Rod Graves won’t name names, but the Cardinals’ vice president of football operations admitted the purge of some players from last year’s roster has changed his outlook of training camp.
Graves had already been looking for a way to change the perception of the franchise within the organization. As the Cards report to Flagstaff tonight for the beginning of training camp, it’s clear that Graves has managed to at least convert himself.
"(In the past), we had highpriced players, and we weren’t sure we would get what we needed to out of them," Graves said. "This year is more of a feeling of anticipation, because the players we wondered about, who were underachievers or whatever the case may be, they are no longer here.
"Now we have guys here who have done it before."
The Cardinals certainly have been more efficient with their money. The combined salaries of quarterback Jeff Blake and running back Emmitt Smith — the new core of the offense — is only $4.5 million. Jake Plummer made $5.7 million alone last season, and it would have cost a boatload of money to keep receiver David Boston around for a risky fifth season.
So the Cards turn to Blake and Smith, along with other newcomers like safety Dexter Jackson, fullback James Hodgins and linebacker James Darling, to anchor a turnaround not only on the field but in the locker room.
Smith, Jackson and Hodgins have Super Bowl rings.
"If you have success in this league, you have to understand sometimes you go through periods of nonsuccess," coach Dave McGinnis said. "If you have players who have been through it, that know-how to block out distractions and . . . the B.S. that doesn’t matter, they know that it only takes one win to get it flipped."
The Cardinals have 44 days before their first game to find a way to get the new pieces to mesh with the old. McGinnis raved about last year’s training camp, after the team stayed relatively healthy and only one practice was sent indoors because of rain.
That, McGinnis said, was a major reason for the Cardinals’ 4-2 start.
"When it falls in place like that, you can feel it," McGinnis said.
The Cards could use another picture-perfect stretch in Flagstaff — they break camp Aug. 13 — especially with the influx of new players.
If things go right, maybe the players can head into the season as optimistic as Graves.
"Let’s be honest — everybody’s attitude is better when you win," McGinnis said. "It
Birds set to fly
The Cardinals arrive at training camp this afternoon with significant changes from last season:
QB Jeff Blake RB Emmitt Smith FB James Hodgins WR Bryant Johnson WR Anquan Boldin C Frank Garcia OL Cameron Spikes DE Calvin Pace LB James Darling S Dexter Jackson Off. coordinator Jerry Sullivan
QB Jake Plummer RB Thomas Jones FB Joel Makovicka WR David Boston WR Frank Sanders WR MarTay Jenkins C Mike Gruttadauria LB Rob Fredrickson S
Kwamie Lassiter Off. coordinator Rich Olson