Star wideout Boldin sees the Cards finally cashing in on all that talent.
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September 7 at San Francisco 14 MIAMI 21 at Washington 28 at N.Y. Jets
October 5 BUFFALO 12 DALLAS 19 Bye 26 at Carolina
November 2 at St. Louis 10 SAN FRANCISCO (M) 16 at Seattle 23 N.Y. GIANTS 27 at Philadelphia (T)
December 7 St. Louis 14 MINNESOTA 21 at New England 28 SEATTLE
Antrel Rolle, Free safety: A corner since he was All-America at Miami, Rolle has been moved to a new position. Arizona wants to capitalize on his good range and ball skills (five interceptions in 2007, three returned for touchdowns). If Rolle makes a smooth transition, he and Adrian Wilson give the Cardinals one of the league's top safety tandems.
Amazing but true: There are almost no changes in the Valley of the Sun -- except, the team hopes, in the standings.
Anquan Boldin has witnessed so many changes in coaches and personnel duringhis career with the Cardinals that he pauses, rolls his eyes and chuckles beforetrying to recount them.
"Let's see," the receiver says after a late-afternoon practice duringtraining camp. "I'm in my sixth year and I've had three head coaches, probablyfive or six coordinators, six quarterbacks and new O-linemenevery week."
About the only change he hasn't witnessed is in the team's fortunes. Arizonaremains football's version of purgatory: The Cardinals have not had a winningseason since 1998, the only time they finished above .500 in the last24 years. Constant turnover has been a prime culprit. The franchise has hadeight coaches since moving from St. Louis in 1988 -- only the Raiders (nine)have had more during that span -- and its 12 coaching changes since the AFL-NFLmerger in 1970 are tied with Buffalo for the most among franchises that havebeen in continuous existence since then.
If the team wasn't making a move at the top -- going from Vince Tobin to DaveMcGinnis to Dennis Green to Ken Whisenhunt in this decade alone -- it was makingthe quick-fix reach for fading stars in free agency. The notables include NFLcareer rushing leader Emmitt Smith and reigning Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson in2003, former league and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner in '05 and Colts starEdgerrin James in '06.
This year, however, the theme is continuity. For the first time in recentmemory, the Cardinals have brought back the same coaching staff, the sameplaybooks and, basically, the same roster from the previous season. While someteams take those things for granted, such constancy is looked upon with wonderin Arizona.
"For us to go into a season under the same system, under the same head coach,with pretty much the same players means a lot," Boldin says. "I thought weshowed flashes last year -- especially toward the end of the year -- of how good wecan be. Right now we're picking up where we left off."
If true, the Cardinals might finally live up to their annual billing as apotential sleeper, an expectation they've failed to justify the last severalseasons. But a 5-3 finish over the second half of 2007 -- with two of the defeatsby a touchdown or less -- has them believing they're ready to be winners at last.The continuity could begin with the quarterback who directed that solid finish.After taking over for the injured Matt Leinart in Week 6 last year, Warnerhad his best season since 2001 (27 TDs, 17 INTs) and looked ready towin the competition for the job. On the line, all five starters return at thesame positions -- only the second time in 20 years that the Cardinals couldmake that statement.
"As an offense, the more you play together, the better you're going to be,"says James, who in his first seven years in the league, with the Colts, playedfor one coordinator (Tom Moore) and lined up behind one starting quarterback(Peyton Manning). Indy ranked in the top four in scoring six times in that span."You've got to have the core intact, and once you have the core intact you canplug people in," James says. "But until you get that core together, it's kind ofcomplicated. You're kind of freestyling."
There are playmakers at wideout in Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, a blend ofexperience (James) and youth (rookie Tim Hightower from Richmond) at runningback, a savvy Super Bowl winner at quarterback (Warner) and a defense that getsback three potential impact players who missed a total of 30 games in '07because of injuries: safety Adrian Wilson, linebacker Chike Okeafor andend-linebacker Bertrand Berry.
"We can be unstoppable with the guys we have on this field, on both sides ofthe ball," Boldin says. "Look at the weapons we have on offense. Look at thespeed and the athleticism we have on defense. The sky's the limit." This time,he doesn't roll his eyes. -- Jim Trotter
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