Postcard from camp: Cardinals
With concerns at QB, the Cardinals will rely on their run game and defense to win
Players aren't concerned with how long it takes to name a starting quarterback
Patrick Peterson has lost weight in order to be faster and more explosive this year
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Jim Trotter had to say about Cardinals camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., which he visited on Aug. 13. Read all of our postcards here.
At Northern Arizona University, where, thankfully, the Cardinals spend their summers. I say thankfully, because Flagstaff typically is 30 to 40 degrees cooler than Phoenix during the summer, and it was 112 in the valley when I left to see the Cardinals.
1. There may be a blanket of angst wrapped around the team, but I didn't find the anxiety level to be nearly that high internally. That's not to say there aren't concerns. The quarterback situation remains a problem, and the defense struggled in the first two preseason games. The former is a much bigger issue than the latter, because the defense showed last season it can be productive. The unit struggled the first half of the season, surrendering at least 30 points in four consecutive games. But no one scored more than 23 points against the Cardinals over the final nine games, including five in which opponents were limited to one or fewer touchdowns. Coordinator Ray Horton isn't one to panic and points out there was no game-planning or pressure packages used in the first two exhibitions. But look for that to change this week against the Raiders.
As for the quarterback situation, we'll rely on an old Parcells-ism: It is what it is. Kevin Kolb continues to battle injuries and turnovers, while John Skelton remains as inconsistent as ever. Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't going rush to name a starter, but the likelihood is that Kolb will need to show progress to gain the trust of not only the coaches, but also his teammates.
To those who would try to rush Whisenhunt into a decision because the players need to know who will be leading them at the most important position on the field, consider the words of safety Adrian Wilson: "I don't give a s**t who our quarterback is. I really don't. Whether it's John or whether it's Kevin, I'm guessing Coach Whisenhunt is probably going to want that guy to get the ball to the right person, and he probably wants him to protect the football. I'm pretty certain of those things. So, whoever wins it, you do those two things and you'll be good. Both guys have debates on why they should be the guy. They have to go out there and prove themselves to Coach. Over these last two weeks Coach has really been a hard ass about showing him what we can do. Like, show it to him. Don't keep talking about it and saying stuff in the media. Go out there and do it."
2. With their quarterbacks struggling, the Cardinals figure to lean on their running game and defense. While not particularly sexy, the strategy was good enough to get the divisional rival 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season. However ... the running backs are only slightly smaller question marks than the quarterbacks. Beanie Wells, coming off knee surgery, looked tentative during practice. And Ryan Williams, who opened eyes in training camp last year before tearing his patellar tendon in the preseason, has yet to play in a real game. Wells told me he felt rusty after returning to practice, but added he's eager to carry the load if asked. Whisenhunt said any fears he may have had about Wells' durability were answered last year, when the former Ohio State star fought through injuries to start 14 games and rush for 1,047 yards. It was the first time since entering the league in 2009 that he started more than two games.
3. Larry Fitzgerald is on his way to becoming one of the game's all-time greats, and Patrick Peterson could join him. Since entering the league in 2004, he is averaging 87 catches for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns a season despite playing with a cast of quarterbacks that would make most receivers cringe, including: John Navarre, Shaun King, Josh McCown, Tim Rattay, Rich Bartel, Brian St. Pierre, Matt Leinart, Max Hall, Derek Anderson, Kolb and Skelton. Only Kurt Warner played in a Pro Bowl.
When Horton looks at his defense he says he sees potential greatness in second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was been sensational in camp. "The guy's got so much mental toughness that he wants to be great, not good, in all phases, as a returner and a corner," Horton says. "He's worked very hard at his craft. ... He has everything that [Jets All-Pro Darrelle Revis] has. He's got height, bulk, speed, power and he's got that innate ability to have the hands of a wide receiver. So he's got everything. He's a coach's dream."
Peterson, who returned four punts for touchdowns last season, dropped about 10 pounds so he could be quicker and more explosive at the line. "I didn't want to have to worry about the guy getting behind me and having to strain myself to get back into position," Peterson says. "By being smaller, leaner, I can be in that position from the beginning rather than trying to make up ground."
Peterson admits that last year he was playing largely on his God-given abilities, after having no contact or practices with the team in the offseason because of the lockout. "I feel so far ahead of the game now," he says. "Having an offseason helped me grasp the playbook a little bit more and understand the scheme a little bit more. I understand where guys are supposed to be, where my help is supposed to be. I understand route trees and how guys will try to attack me."
Daryl Washington, linebacker. Horton believes Washington has the potential to be a star and should take a giant stride in that direction this season. The third-year pro was drafted in the second round out of TCU and has the athleticism, intellect and range to be a dominant player. "He can do it all," Horton says. "He's big, dynamic, can cover, run, hit."
Adam Snyder, right guard. The key to any good offense is its line play, and Snyder was signed away from San Francisco to help bolster the unit. He started at least 11 games in four of the past five seasons with the 49ers, and helped them advance to the NFC Championship Game last season. His strength is run blocking, which is key considering the Cardinals likely will want to establish a presence on the ground.
The Cardinals play four of their first six games at home, including three of four to start the season. It's critical for them to generate momentum because the schedule is daunting down the stretch, when they will play at the Jets, at the Seahawks, host the Lions and Bears, then finish at the 49ers.