitz more in 2007, which could
lead to more sacks.
Bertrand Berry, DE
Had six sacks in 10 games last year before
he suffered a season-ending torn triceps.
Karlos Dansby, LB
Injuries and attitude problems have kept him
from reaching his potential thus far.
Article first appeared 6/13/07