Cardinals postcard (cont.)
New Face, New Place
The Cardinals used free agency to add depth and experience, signing former Titans defensive end Travis LaBoy and ex-Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans. The club also is excited about its rookie class. None of the players is expected to start, but a few are viewed as possible immediate contributors, including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Calais Campbell, running back Tim Hightower and Doucet.
Looking at the Schedule
The Cardinals' season could be decided early. Three of their first four are on the road, where they finished 2-6 last season. If they can get through that stretch in good shape, the schedule turns favorable late in the year, when they will play five of their final eight (and four of their last six) at home. There is only one back-to-back East Coast stretch, but the silver lining is that the games are in the mild weather of September instead of the cold of November and December. Whisenhunt says the team may even stay on the East Coast between its games at the Redskins and Jets.
Memorable Image From Camp
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald jumps out on and off the field. Between the lines, he not only practices as hard as he plays but also attacks the ball with a physicality that often leaves defenders overmatched. The scary thing: Fitzgerald is only entering his fourth season, and Warner says the former Pitt star still has room for improvement. That's a bold statement considering Fitzgerald already has 34 touchdowns and 4,544 yards receiving in 60 career games.
Off the field, Fitzgerald is just as conspicuous -- zooming around camp in a bright red, supped-up motorized golf car that that looks like a dune buggy. It has leather seats, an I-pod outlet and 20-inch chrome rims that Fitzgerald can (and does) swap out when four-wheeling over sand dunes.
The biggest disappointment during the workouts was the goal-line "scrimmage" the team conducted Wednesday night in Lumberjack Stadium. The session had been hyped all day as something the players were looking forward to as means of breaking the monotony of camp. But suffice to say the brief full-contact drill had as much energy as a book reading.
The only memorable plays were the coaching staff ruling Arrington came up short on a third-and-goal from the 10, even though he appeared to cross the goal line after taking a pass from Leinart. There also was Hightower showing nice patience and scoring off left guard on the following play; and Warner missing badly (which doesn't happen often) to a reserve tight end on fourth-and-goal from the nine.
Former first-round draft choice Antrel Rolle is making the switch from cornerback to free safety, and if he can play as well as he did last year in the slot and as a part-time starter, the Cardinals could have one of the league's top safety tandems in Rolle and Wilson. Rolle picked off a career-high five passes last year, returning three for touchdowns, including two in one game. At safety he will be asked to do some of the same things he did as a slot defender last year.
He says the big adjustment for him is recognizing formations and seeing the whole field instead of focusing on one player or one part of the field. "Any move that's made by the offense can affect your alignment, your depth and your position. There's also a lot more [adjustment calls]. At corner you really don't have too many checks."
Running back Edgerrin James turns 30 Friday, but don't tell him or the Cardinals that's cause for concern. Whisenhunt says there are high expectations for James, who has shown more quickness than a year ago. There was a lot of speculation that the Cardinals would use a high draft choice on a running back, but that didn't happen. Instead they waited until the fifth round to take Hightower.
James' numbers were up across the board last season in his second year with the Cardinals, and the team -- and James -- expects that trend to continue this season. So far he looks spry in camp.
Cardinals GM Rod Graves knew there would be a ripple effect after the team re-signed Fitzgerald to a $40 million, four-year deal in the offseason. Sure enough, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Wilson and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett have gone public with their unhappiness about their contract situations. A positive for the Cardinals is each player has said he won't allow his feelings to affect his game.
Boldin is not practicing, but it's because of a strained hamstring, not his contract. "I'm not going to let the situation change how I play. I'm going to be me," says Boldin, who was particularly vocal about his displeasure on the first day of camp but has since moved on. It was as if he wanted to vent, get it off his chest, then focus on football.
One of the big questions offensively is who will be the third receiver after Bryant Johnson signed a one-year deal with San Francisco. Jamaica Rector, Lance Long and Steve Breaston are the front-runners, and Doucet appears capable of throwing himself into the mix. Each has had his moments, but no one has assumed front-runner status. "I think what it's really going to come down to is who shows up in games," Whisenhunt says. "I'm excited with the depth and the competition."