FLAGSTAFF - The Cardinals’ most important acquisition of the offseason was a stout, 54-year-old man who wears glasses and hasn’t played a down of football since 1973.
Offensive line coach Steve Loney might not excite fans like Edgerrin James or inspire females like Matt Leinart, but one thing is clear: They won’t succeed at their jobs if he doesn’t succeed at his.
There’s no need to regurgitate the disaster that was the Cardinals’ offensive line last season. For one thing, you might be eating breakfast, and we wouldn’t want to ruin your meal.
Instead, we’ll let you chew on two numbers: 2 – Number of rushing touchdowns Arizona had in 2005. 3.2 – Average yards per rushing attempt. Oh, my.
“We did some good things,” guard Reggie Wells said.
Not often enough, and not when it counted most.
Enter Loney. He’s everything former coach Everett Lindsay wasn’t: In short, he’s qualified for the job.
That’s not a knock on Lindsay. Dennis Green threw Lindsay in over his head when he made him the offensive line coach in October 2004.
Lindsay had been cut by the Cardinals a couple of months earlier. He wasn’t ready for the job, and the results were so predictable everybody but Green saw them coming.
“I think Everett is going to be a good coach down the road, but young guys just don’t know the same things as guys who have been around the game,” Wells said.
Tackle Leonard Davis said that while the players respected Lindsay, some might have tuned him out. If he hadn’t been good enough to beat them out of a job, they reasoned, why should they listen to him?
“A lot of guys looked at that,” Davis said. “That was the perception.”
The linemen won’t turn a deaf ear to Loney. He’s been a college or NFL coach for 32 years — including a stint as an assistant with the Cardinals in 1993 under Joe Bugel — and he was the Minnesota Vikings’ line coach from 2002 to 2004.
He knows what he’s doing, and if ever a group could use some teaching, it’s the Cardinals’ offensive line.
“He’s more technical (than Lindsay),” Davis said. “We really didn’t have that before.”
Loney is careful not to throw any stones at Lindsay. Instead, he talks about the injuries that decimated the unit last year — not a single lineman played in all 16 games — and the erosion of confidence those injuries caused.
“You had a lot of people in different positions,” Loney said. “I don’t know that the line knew what it was doing. It’s my job to try to coach them and alleviate those problems.”
Loney watched film of every Cardinals game in ’05 — the poor guy — but told his players they have a clean slate coming into this season.
“I ripped the rear-view mirrors off and am just looking ahead,” Loney
said. “To take all those things as gospel or reality is not fair to the offensive line I have this year. I think it’s important to those players that their position on this team is going to be determined by what they do this year, not what they’ve dealt with in the past.”
The Cardinals attempted to shore up their line in the offseason by signing free agent guard Milford Brown from Houston. James’ presence should also help; he’ll find seams and gain yardage that J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp couldn’t.
But there’s still a question as to how much talent Loney has to work with. Brown was only a part-time starter for the one offensive line that was worse than the Cardinals. Davis has yet to prove he can be a dominant left tackle. Centers Alex Stepanovich and Nick Leckey are good friends, but can they play?
“I think we have the talent here to develop a good offensive line,” Loney said.
The line doesn’t have to be great for the Cardinals to win.
But if it’s as bad as it was last year, Arizona won’t win.