As the Cardinals head into training camp and look forward to the start of a new season, 10 questions are on our minds. Here they are, along with some answers.
1. How will the Cardinals transition to Ken Whisenhunt?
The Cardinals have plenty of pieces in place to be successful. But that doesn’t mean they can avoid growing pains under a new coach.Whisenhunt not only is bringing in a new playbook but a new philosophy, one based more upon controlling the clock and the game rather than the I-Want-To-Score-30-Points-A-Game-Quickly thought process Dennis Green owned (which ultimately failed).
Defensively, Whisenhunt also wants to use elements of the 3-4 alignment, in direct opposition to Green’s undersized 4-3 setup. It would only be natural to have the Cards have some bumpy times, especially early in training camp and again early in the regular season.
2. Will Matt Leinart develop quickly?
There has been an assumption Leinart (left) as undisputed quarterback of the future, will step in and star in his second season. That may be expecting a bit too much for a man using his third offense in three seasons. But Leinart has already emerged as a leader and remains supremely confident in his ability to make the leap from his rookie season.
Whisenhunt seems optimistic, raving about Leinart’s smarts. But Leinart still had an average 74.0 quarterback rating, still had more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (11) and still must prove he is improved — and for the Cardinals, they need to see it quickly.
3. Can the defense successfully switch to the 3-4 alignment?
Whisenhunt insists the Cardinals will use both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive looks, and some downs, it may not matter what someone calls it. Some players have to learn a new way of doing things, especially pass rushers like Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor, who will be playing some linebacker. One benefit is that it should continue to make Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson a force near the line of scrimmage. But the learning curve of the other players will be a focal point in camp.
4. Do Levi Brown and Russ Grimm change the output of the offensive line?
Bringing in an offensive line coach like Grimm was a coup for the Cards; his resumé as both a former Pro Bowl blocker and a solid coach automatically got his players’ attention. He has as much pressure as anyone in the organization to produce quick results. Some of that hinges on Brown, the top pick taken fifth overall. Some thought the choice of Brown was a reach that high, and he may miss the first part of camp while the team tries to sign him. Brown isn’t in the starting lineup yet, but he should be the right tackle – and no matter what, the spotlight will be on him.
5. Can ‘Edge’ flourish in Whisenhunt’s run-first offense?
In an ironic twist, there was some hesitation by running back Edgerrin James when asked this offseason about Whisenhunt’s plan to run more. In Edge’s eyes, pass-first means the defense must key on the pass – leaving more room for James to run. But in the end, James should see a mini-renaissance this season (assuming the offensive line jells) because Whisenhunt is committed to making the run game work, unlike Dennis Green.
6. Will there be enough passes for both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald?
In theory, this is a nobrainer. Boldin and Fitzgerald are both talented enough that Whisenhunt will find them ways to get the ball. Yet the offense must be efficient and productive, otherwise there won’t be enough chances to get both receivers involved. Fitzgerald will likely be the team’s deep threat, with Boldin back in the slot where he was so dangerous as a rookie — think a better version of the Plaxico Burress-Hines Ward combo Whisenhunt had with the Steelers. Both will get the ball, although their days as 100-catch men are likely over.
7. How will the cornerback situation play out?
As of now, free-agent signee Rod Hood and holdover Eric Green are battling for the right to start opposite Antrel Rolle. But even Rolle must show improvement to keep his spot at the position that may be the biggest question mark for the Cards. All three will play — the Hood/Green “loser” should be the nickelback — but both Green and Rolle have to play better than they did in 2006.
8. How will Darnell Dockett play outside and Karlos Dansby play inside?
The Cards’ two young defensive stars should be around awhile. Dockett signed a contract extension last season, and Dansby should get one sometime this season. But both are learning new spots in the 3-4; Dockett going from tackle to end and Dansby from outside linebacker inside. Dockett admittedly had some struggles in the offseason adjusting. As of yet, though, neither has broken through with a star-making year; perhaps a position shift will be the catalyst for such a performance.
9. Can the ex-Wolverines properly plug the middle?
The Cardinals cut loose defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy because he really wasn’t beefy enough to be the anchor tackle on a three-man line. Instead, the team now has 2006 Michigan product Gabe Watson and 2007 Michigan product Alan Branch. Neither are proven on the NFL level, yet one (or a combination of both) has to stuff opposing offenses to make the Cards’ defense work. Watson has lost a ton of weight to get back in shape; he’ll have the early chance to stave off Branch — who was drafted with the first pick of the second round, as opposed to Watson’s fourth-round pedigree.
10. How open are the races for tight end and kick returner?
The Cardinals drafted Leonard Pope last season to be their new tight end; they drafted Steve Breaston this year to handle kickoff and punt returns. In theory, it made sense. But neither has a stranglehold on those jobs. Pope is a physical specimen but must still learn to block; the Cards have tried all offseason to find a suitable veteran blocking tight end. Troy Bienamann or Tim Euhus may rank better than Pope in that area. Breaston needs to show he isn’t the current version of Bobby Newcombe, the Cards’ 2001 draft pick chosen to return kicks who never made it to the regular season. Free agent Rod Hood and holdover J.J. Arrington, among others, will make it tough if Breaston — who is very raw as a receiver — doesn’t shine.
2007 Cardinals training camp schedule
Team reports Friday night . Conditioning trials on Saturday.
All practices at fields just east of Walkup Skydome; workouts move indoors if it rains .
Times are subject to change. An updated schedule can be found on the Cardinals Web site.
The “Red and White practice” on Aug. 4 will be preceded by a full-team autograph session. Fans can also attempt to get autographs after each workout as players come off the field.
Sun. 1-3:05 p.m.
Mon. 9:05-10:30 a.m. and 3:05-5:05 p.m.
Tue. 3:05-5:05 p.m.
Wed. 9:05-10:35 a.m. and 7:05-9 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium
Thu. 3:05-5:05 p.m.
Fri. 9:05-10:30 a.m. and 3:05-5:05 p.m.
Sat. 11:15 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
“Red and White practice”
8/6 9:05-10:40 a.m. and 3:05-5:05 p.m.
8/7 3:05-4:55 p.m.
8/8 9:05-10:30 a.m. and 7:05-9:10 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium
8/9 3:05-4:55 p.m.
8/10 9-10:10 a.m. (Walk-thru)
8/11 Preseason game: Cardinals at Oakland, 7 p.m.
8/13 3:05-5:05 p.m.
8/14 3:05-5:15 p.m.
8/15 9:05-10:35 a.m. and 3:05-5 p.m.
8/16 3:05-4:55 p.m.
8/17 9-10 a.m. (Walk-Thru)
8/18 Preseason game: Houston at Cardinals, 1 p.m.
8/20 3:05-5 p.m.
8/21 3:05-5:05 p.m.
8/22 9:05-10:35 a.m. and 3:05-5 p.m.
8/23 9:05-10:35 a.m. (Walk-thru)