The scene was the same as six years earlier: A top-five draft pick, holding up a No. 75 jersey, with the unspoken promise he would anchor an offensive line renaissance. The Leonard Davis era never worked out that way.
The Cardinals hope the Levi Brown era will be different.
“Last year is behind us,” guard Deuce Lutui said, “and we are going forward.”
The shuffling and reshuffling of the offensive line has been a constant theme for the Cards. Coaches have come and gone. Production has been inconsistent most of the time and poor too often.
Even once the line seemed to get on track, as it did at the end of last season, an overhaul was inevitable thanks to a new coaching staff and the free-agent departure of Davis.
Future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Russ Grimm is the new position coach. The Cards have just one starter left in his same spot from last season. They signed two free agents — center Al Johnson and tackle Mike Gandy — and drafted Brown.
This is the combination expected to change the perception of the Cards’ offensive line.
“It is all attitude and want-to,” Johnson said. “If you have five guys who are willing to play harder than the guy across from them the whole game, that’s a good place to start.”
Brown isn’t even in the top five — yet. The team went through a minicamp that ended Monday using Gandy and holdover Oliver Ross at both left and right tackle. But Brown will be the right tackle soon, with Gandy or Ross going to the left side.
Johnson is the center. Lutui is the right guard, Reggie Wells the left guard. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he believes the depth is better by adding former starters Nick Leckey, a center, and Milford Brown, a guard.
And for now, Grimm is happy, both with his group’s work ethic and classroom effort.
“It is a blue-collar job where everybody has to be on the same page for anybody to succeed,” Grimm said.
The Cardinals tried to make the line a focal point under Dave McGinnis in 2001, when Davis was drafted, Pete Kendall was signed as a free agent and McGinnis coined the term, “The Big Red Line.”
It was not productive enough, however, and when McGinnis was fired and Dennis Green hired, the roller coaster began.
In his three seasons, Green employed three different offensive line coaches, constantly shuffled players, insisted on Davis playing tackle (McGinnis had mostly used him at guard with success) and left many linemen wondering about the thought process behind blocking schemes.
For Whisenhunt, revamping the unit was a must.
“It is different as far as our philosophy and our scheme and how we are going to attack defenses this year,” Wells said.
Quarterback Matt Leinart said the playbook has been simplified. Grimm said the line will have gone over the playbook three full times — two minicamps and again during organized team activities — so by the time training camp begins, the players should be fine tuning their assignments.
Grimm also emphasized adding players such as Gandy, Johnson and Brown was intentional, as opposed to some of the other players the team could have pursued.
“It’s not always the superstar you are looking to grab and fit in, because he may not fit,” Grimm said. “It is a certain attitude, and it has to blend in across the board.”
Said Lutui with a smile, “The draft pick of Levi Brown has really spiced this up, given the line a little flavor.”
Whisenhunt acknowledged it is impossible to know for sure how the line will play until camp, when the shoulder pads go on for the first time and hitting is allowed.
But he is intrigued with the potential.
“The mentality is, you are going to get it done our way, which is being physical and tough,” Johnson said. “You are going to do it that way or they are going to find someone else.”