4 Arizona Cardinals The new quarterback talks a good game, but his defensive teammates rarely play one

August 31, 2003

Listening to Jeff Blake talk about this year's Cardinals, you
want to shake him, snap him out of his delusional state. Blake,
Arizona's new starting quarterback, is discussing his team's
prospects this year. "I guarantee you, we are going to turn this
franchise around--myself, Emmitt and Coach Mac," says Blake.
"Every year, a team no one thinks is any good goes to the
playoffs. I've played in the worst place there is, and I'm
telling you, this team will win some games." He says this with a
megawatt smile lighting up his face. Which seems
appropriate--until you realize he's not joking.

Blake, who started for the Bengals from 1994 to '99, does know
something about losing. And he's right in thinking that the
Cardinals have a way to go to usurp the Bengals' title as the
NFL's worst franchise. But one glance at their inexperienced,
wafer-thin roster suggests the Cardinals are on that course.
Arizona's off-season signing of Emmitt Smith, the NFL's alltime
leading rusher, provided a slight p.r. bounce, but it can't mask
the Cardinals' grim reality. They lost a number of key players to
free agency, including their starting quarterback, tarnished
golden boy Jake Plummer, and their top three wideouts from 2002,
the most notable being former Pro Bowler David Boston.

Despite a nonexistent pass rush, they chose not to take local
Arizona State end Terrell Suggs, whose NCAA-record 24 sacks as a
senior were more than the Cardinals' total (21) in '02. And their
most significant addition after dropping 10 of their last 11
games a year ago? A much-maligned quarterback who is playing for
his fourth team in the last five seasons and has a giant chip on
his shoulder--Blake.

Oddly enough, that's just what the team has lacked. "We need a
guy like Jeff, someone who's a bit angry, who feels like he has
something to prove," says Dave McGinnis, in his third full season
as the Cardinals' coach. "Everywhere he's been, he's proved he
can play, and then they've decided they want someone else. Here,
he's the guy. The team has taken to him, and he's been great,
particularly for the young receivers."

Blake heartily endorses himself as well. "Everybody says the
Cardinals are doormats," Blake says. "I've tried to show the guys
that perceptions are worth nothing. It might not happen
overnight, but I want to get this team fixed."

With a judiciously employed Smith running behind a talented line,
at least first down shouldn't be too bad. But things could get
ugly when defenses stuff eight players into the box and dare
Blake to throw. New offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan likes
big-strike, multiple-receiver sets to take advantage of Blake's
rifle arm, but the receiving talent isn't there. Second-round
pick Anquan Boldin, a former Florida State quarterback, emerged
as Blake's favorite target after having a consistent camp, but
he's too slow and raw to scare defenses. Wideout Bryant Johnson,
a rookie from Penn State, appeared out of his depth during camp.
"Each of our wideouts has had some good days, but they haven't
strung them together," Sullivan said before a mid-August
practice.

Few people expect Arizona's defense to string together many good
days. It's a woeful unit that gave up 376 yards and 26 points per
game last year. Rather than take Suggs with the 10th pick in the
draft, the Cardinals traded down to get Johnson in the 17th spot
and Wake Forest defensive end Calvin Pace at 18, and now Arizona
has to hope that Pace can be an impact pass rusher, a tall order
for a rookie. The linebacking corps is average, and the
secondary, though solid, will be done in by Arizona's inability
to pressure the passer.

In Blake the Cardinals have found the ultimate company man,
relentlessly optimistic in the face of certain disaster. Asked
why things will be different in the Valley of the Sun this time,
he points to his career touchdown-to-interception ratio (119 to
83) versus Plummer's (90 to 114) and his experience with untested
receivers. "And I still throw the best ball in the league," he
says. "It ain't no secret."

Given what he's got to work with, being delusional may serve him
well. --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK VERBAL COMMITMENT Blake brings a rifle arm and leadership to Arizona, but his words don't tackle or run pass routes. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS DAVIS COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

Right end Kyle Vanden Bosch's season-ending tear of his left
ACL on Aug. 16 means CALVIN PACE, a rookie left end from Wake
Forest, must do the heavy lifting for a pass rush that was the
NFL's worst in '02. The speedy, 269-pound Pace had just eight
sacks as a senior but will still face double teams as the sole
threat on a lousy front four.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"This will be an ugly year for Arizona. The defensive line is
weak. The tackles, Wendell Bryant and Russell Davis, shouldn't
be starting in the NFL. Too much will be asked of Calvin Pace, a
first-rounder most teams saw as a late second-rounder at
best.... The Cardinals are solid at linebacker, but Ronald
McKinnon was slipping by the end of last year.... They overpaid
for Dexter Jackson, who played the game of his life for the Bucs
against the Raiders in the Super Bowl. He'll be another Larry
Brown, an overrated Super Bowl MVP.... The only bright spot will
be the offensive line--Leonard Davis is a beast at right guard,
and L.J. Shelton finally looked like a player last year at left
tackle. At center, Frank Garcia will be an upgrade over Mike
Gruttadauria.... They will regret letting all those wide
receivers go, especially David Boston. He was their only real
threat on offense. Taking Bryant Johnson in the first round was
a real reach, and he might get beaten out by some guy named
Jason McAddley.... Having to watch Emmitt Smith every week will
be sad. You'll wonder: Why did he sign with this team? ...
They're probably the worst team in pro football."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Detroit
14 SEATTLE
21 GREEN BAY
28 at St. Louis

Oct. 5 at Dallas
12 BALTIMORE
19 Open Date
26 SAN FRANCISCO

Nov. 2 CINCINNATI
9 at Pittsburgh
16 at Cleveland
23 ST. LOUIS
30 at Chicago

Dec. 7 at San Francisco
14 CAROLINA
21 at Seattle
28 MINNESOTA

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 32
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .443
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 5-11
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 15/29/27
DEFENSE 30/28/29

COACH: Dave McGinnis; fourth season with Arizona (13-28 in NFL)

EMMITT SMITH[1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 80 254 975 3.8

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
16 89 5.6 5

JEFF BLAKE[1]

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 155 295 165 55.9

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,084 13 11 77.3

JAMES HODGINS[1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 364 3 7 2.3

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
9 47 5.2 0

BRYAN GILMORE

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 188 1 14 0

FREDDIE JONES

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 203 44 358 1

L.J. SHELTON

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'6" 335 lbs. 16 16

CAMERON SPIKES[1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'2" 323 lbs. 12 5

PETE KENDALL

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'5" 288 lbs. 12 12

LEONARD DAVIS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'6" 372 lbs. 15 15

ANTHONY CLEMENT

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'8" 328 lbs. 1 0

LARRY FOSTER[1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 162 14 152 0

DEFENSE

RE CALVIN PACE (R)[1] 73 tackles 8 sacks
RT RUSSELL DAVIS 44 tackles 2 sacks
LT WENDELL BRYANT 20 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
LE FRED WAKEFIELD 31 tackles 3 sacks
OLB LEVAR FISHER 20 tackles 0 sacks
MLB RONALD MCKINNON 108 tackles 0 sacks
OLB RAYNOCH THOMPSON 104 tackles 3 sacks
CB DAVID BARRETT 74 tackles 3 int.
SS ADRIAN WILSON 93 tackles 4 int.
FS DEXTER JACKSON[1] 71 tackles 3 int.
CB RENALDO HILL 56 tackles 2 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K BILL GRAMATICA 243 29/29 XPS 15/21 FGs 74 PTS.
PR ANQUAN BOLDIN (R)[1] 316 NO PUNT RETURNS IN 2002
KR KEVIN KASPER 230 32 RET. 22.6 AVG. 0 TDS
P SCOTT PLAYER 88 PUNTS 43.9 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"They will regret letting all those receivers go, especially
Boston. He was their only threat."

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)