4 Arizona Cardinals

The hot pick of last season will benefit from reduced expectations--and an infusion of "Steeler mentality"
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> Russ Grimm,Arizona's first-year offensive line coach, doesn't do grades. When he playedfor the Redskins, Grimm hated how some position coaches assigned percentages orhanded out letter grades to each player, based on such factors as the number ofmistake-free snaps. It isn't professional, Grimm believes, and it also doesn'tserve the larger purpose. "The misnomer about the offensive line is thatyou can grade a person individually," says Grimm, an 11-year NFL guard whowas the Steelers' line coach for six years. "If there are 75 snaps ina 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 andeveryone on the line had five . . . well, they all graded out fine, but we gotour butts kicked."

Beyond theoverall change in tone wrought by new coach Ken Whisenhunt, formerly Grimm'soffensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, the new philosophy on the O-line and thedrafting of Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown with the fifth pick in Aprilare the most significant additions to the Cardinals. Optimism in Arizona stemsmostly from the belief that a motivated and rebuilt line (which also addedfree-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 thelargest free-agent deal in Cardinals history last year. A boost in the groundgame would lend some balance to an offense with an already potent passingattack. "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 tornleft triceps, "but there has been a lack of consistency."

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> If Grimmcan coax even a modicum of improvement from a rushing attack that finishedahead of only Cleveland's and Detroit's last season (and had the worstyards-per-carry figure, 3.2, in the league), the Cardinals' offense could roll.Quarterback Matt Leinart figures to get better in his second season; coachestinkered with his drop back, teaching him to take a deeper first step to gethim more in sync with star wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Andthough tight end remains a weak spot after second-year man Leonard Popestruggled in camp--no small concern since Whisenhunt likes two-tight-endsets--the Cardinals should not want for points. "It's all there,"Johnson says. "We don't have any excuses. [Grimm] has simplifiedeverything, made it easy for us to understand what we have to do. If we don'tdo our job consistently, then it is our fault."

Defensively, thesecondary has been strengthened by the addition of free-agent free safetyTerrence Holt (Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson's college roommate atN.C. State) and the improvement of young corners Antrel Rolle, Eric Green andRoderick Hood. The defensive backfield will be more involved in blitzing in theaggressive scheme of holdover defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who likeGrimm 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 theposition," Wilson says. "It's exciting to think about going out thereto make plays rather than [just] doing a job so others can make them."

Wilson and mateswill be busier now that the front seven likely lost strongside linebacker ChikeOkeafor for the season because of a torn biceps. He had been moved from end tooutside linebacker in Arizona's hybrid 3-4 defense. His versatility, along withthat of Bertrand Berry (both started their careers as linebackers), wascritical to the Cardinals' defensive plans. The drop-off from Okeafor to DarrylBlackstock or Calvin Pace is steep, and it's likely to alter everythingPendergast does. Fourth-year linebacker Karlos Dansby, who teammates believe ispoised to have a breakout season like Wilson's last year, might need to rushthe passer more, though his plate is full as is. "Karlos, like a lot of theguys up front, is versatile," Holt says. "He can play inside oroutside, rush the passer, cover the slot. Guys like him are the reason I thinkwe can be successful, because we can throw a lot of different looks atyou."

Success, however,is not expected, at least not to the level forecast last season, when theCardinals were the trendy pick to go from futility to the playoffs. Arizona'sdivision rival San Francisco now has that burden, and it has provided theCardinals with some cover while they adapt to Whisenhunt, Grimm and the"Steeler mentality" they're trying to bring to the desert.

"It's thatblue-collar attitude where you don't talk about what you're going to do but yougo out and do it," Wilson says. "We want to be known as a team thatplays tough, man-on-man football, a team that just goes and gets it done."--G.D.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH KEN WHISENHUNT (0-0 in NFL), first season with Cardinals

OFFENSE

ANQUAN BOLDIN
POS WR
REC 83
YARDS 1,203
TD 4

EDGERRIN JAMES
POS RB
ATT 337
YARDS 1,159
AVG 3.4

REC 38
YARDS 217
AVG 5.7
TD 6

MATT LEINART
POS QB
ATT 377
COMP 214
PCT 56.8

YARDS 2,547
TD 11
INT 12
RATING 74.0

TERRELLE SMITH(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS FB
ATT 8
YARDS 14
AVG 1.8

REC 8
YARDS 21
AVG 2.6
TD 0

LARRYFITZGERALD
POS WR
REC 69
YARDS 946
TD 6

NEIL RACKERS
POS K
FG 28-37
POINTS 116

LEVI BROWN (R)(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RT
HT 6' 5"
WT 323
G 12

DEUCE LUTUI
POS RG
HT 6' 4"
WT 338
G 15

AL JOHNSON (NEWACQUISITION)
POS C
HT 6' 6"
WT 311
G 16

REGGIE WELLS
POS LG
HT 6' 4"
WT 318
G 16

MIKE GANDY (NEWACQUISITION)
POS LT
HT 6' 4"
WT 310
G 16

LEONARD POPE
POS TE
REC 16
YARDS 161
TD 0

DEFENSE

DARRYLBLACKSTOCK
POS OLB
TACKLES 11
SACKS 0
INT 0

DARNELLDOCKETT
POS LE
TACKLES 50
SACKS 2

GABE WATSON
POS NT
TACKLES 16
SACKS 1

ANTONIO SMITH
POS RE
TACKLES 25
SACKS 1 1/2

BERTRAND BERRY
POS OLB
TACKLES 23
SACKS 6

SCOTT PLAYER
POS P
PUNTS 66
AVG 44.9

RODERICK HOOD
POS CB
TACKLES 21
INT 0

TERRENCE HOLT(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS FS
TACKLES 76
SACKS 1/2
INT 3

KARLOS DANSBY
POS ILB
TACKLES 80
SACKS 8
INT 0

GERALD HAYES
POS ILB
TACKLES 93
SACKS 1
INT 3

ADRIAN WILSON
POS SS
TACKLES 82
INT 4

ERIC GREEN
POS CB
TACKLES 43
SACKS 0
INT 0

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)

> 2006 RECORD5-11 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 30/10/18 DEFENSE 16/30/29

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 at San Francisco (M)
16 SEATTLE
23 at Baltimore
30 PITTSBURGH

OCTOBER
7 at St. Louis
14 CAROLINA
21 at Washington
28 Bye

NOVEMBER
4 at Tampa Bay
11 DETROIT
18 at Cincinnati
25 SAN FRANCISCO

DECEMBER
2 CLEVELAND
9 at Seattle
16 at New Orleans
23 ATLANTA
30 ST. LOUIS

(M) Monday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank 32
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .461
Games against playoff teams 4

my SI
SI.com/cardinals
Instant access to the latest and best Cardinals stories, stats and blogs fromacross the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.

PHOTOGENE LOWER/WIREIMAGE.COMdesert storm A more aggressive secondary scheme suits Wilson's Pro Bowl skills. PHOTOGENE LOWER/ARIZONA CARDINALS

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)