A more aggressive secondary scheme suits Wilson's Pro Bowl skills.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
at San Francisco (M)
at St. Louis
at New Orleans
at Tampa Bay
The King 500
414Bertrand Berry, linebacker/end
A Pro Bowler in 2004, Berry missed eight games with a torn pectoral muscle in '05 and six games last season with a torn triceps. He lost 15 pounds this off-season (down to 256) in an effort to avoid injury and to fit in as a standing pass rusher in the Cardinals' hybrid 3-4. Says Berry, who had six sacks in his final five games last season, "I've just got to find a way to stay on the field."
The hot pick of last season will benefit from reduced expectations -- and an infusion of "Steeler mentality"
Russ Grimm, Arizona's first-year offensive line coach, doesn't do grades.
When he played for the Redskins, Grimm hated how some position coaches assigned
percentages or handed out letter grades to each player, based on such factors as
the number of mistake-free snaps. It isn't professional, Grimm believes, and it
also doesn't serve the larger purpose. "The misnomer about the offensive line is
that you can grade a person individually," says Grimm, an 11-year NFL guard who
was the Steelers' line coach for six years. "If there are 75 snaps in a
game and the left tackle had five bad plays, he would grade out at above 90%.
But if he had five and the left guard had five and the center had five and
everyone on the line had five... well, they all graded out fine, but we got
our butts kicked."
Beyond the overall change in tone wrought by new coach Ken Whisenhunt,
formerly Grimm's offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, the new philosophy on the
O-line and the drafting of Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown with the fifth
pick in April are the most significant additions to the Cardinals. Optimism in
Arizona stems mostly from the belief that a motivated and rebuilt line (which
also added free-agent center Al Johnson from Dallas) can open holes for Edgerrin
James, the former Colt who failed to have the hoped-for impact after he signed
the largest free-agent deal in Cardinals history last year. A boost in the
ground game would lend some balance to an offense with an already potent passing
attack. "There is not a lack of talent [on the line]," Grimm says, despite the
likely loss of left tackle Oliver Ross for the season with a torn left triceps,
"but there has been a lack of consistency."
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
If Grimm can coax even a modicum of improvement from a rushing attack
that finished ahead of only Cleveland's and Detroit's last season (and had the
worst yards-per-carry figure, 3.2, in the league), the Cardinals' offense could
roll. Quarterback Matt Leinart figures to get better in his second season;
coaches tinkered with his drop back, teaching him to take a deeper first step to
get him more in sync with star wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. And
though tight end remains a weak spot after second-year man Leonard Pope
struggled in camp -- no small concern since Whisenhunt likes two-tight-end sets -- the
Cardinals should not want for points. "It's all there," Johnson says. "We don't
have any excuses. [Grimm] has simplified everything, made it easy for us to
understand what we have to do. If we don't do our job consistently, then it is
Defensively, the secondary has been strengthened by the addition of
free-agent free safety Terrence Holt (Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian
Wilson's college roommate at N.C. State) and the improvement of young corners
Antrel Rolle, Eric Green and Roderick Hood. The defensive backfield will be more
involved in blitzing in the aggressive scheme of holdover defensive coordinator
Clancy Pendergast, who like Grimm lost out to Whisenhunt for the head job but
decided to work under him. "We've got a young secondary, but they're learning
the nuances of the position," Wilson says. "It's exciting to think about going
out there to make plays rather than [just] doing a job so others can make
Wilson and mates will be busier now that the front seven likely lost
strongside linebacker Chike Okeafor for the season because of a torn biceps. He
had been moved from end to outside linebacker in Arizona's hybrid 3-4 defense.
His versatility, along with that of Bertrand Berry (both started their careers
as linebackers), was critical to the Cardinals' defensive plans. The drop-off
from Okeafor to Darryl Blackstock or Calvin Pace is steep, and it's likely to
alter everything Pendergast does. Fourth-year linebacker Karlos Dansby, who
teammates believe is poised to have a breakout season like Wilson's last year,
might need to rush the passer more, though his plate is full as is. "Karlos,
like a lot of the guys up front, is versatile," Holt says. "He can play inside
or outside, rush the passer, cover the slot. Guys like him are the reason I
think we can be successful, because we can throw a lot of different looks at
Success, however, is not expected, at least not to the level forecast last
season, when the Cardinals were the trendy pick to go from futility to the
playoffs. Arizona's division rival San Francisco now has that burden, and it has
provided the Cardinals with some cover while they adapt to Whisenhunt, Grimm and
the "Steeler mentality" they're trying to bring to the desert.
"It's that blue-collar attitude where you don't talk about what you're going
to do but you go out and do it," Wilson says. "We want to be known as a team
that plays tough, man-on-man football, a team that just goes and gets it done."
-- George Dohrmann