4 Arizona Cardinals A new-look secondary is of primary concern for a team moving to a pass-happy division

September 01, 2002

You can still buy Pat Tillman's jersey wherever official
Cardinals merchandise is sold, meaning that while he's decked out
in camouflage this fall, scores of Arizona fans will keep the
memory of number 40 alive. And why not? By giving up his
million-dollar contract and starting strong safety position in
the hope of becoming an Army Ranger, Tillman not only qualified
for super-patriot status but also ducked out of Dodge at the
optimal time.

With realignment shifting the Cardinals to the NFC West, home of
the pass-happy 49ers and Seahawks--and domain of the Rams' aerial
circus--the secondary will face as much pressure as any other in
football. "In our division we'd better have some guys who can
cover," says coach Dave McGinnis, whose team quietly won five of
its final eight games last season to finish 7-9. "We're in a
division with teams that are three or four years into their
development, and we're going to have to grow up, fast."

So while most football fans are more aware of who's not in the
Arizona secondary--a year before Tillman bolted, perennial Pro
Bowl cornerback Aeneas Williams went to St. Louis in a draft-day
trade--the Cardinals are counting on this revamped unit to make a
name for itself. "We just want to be one of the best, if not the
best, secondaries in the league," says free safety Kwamie
Lassiter, the defensive backfield's lone returning starter. "At
the end of the year we'll see what's what."

Lassiter, who had nine interceptions in 2001, enjoys turnovers
more than turnover: Last March, while Arizona fans were busy
reviving themselves after penurious owner Bill Bidwill
authorized a five-year, $23 million contract for free-agent
cornerback Duane Starks, Lassiter was livid over how the ensuing
payroll adjustments affected the rest of the starting secondary.
"I was mad as hell, because there was nothing wrong with Corey
Chavous," Lassiter says of Starks's predecessor, a free agent
who Arizona chose not to re-sign and is now with the Vikings.
The cash commitment to Starks, a standout for the Ravens for the
past four seasons, also hastened the departure of the other
starting cornerback, Tom Knight, who's now with the Patriots;
left David Barrett, an inexperienced third-year player, as the
starter opposite Starks; and cost Lassiter the long-term
contract he'd been seeking.

Says Lassiter, who accepted a one-year, $3.34 million deal after
the team designated him as its franchise player, "I tell Starks
all the time, 'You're the reason I don't have a contract.'"

Starks replies, "You know they've got plenty of money. They're
just trying to use me as an excuse."

While Lassiter stews about his future--"If it comes to the end of
the season and they haven't worked out something long-term," he
says, "why even bother talking to me?"--he's hell-bent on
enhancing the present. As McGinnis acknowledges, the Cardinals
lack a premier pass rusher, meaning the defensive backs will have
to hang tough against aerial opportunists. In an attempt to build
chemistry and trust, Lassiter plans to be more forceful about
compelling his fellow defensive backs to spend quality time
together off the field.

"When we went to the playoffs in '98, we were a real close team,"
Lassiter says. "I think we have to get that camaraderie back.
Thursday nights are supposed to be our nights out, and unless
it's an emergency, I want everybody there."

Logic suggests that Starks could use the company, because during
the games he's likely to be the loneliest man on the field. But
the 5'10", 172-pounder doesn't buy into the notion that teams
will throw away from him and try to exploit Barrett. "No, because
I'm a small guy," Starks says, "and people always like to pick on
a small guy."

If the secondary has a bully, it's strong safety Adrian Wilson, a
third-round pick last year. The 6'3", 207-pounder is a fast,
big-hitting smack talker. "I expect to be one of the best in the
league," Wilson says. "Nothing against Pat, but I'm sick of
talking about his decision. Hopefully I can give people something
to talk about."

"Believe me, he will," Lassiter says. "The fans love Tillman so
much, they're going to wear his jerseys until he comes back. But
you'll be seeing Adrian's jersey in the stands next year."
--M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The thrifty Cardinals splurged on Starks, who has 20 interceptions in four seasons. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS FREDDIE JONES

NEW TWIST

--In free-agent signee Freddie Jones, the Cardinals feel they
have a big-time tight end for the first time in 28 years. Though
Jones struggled last year in San Diego, Arizona hopes it signed
the guy who caught 71 passes in 2000. With defenses geared to
stop wideout David Boston, the Cards believe they can create
favorable matchups with two-tight-end sets.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals

"As usual, Arizona is like a six-cylinder engine that's hitting on
only five cylinders. It all starts with training camp: The Number
1 pick is never there on time, and it leaves a bad taste. To make
matters worse, this year's top pick, Wendell Bryant, is an
underachiever. He can play defensive end or tackle, and he has
great measurables but no motor.... The linebackers are weak, and
the secondary is sloppy. They should have drafted [cornerback]
Phillip Buchanon.... Leonard Davis has a chance to be the
greatest guard ever to put on a uniform. Last year he threw the
Eagles' Corey Simon around like a grade school kid, and Simon's a
good player. In fact, they might have the best offensive line in
football, but they're wasting it with a soft running game and no
Number 2 receiver. Thomas Jones is soft, tentative and just not a
good runner.... Quarterback Jake Plummer takes chances and tends
to screw up early. Then, if he does something good late in the
game, people say, 'Jake did it again.'... Freddie Jones is a big
upgrade at tight end--a good receiver and a good enough
blocker.... David Boston gained 25 pounds of muscle last year,
and he uses it. He does a lot of that pushing off stuff that
Michael Irvin used to do. For a big guy, he's quick out of the
break, and he runs great routes. He's the total package, but he
can't do it by himself. Frank Sanders, the other starter, is like
a Number 4 receiver."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Washington
15 at Seattle
22 SAN DIEGO
29 N.Y. GIANTS

Oct. 6 at Carolina
13 Open date
20 DALLAS
27 at San Francisco

Nov. 3 ST. LOUIS
10 SEATTLE
17 at Philadelphia
24 OAKLAND

Dec. 1 at Kansas City
8 DETROIT
15 at St. Louis
21 SAN FRANCISCO (Sat.)
29 at Denver

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 10
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Dave McGinnis; third season with Arizona (8-17 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 7-9 (fourth in NFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 27/13/18; defense 24/26/28

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Jake Plummer 36
525 att. 304 comp. 57.9% 3,653 yds. 18 TDs 14 int. 79.6 rtg.

RB Thomas Jones 78
112 att. 380 yds. 3.4 avg. 21 rec. 151 yds. 7.2 avg. 5 TDs

RB Marcel Shipp [1] 202
257 att. 1,106 yds. 4.3 avg. 23 rec. 230 yds. 10.0 avg. 12 TDs

FB Joel Makovicka 341
1 att. 19 yds. 19.0 avg. 16 rec. 95 yds. 5.9 avg. 1 TD

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR David Boston 32 98 rec. 1,598 yds. 8 TDs
WR Frank Sanders 111 41 rec. 618 yds. 2 TDs
WR MarTay Jenkins 208 32 rec. 518 yds. 3 TDs
TE Freddie Jones [N] 129 35 rec. 388 yds. 4 TDs
K Bill Gramatica 243 25/25 XPs 16/20 FGs 73 pts.
PR Arnold Jackson 417 40 ret. 11.5 avg. 0 TDs
KR MarTay Jenkins 208 49 ret. 22.9 avg. 0 TDs

LT L.J. Shelton 6'6" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Pete Kendall 6'5" 294 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
C Mike Gruttadauria 6'3" 284 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RG Leonard Davis 6'6" 370 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Anthony Clement 6'8" 351 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Fred Wakefield 29 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LT Russell Davis 37 tackles 2 sacks
RT Wendell Bryant (R) [N] 69 tackles 8 sacks
RE Kyle Vanden Bosch 11 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Raynoch Thompson 61 tackles 1/2 sack
MLB Ron McKinnon 97 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Rob Fredrickson 72 tackles 4 sacks
CB Duane Starks [N] 54 tackles 4 int.
SS Adrian Wilson 24 tackles 2 int.
FS Kwamie Lassiter 83 tackles 9 int.
CB David Barrett 51 tackles 2 int.
P Scott Player 67 punts 41.5 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
[1] 2000 college statistics

"They might have the best line in football, but they're wasting
it with a soft running game."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)