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2006 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Kurt Warner
Backup(s): Matt Leinart [R], John Navarre, Rohan Davey

Starting QB: No team passed more frequently than the Cardinals did last year, with Arizona QBs totaling eight games with 300 passing yards and barely missing that mark an additional four times. What a long, strange trip it's been for Warner, who went from rags to riches to rags to someplace in between. He's had a propensity for getting hurt and turning the ball over too much, but he probably couldn't land in a better spot with the Cards' high-octane offense and a tandem of All-Pro receivers. If Warner can stay healthy (and that's a huge if given his limited mobility and the horrid play of the offensive line), he should put up some impressive yardage totals.

Backup QB: Should Warner miss time again, Leinart will likely be the one to take over. Leinart is the most polished rookie QB in this year's crop of rookies and ran a modified pro style offense at USC. Arizona has already said that Warner will be the starter this year and Leinart will not challenge Warner for the starting job. Leinart has been written up for having marginal arm strength, which seems a bit curious given that he was considered a sure thing last year before opting to return to school. Navarre and Davy are battling for the third QB spot and it's doubtful the team will keep them both. Navarre knows the offense but has rarely seen the field. Davy was a legend in NFL Europe but has been less than stellar here in the States.

Running Backs

Starter: Edgerrin James
Backup(s): J.J. Arrington, Marcel Shipp, Damien Anderson
Fullback(s): Obafemi Ayanbadejo, James Hodgins

Starting RB: No player has averaged more total yards per game than James has, but it would be a monumental challenge for him to match his performance level from Indianapolis. The Cardinals' offensive line was flat out putrid last year. He's leaps and bounds better talent wise than the other backs on the roster, but there's only so much James can do to improve the team's 3.1 ypc. He also may not see the same workload, as Edge alone had 360 carries last year and 8 Cardinals' RB totaled 297. Still, Edge was one of the best free agent signings this off-season and should dramatically improve the running game and gives the team a true stud RB for the first time in many years.

Backup RBs: Arrington was in great demand in fantasy circles and laid an egg on the field last year. With Edge in town, Arrington won't see much work and may not get another chance to be a starter anytime soon. After missing the 2004 season, Shipp may have been less productive than Arrington, posting a paltry 2.9 ypc. If James were to get hurt, the reserves have proven that they could be as ineffective as any backs in the game.

Fullback: Obafemi Ayanbadejo, the man with two racks of Scrabble tiles for a name, did little to pave the way for Arrington of Shipp. Like many others on the team, his blocking skills could use some work. He did, however, haul in a career high 34 passes last year but it's unlikely he'll get that many again with Edge on the roster.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin
Backups: Bryant Johnson, Troy Walters, LeRon McCoy

Starting WRs: Fitzgerald and Boldin became the third WR duo to each have 100 receptions and the second to both have 100/1,400 in a season (Perriman and Moore, Detroit, 1995). They are one of the more dynamic pairing of receivers in a long time and are interchangeable as WR1 and WR1a. They are young and could continue to improve, which should be a frightening thought for defenders. Boldin did not miss a beat after struggling along with a knee injury in 2004. Only superlatives can be used to describe either one of them, but one certainly has to wonder what they can do for an encore.

Backup WRs: Johnson has been a bit of a disappointment as a former first round pick. With the other WR performing at an elite level, it may not all be Johnson's fault as he almost certainly would have seen more targets without the dynamic duo on the team. Poor Troy Walters. He's gone from backing up Randy Moss and Cris Carter to rarely seeing time behind Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to now having to wait for a chance behind Boldin and Fitzgerald. Don't expect him to make a dent in Arizona either. McCoy chipped in 18 receptions last year as a rookie.

Tight Ends

Starters: Leonard Pope [R]
Backups: Adam Bergen, Eric Edwards

Pope may not be the Day 1 starter, but he will be in the lineup early and often. Bergen and Edwards between them only had 40 receptions and 400 receiving yards. Some thought the Cardinals got first round value in the third round and found a future star in Pope. Edwards was being groomed to take over for Freddie Jones. Bergen was an undrafted free agent and a rookie last year.

Place Kicker

Neil Rackers : Everything came together for Rackers last year. Heís always had a very strong leg, but in 2005 he took his accuracy to another level. The Cardinals provided him with a ton of FG opportunities, and he ended up going 40 of 42 (95.2%), despite missing one game due to injury. The 40 successful FGs set a new NFL season record, and earned a pair of his shoes a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second consecutive year. Rackers will spend the pre-season getting acclimated to the retractable grass field in the brand new Cardinals Stadium. It will be hard for him to top his stellar 2005, however he says heís hoping to improve upon his already lofty touchback percentage on kickoffs.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: J.J. Arrington; Troy Walters; Bryant Johnson; Marcel Shipp

Last yearís KR/PR specialist, Reggie Swinton, became a free agent. RB J.J. Arrington emerged this pre-season as the primary kickoff returner. Newly signed free agent WR Troy Walters served as a backup KR the last three years in Indianapolis, and led the team in 2002 (53 returns, 21.7 avg.). He is not spectacular, but heís reliable. WR Bryant Johnson has had a handful of returns each year (2 returns, 22.5 avg in 2005). The Cardinals were the 8th ranked fantasy return team last year, primarily as a result of their kickoff return yardage.

Punt Returners: Troy Walters; Bryant Johnson; Anquan Boldin

Troy Walters was the leading punt returner for the Colts last year (21 returns, 8.2 avg.), although he did have 25 fair catches. The Cardinals are still hoping that Bryant Johnson will step up to become a return threat this year. Heís had only two punt returns (6.0 avg.) and five fair catches during his three years in Arizona. Boldin was the teamís primary PR in his rookie year; however he did not return any punts last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Brandon Gorin, RG Milford Brown, C Alex Stepanovich, G Reggie Wells, LT Leonard Davis
Key Backups: RT Oliver Ross [Inj], RG Elton Brown, C Nick Leckey, LG Taitusi Lutui [R], T Fred Wakefield

While nowhere near a top unit, the Cardinals offensive line does have the potential to be much better than last season if they can stay healthy. New OL coach Steve Loney has had some success at the NFL level with the Vikings and is a good teacher. LT Leonard Davis has only missed five games during his six-year career and is a fixture at tackle; although he must improve on his 12 false start penalties. At right tackle, the team hopes Oliver Ross (acquired last year) will be the starter for most of the season but, in case his recovery from injury extends into the regular season, they traded for Brandon Gorin. Gorin started 8 games for New England last year and is an upgrade to the team's other tackle backups. At guard, the team has quality depth with free agent Milford Brown and rookie Deuce Lutui joining holdovers Reggie Wells and Elton Brown. Elton Brown was a raw rookie last year who was forced into action for nine games with the injury to Reggie Wells; but was considered one of the better prospects in his draft class. Lutui is a huge man who will drive defenders off the ball. He is a liability in space though with suspect athleticism. Milford Brown brings some experience and toughness to the table while Wells is quite familiar with the offensive scheme and can slot into either guard or center. Alex Stepanovich is young, talented and should get better as the year goes on. The team missed him when he went down with injury last year. There is enough young talent here to be competitive and for improvement to be made but mental mistakes must be cut back and more consistency shown.

Team Defense

The Cardinals have a nucleus of extremely talented defensive playmakers... a DL that sports Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor and Darnell Dockett, an ascendant player in SLB Karlos Dansby who looks like an emerging star, SS Adrian Wison is one of the most underappreciated and best young safeties in the league, and 2005 top 10 pick Antrell Rolle (best pedigree in this group) is a luminously gifted CB with the physical traits and multi-faceted array of skills to become a future serial Pro Bowler if he can overcome an ACL injury. With the Cards ridiculous weapons on offense, the defense should be positioned to play downhill (with a lead) more often than in the past. Though ARI does have some key pieces in place, the stop unit still has holes at nearly every level, and need to prove they can play well TOGETHER. Featuring an offense that sports former two time league MVP Kurt Warner, four time Pro Bowler James and the historically good young WR tandem of Boldin/Fitzgerald, the Cards defense may not need to be great. With that kind of over the top scoring firepower, just fielding a respectable and competitive stop unit could suffice to enable the team to make some noise in their division, and possibly beyond... perhaps emerging from the desert into the promised land? Despite being #10 in rush defense (102 YPG) and #12 in pass defense (193.6 YPG), oddly the Cards were #26 in total defense (24.2 PPG allowed), and finished a middle-of-the-pack #17 among defenses in FBG scoring.

Defensive Line

Starters: Bertrand Berry DE, Chike Okeafor DE, Darnell Dockett DT, Kendrick Clancy DT
Backups: Kenny King DT, Gabe Watson DT [r], Anton Palepoi DE, Antonio Smith DE, Jonathan Lewis DT

Starting DL: Berry has quietly been one of the best FA signings league-wide in recent years and maybe the franchise's best ever until Edge. The former Bronco situational pass rusher was second in sacks (14.5) to Dwight Freeney in 2004 and off to an equally impressive 2005 before suffering a season-ending injury in his eighth game (prorated, he would have had a top 5 finish over a full season). He's a late bloomer who turns 31 this year and needs to make some hay while he can, but he is still playing at an extremely high level and probably has young legs due to being a part-time player except for last two with the Cards. Ex-Seahawk import Okeafor made a solid if unspectacular bookend to Berry and led Arizona DL in tackles and sacks (7.5). Between them they make a nice set of bookend DEs, both which can be pass rushing forces as well as help in run support. Docket has flahed considerable promise in his initial two seasons, but the former Florida State Seminole leader in tackles behind the LOS (TFL) has so far been unable to put it all together in a sustained manner. Clancy is a long time Steeler (with the Giants in 2005) entering his seventh year who was signed in the hopes of fortifying the interior DL and making the team stronger up the middle in run support.

Backup DL: Kenny King is a former fifth round draft pick who has shown promise but has been able to get on the field since 2003 with a lingering wrist injury that could put his career in jeopardy. Rookie Gabe Watson has first round ability coupled with a late round motor...split the difference and he went early in day two. He is maddeningly inconsistent (he was benched at times his senior season), but if HC Green can summon greater intensity and urgency from him, Watson can be as good as he wants to be. He will be part of a rotation as he rounds into shape, and if he gets serious about his conditioning could make a difference stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket, which would make those around him better. Anton Palepoi and Antonio Smith add precious little depth at the end position, and could be challenged by some younger players in camp.

Linebackers

Starters: Karlos Dansby SLB, Gerald Hayes MLB, Orlando Huff WLB
Backups: James Darling MLB, Lance Mitchell MLB, Mark Brown WLB, Darryl Blackstock WLB, Calvin Pace SLB, Brandon Johnson SLB

Starting LBs: Dansby is an ascendant player and emerging star. Former top 30 nationally recruited prep WR who blew up into a safety...then blew up some more into a LB (one of the best one-two LB punches in the nation with Viking Dontarrious Thomas at Auburn). At 6'4" 240 lbs, he preserved his WR-like feet, quickness and change-of-direction ability. Should evolve into a big play machine and has game breaker-type talent. Hayes was slotted to man the MIKE position last season, but got hurt early and never got untracked. Despite being slow to develop (in three seasons, career high - 26 tackles), he reportedly will get first crack at regaining the starting job. Not the most gifted athlete, and he hasn't always flashed elite instincts or first step as a pro, but in college (Pitt) he was equally adept at plugging gaps, filling run lanes hard and flying to ballcarriers with sideline-to sideline range. Orlando "H.R. Pufn" Huff (not to be confused with fellow LB and Orlando RUFF) was a MLB for the Seahawks prior to 2005, but was switched to WLB. He is a journeyman and could be overtaken by ex-Jet starter Mark Brown or current backup MLB James Darling. While the FO should be lauded for the outstanding job done in FA/draft on OFFENSE, they didn't get much help for the back seven of the defense (hard to say if LB or DB is the bigger positional weakness).

Backup LBs: Darling filled in for the injured Hayes and did a solid if unspectacular job. Once again he trails Hayes on the depth chart, but if he stumbles, Darling is capable of stepping into the starting lineup. Even if Hayes wins the MIKE, Darling could start if Huff and/or Brown both underwhelm. Bottom line... the position is in flux and still in play. Darling is a decent size/speed combo, and his athleticism and versatility gives the coaching staff the flexibility to play him where he is needed most (this also enables getting the three best LBs on the field together). Mitchell looked like a can't miss prospect at Oklahoma, but has been slow to regain his pre-knee injury form and may never be the same player that at one time looked like the best MLB prospect in his class (he had outstanding athleticism and was a star prep RB). Soph Blackstock was supposedly a Dansby clone, but after plummeting in his draft, proved much further removed from prime time than thought. He should have remained in school to work on his overall game... he is another in a cast of thousands thrown at the WLB positional hole (new meaning to WEAK side), using the uneconomical "keep throwing stuff until something sticks" principle. Rookie fifth rounder Johnson is slated to back up Dansby.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Antrel Rolle CB, David Macklin CB, Adrian Wilson SS, Robert Griffith FS
Backups: Eric Green CB, Robert Tate CB, Ernest Shazor SS

Starting DBs: Soph Rolle has an amazingly fully formed game and encompassing skill set (equally adept shadowing WRs or stoning ball carriers). Many scouts thought he was the #1 CB in his class (some think he could be a Pro Bowl safety). He is the rare CB with the physical nature, toughness and explosive open field tackling ability to rack up elite LB-like totals. Think of the voracious tackling Antoine Winfield (only about 30 lbs heavier). Rookie season cut short by a knee injury (still experiencing lingering pain as of mini-camp so monitor closely). Macklin is just a guy but nothing special (could get pushed by soph Eric Green). Wilson had a Pro Bowl worthy 2005 capaign but languishes in obscurity (the Cards recognize his phenomenal talent and locked him up to a long term extension. The sixth year star has great size (6'3" 230), athleticism and is one of the best tackling DBs in the game today (along with Michael Lewis and Roy Williams). He was a big play maven, notching eight sacks (staggering number for a DB). Green has a comfort level with Griffith from their stint together at MIN. He is savvy and gets the rest of the secondary lined up right, but at this point (on the way down, playing out of position), he is probably a liability in coverage AND run support.

Backup DBs: Green is from the same 2005 draft class as Rolle. Though somewhat raw, he appears to have better physical tools and overall skill level than Macklin, and it may be just a matter of time before he grabs the starting job opposite Rolle. Tate is a former WR and ex-Viking... another case of Green wanting to bring in "his kind of guys" (he even went to the same high school as the HC). He was rescued off the scrap heap after a year out of football. Shazor (another class of 2005 DB) was cited by many a scouting publication as one of the top in-the-box, run stuffing SSs in his draft. It was his misfortune that NFL teams at the moment heavily prioritize and value coverage ability in safeties (even SSs, the traditional thumper in the deep patrol). He went into maximum descent free fall and didn't stop falling until ARI signed him... as a UFA. It is too early to tell if he is anything more than a special teamer, situational player and depth-type. He isn't likely to play a larger role unless Wilson were hurt... FS is not an option as his coverage "skills" are virtually non-existent.

Last modified: 2006-09-03 06:22:33



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