It was 1999, Jeff Blake recalled, when the starting Cincinnati Bengals offense he directed did not find the end zone during the preseason.
Then came the regular-season opener in Tennessee, when Blake tossed a pair of touchdown passes and the Bengals scored 35 points.
“(The preseason) doesn’t really matter,” Blake said. “It is all about game planning. Right now no one is game planning. You are running things on air, hoping it works.”
The Cardinals' veteran quarterback shows no concern over an offense that has produced one touchdown in two preseason games, that coming on a wide receiver reverse with the second-team offense. He has no worries about a passing game that has produced 199 total yards in eight preseason quarters, with a completion rate barely above 50 percent.
If the Cardinals don’t show much more tonight, in what will be virtually their last true tuneup in a preseason game against Chicago, it won’t bother Blake or many of his other offensive brethren.
“It’s the preseason, we’re not showing everything we can do,” receiver Bryan Gilmore said. “It’s very vanilla and very plain right now. September 7 (in the regular-season opener) you will see what we plan on presenting.”
The starters will play into the third quarter in tonight's game. As usual, the fourth preseason game will be left mostly to the guys who won’t get the work during the regular season, or who are fighting for a roster spot.
The Cardinals could use that fourth game to hone their passing attack, but after the season-ending injury to defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, Arizona just wants to make sure it gets through the preseason without losing any more key players.
“I’ve learned to trust coaches,” Gilmore said. “They see the big picture a lot better than I do.”
As for Arizona’s running game, Emmitt Smith has played three plays in the preseason. Second-stringer Marcel Shipp has been limited. Smith is expected to get in two or three series against Chicago. The Cards are expected to throw the ball more often tonight. But there is still no No. 1 receiver, and Blake has had trouble connecting with any of the receivers on his famous deep ball.
“In practices you can script your situations, you can script how many times you throw it,” coach Dave McGinnis said. “You only get so many shots during a game, that’s what we have to connect on.”
Of course, the Cards have had their problems in practice as well. Drops have plagued some of the young receivers.
“(The receivers) realize you only get one shot most games to make a big play,” Blake said. “They have to get used to making it.”
One note out of the ’99 season-opening eruption against Tennessee: Blake also threw two interceptions, and the Titans scored 36 points to hand the Bengals a loss. The Cardinals need the defense to do its job so the running game will mean something in the second half. That will also buy time for the passing game.
“You want to have a few more games, but what you get you get,” offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan said. “We talked about when we started camp we had six weeks and it is getting to that time. It’s time to play.”
EXTRA POINTS: The Cards tried desperately to get something in return for Thomas Jones when they wanted to get rid of the disappointing running back. In the end, they got nothing. The Cards made that official Thursday when they released receiver Marquise Walker, whom they had gotten in the trade for Jones. Walker had not been good in training camp, dropping passes and not working hard enough in the coaches’ eyes. The Cards also cut offensive lineman Dralinn Burks, who had just signed Aug. 7. . . .
Tackle L.J. Shelton (ankle) missed Thursday's walk-through and is questionable for tonight, as is cornerback Renaldo Hill (ankle). Guard Leonard Davis (hand) is out.