CARDINALS at 49ERS
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Not long ago, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers used high first-round draft picks on who they believed would be their quarterbacks of the future.

Things have not gone according to plan.

With Matt Leinart and Alex Smith relegated to backup roles, the Cardinals will go with Kurt Warner in their season opener on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who have named J.T. O'Sullivan their starter.

Warner, a two-time league MVP, begins his 12th season having beaten out Leinart, a former Heisman Trophy winner who has yet to fulfill his potential after being selected 10th overall in 2006. Leinart missed the final 11 games last year with a broken collarbone and struggled during the preseason.

In 14 games including 11 starts last year, Warner passed for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns - 21 coming in the final eight games, but the Cardinals failed to reach the playoffs for the ninth straight season.

After guiding Arizona to an 8-8 record, second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt admitted the decision to go with the more experienced Warner was a difficult one.

"It was a fair evaluation of that position but it was also tough because both guys played well," Whisenhunt said. "Both guys did a good job."

Warner and Leinart expressed support for each other, but Warner also insisted he still has the tools needed to be successful even at 37.

"The bottom line is you just want to be on the football field and you want to play," Warner said. "I still feel like I can do that at a high level."

Having two talented receivers should help Warner continue to succeed. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFC with 100 receptions and 1,409 yards, and Anquan Boldin had a career-best nine TD catches in 2007.

Last month, though, Boldin asked to be traded after saying he has no relationship with Whisenhunt. Boldin also claimed the Cardinals pulled back an offer to renegotiate his contract.

Whisenhunt indicated he wants to see more from running back Edgerrin James in 2008. James is looking for his sixth straight 1,000-yard season, and leads all active players with 11,607 rushing yards.

"After 1,200 yards last year, which was a solid season, hopefully we'll do a little better this year," Whisenhunt said.

While the Cardinals know what they're capable of, the same cannot be said for the 49ers, who had the NFL's lowest-ranked offense a year ago during a 5-11 season.

Three years ago, Mike Nolan's first major move as San Francisco's coach was taking Smith first overall in the draft. Now, Nolan is going with O'Sullivan, a sixth-round pick in 2002 who's with his eighth organization.

"We want to play our best players that give us the best chance to win," Nolan said. "For our football team's sake, it's time to get ready for our opening game. This (decision to go with O'Sullivan) puts more focus on where it should be now."

O'Sullivan was NFL Europa's offensive co-MVP in 2007, but passed for only 148 yards with two interceptions in four games with Detroit last year. A third-stringer when training camp opened in July, O'Sullivan beat out Smith and Shaun Hill , who threw for four touchdowns in two wins as a starter late last season.

"This hasn't been a case of Alex and Shaun not performing well," Nolan said. "This has been a case of J.T. performing very well. That's why we are where we are."

On Saturday, the Niners added Smith to their injury report, listing him as doubtful due to another problem in his surgically repaired right shoulder that was operated on in November. The team didn't specify what was wrong with Smith, only saying the injury occurred without contact during practice Friday.

Hill will be O'Sullivan's backup with running back Michael Robinson , the former Penn State quarterback, likely to be third-string.

In yet another attempt to revive an offense that ranked last in passing yards and total yards last season, San Francisco brought in Mike Martz - its sixth offensive coordinator in six years.

With Warner at quarterback, Martz was the architect of the "Greatest Show on Turf" when he was head coach in St. Louis. Last season, Martz was the offensive coordinator in Detroit. The Lions' offense ranked 16th last season, up from 21st in 2006.

San Francisco also added Isaac Bruce and former Cardinal Bryant Johnson to further strengthen its offense, which didn't have a wide receiver with more than 600 yards a year ago.

A possible future Hall of Famer, Bruce spent 14 seasons in St. Louis, is third all-time with 14,109 receiving yards and could overtake Tim Brown this year.

"I have a lot left. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be here in San Francisco," said Bruce, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who will turn 36 in November. "My hopes are very high. I'm going to set my goals very high, and I believe I will attain them."

Johnson was picked 17th overall by Arizona in 2003, and had nine touchdown catches in five seasons.

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Sunday, Sep 7
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Cardinals
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49ers
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Cardinals 49ers
per game NFL Rank NFC WEST per game NFL Rank NFC WEST
Total Offense 285 yds 17th 2nd 291 yds 16th 1st
Total Defense 291 yds 11th 2nd 285 yds 10th 1st
Points Scored 23 pts 7th 1st 13 pts 13th 2nd
Points Allowed 13 pts 4th 1st 23 pts 10th 2nd