| Star wideout Boldin sees the Cards finally cashing in on all that talent.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
7 at San Francisco
21 at Washington
28 at N.Y. Jets
26 at Carolina
2 at St. Louis
10 SAN FRANCISCO (M)
16 at Seattle
23 N.Y. GIANTS
27 at Philadelphia (T)
7 St. Louis
21 at New England
Antrel Rolle, Free safety: A corner since he was All-America at Miami, Rolle has been moved to a new position. Arizona wants to capitalize on his good range and ball skills (five interceptions in 2007, three returned for touchdowns). If Rolle makes a smooth transition, he and Adrian Wilson give the Cardinals one of the league's top safety tandems.
Amazing but true: There are almost no changes in the Valley of the Sun -- except, the team hopes, in the standings.
Anquan Boldin has witnessed so many changes in coaches and personnel during
his career with the Cardinals that he pauses, rolls his eyes and chuckles before
trying to recount them.
"Let's see," the receiver says after a late-afternoon practice during
training camp. "I'm in my sixth year and I've had three head coaches, probably
five or six coordinators, six quarterbacks and new O-linemen
About the only change he hasn't witnessed is in the team's fortunes. Arizona
remains football's version of purgatory: The Cardinals have not had a winning
season since 1998, the only time they finished above .500 in the last
24 years. Constant turnover has been a prime culprit. The franchise has had
eight coaches since moving from St. Louis in 1988 -- only the Raiders (nine)
have had more during that span -- and its 12 coaching changes since the AFL-NFL
merger in 1970 are tied with Buffalo for the most among franchises that have
been in continuous existence since then.
If the team wasn't making a move at the top -- going from Vince Tobin to Dave
McGinnis to Dennis Green to Ken Whisenhunt in this decade alone -- it was making
the quick-fix reach for fading stars in free agency. The notables include NFL
career rushing leader Emmitt Smith and reigning Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson in
2003, former league and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner in '05 and Colts star
Edgerrin James in '06.
This year, however, the theme is continuity. For the first time in recent
memory, the Cardinals have brought back the same coaching staff, the same
playbooks and, basically, the same roster from the previous season. While some
teams take those things for granted, such constancy is looked upon with wonder
"For us to go into a season under the same system, under the same head coach,
with pretty much the same players means a lot," Boldin says. "I thought we
showed flashes last year -- especially toward the end of the year -- of how good we
can be. Right now we're picking up where we left off."
If true, the Cardinals might finally live up to their annual billing as a
potential sleeper, an expectation they've failed to justify the last several
seasons. But a 5-3 finish over the second half of 2007 -- with two of the defeats
by a touchdown or less -- has them believing they're ready to be winners at last.
The continuity could begin with the quarterback who directed that solid finish.
After taking over for the injured Matt Leinart in Week 6 last year, Warner
had his best season since 2001 (27 TDs, 17 INTs) and looked ready to
win the competition for the job. On the line, all five starters return at the
same positions -- only the second time in 20 years that the Cardinals could
make that statement.
"As an offense, the more you play together, the better you're going to be,"
says James, who in his first seven years in the league, with the Colts, played
for one coordinator (Tom Moore) and lined up behind one starting quarterback
(Peyton Manning). Indy ranked in the top four in scoring six times in that span.
"You've got to have the core intact, and once you have the core intact you can
plug people in," James says. "But until you get that core together, it's kind of
complicated. You're kind of freestyling."
There are playmakers at wideout in Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, a blend of
experience (James) and youth (rookie Tim Hightower from Richmond) at running
back, a savvy Super Bowl winner at quarterback (Warner) and a defense that gets
back three potential impact players who missed a total of 30 games in '07
because of injuries: safety Adrian Wilson, linebacker Chike Okeafor and
end-linebacker Bertrand Berry.
"We can be unstoppable with the guys we have on this field, on both sides of
the ball," Boldin says. "Look at the weapons we have on offense. Look at the
speed and the athleticism we have on defense. The sky's the limit." This time,
he doesn't roll his eyes. -- Jim Trotter