Make or Blake player
New QB could determine Cards' success this season
Posted: Monday July 28, 2003 6:20 PM
This is the third in a series of postcards Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Saturday, July 26
Team: Arizona Cardinals
In Flagstaff, Ariz., mile-plus-high home of the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks. Wonderfully cool climate, some beautiful mountain peaks north of town, a new Starbucks a mile or so from camp, which all the Cardinals coaches have found, and some really friendly people. Flagstaff is about 140 miles north of Phoenix, and to get here, you have to drive through some great Old West names. Such as Bumble Bee. (Well, that's not really old West, I guess.) Deadman's Wash. (That's what I call old West.) Horsethief Basin.
There were more dogs (four) at Emmitt Smith's first non-Cowboys practice than national media members (two).
Four dogs! Including a yippy border collie mix who barked every time a Cardinals player walked by.
Left guard Cameron Spikes, a former defensive lineman who has previously tried to make a go of it on the O-lines in St. Louis and Houston, respectively. Spikes has a good chance to crack a good Cardinals offensive line on the left side, and Arizona coach Dave McGinnis loves his feistiness and quickness.
1. Of the 83 players on the Arizona roster, only six are from schools lower than Division I-AA. That seems really low.
2. The Cards have a Levar (Fisher), a LeVar (Woods), a Talifaia (Atoe), an Anquan (Boldin), a Teag (Whiting) and a Nijrell (Eason).
3. Want a sign about who's going to be the more impactful wideout? Boldin is No. 81, Marquise Walker is No. 4.
1. I think Pete Kendall, who is making the move to center after years as a standout guard, is being one heck of a team player by not complaining about it. "It's fine with me," he said. "Besides, it could extend my career a year or two by making me more versatile."
2. I think Jake Plummer said it best when he told me about his frustrations with the 2002 Cardinals receiving corps: "There was actually one week during the season when three of our receivers were wearing No. 11, 14 and 19."
3. I think Jeff Blake will do just fine as Arizona's starting quarterback. He can throw well deep, and he's smart enough to troll underneath when he needs to. I've always thought he was an underrated player. "Ask Bill Cowher if I'm an NFL starter," he said to me following the afternoon practice. "I've got 100 balls for one of these receivers. I just don't know which guy's going to step up to take them." My guess? Boldin, if anyone.
4. I think there isn't a finer man coaching a team in any sport than McGinnis. But, as I'm sure he knows, he has to win a few he probably shouldn't this year to show the front office he should keep his job. I rode in the cart with him to the morning practice, and you'd think the guy was a Welcome Wagon host, passing out hats to kids, welcoming old-timers backs to camp.
5. I think Smith is going to put up better numbers than any of you probably anticipate. Don't count this guy out. The line's the best part of this team. The interesting thing will be how much the Cards use Marcel Shipp, who showed himself to be a better-than-average back last year when he got the chance. If offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan hands Smith the ball more than few times a game, Emmitt's going to get his numbers back up. I can guarantee you that.
There is only one disquieting thing, really, about Emmitt Smith being here. And I know this is probably looking for trouble before it actually appears there is some, but with the elevation of Sullivan from receivers coach to coordinator, this is clearly going to be an offense that hopes to throw the ball downfield. I don't care how grim the talent looks at wideout right now. I wouldn't be surprised if Blake throws to a whole bunch of guys a whole lot of times, and has a 3,800-yard season. What would that mean to Emmitt? Fewer yards, probably. I think Smith will be a 1,000-yard back, barely, and in fact he'll be helped by the fact that the Cardinals should be able to keep the eighth man on defense from living near the line of scrimmage to continually thwart the run. This, I believe, will happen because Blake will find a groove with Boldin or Larry Foster or Kevin Kasper, strange as it sounds, and start beating some people deep.
|Entree: Sliced turkey-and-ham sandwich, with a piece of colby cheese on top. (May have been cheddar, but I thought it tasted more colbyish.) On wheat. Standard sandwich. I mean, what do you say about the sandwich? What kind of analysis can you do on the sandwich? Grade: C.
Salad: Terrific. Lots of Italian-mix lettuce, five cherry tomatoes, cukes, celery, carrots and a fine ranch dressing. Grade: A-minus.
Drink: Dasani water. Pay me, Dasani! Look at all this pub you're getting! Free. Grade: B.
Dessert: Fat-free frozen yogurt, from the machine. Hit the spot, though it's pretty hard to grade fat-free yogurt very high, because, obviously, it's fat-free yogurt. Grade: C-plus.
Overall grade: C-plus. I don't know. I haven't been inspired or blown away with a meal on this trip yet. Then again, you never look a gift meal in the mouth.
"I need Jeff Blake as much or more than I ever needed Troy Aikman," Smith told me, and this wasn't a knock on Aikman. Not at all. It was simply an acknowledgement that if Blake's a bum, Smith won't have much room to run this year.
Dallas Cowboys, San Antonio, Texas
Check back soon for more of Peter King's Postcards from Camp.