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2011 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kevin Kolb
Backup(s): John Skelton, Max Hall, Richard Bartel

Starting QB: The much anticipated trade with Philadelphia finally took place as the Cardinals hope to have moved on from last year's ugly quarterback performances. After several successful years with Kurt Warner as their starter, last year was a year to forget as the Cardinals also cut ties with Matt Leinart. Now Kevin Kolb becomes the clear starter with the trade and a big (5-year, $63 Million) contract that cements him at the top of the depth chart. Kolb has looked good with solid pass protection and a good supporting cast, and he has reasonable mobility to go along with his strong work ethic. Kolb was highly recruited by Larry Fitzgerald, which gives Arizona a high probability of re-signing Fitzgerald to keep them both together. If Todd Heap can put up decent numbers at tight end and the Cardinals forge a decent RB tandem with Ryan Williams and Chris Wells, Arizona may have a solid enough offense in 2011 to push for the NFC West title. All those ifs, right along with questions at WR2 and WR3 (Early Doucet / Andre Roberts) leave much to be decided, but Kolb looks to be a step in the right direction for the Cardinals.

Backup QB: John Skelton, Max Hall and Richard Bartel all saw action in 2010, and anyone who observed their performances would agree that none of them are ready to even be a QB2 in the NFL right now. Arizona likes Skelton as a developmental prospect, so he likely leads the list for backup duties behind Kevin Kolb. Hall and Bartel will battle for QB3 or practice squad spots.

Running Backs

Starter: Chris Wells
Backup(s): Ryan Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith
Fullback(s): Justin Green, Anthony Sherman, Charles Ali, Reagan Maui'a

Starting RB: Chris Wells is slated to be the starter in Arizona this year, but even though Tim Hightower was traded away to the Redskins, all is not clear in the path for Wells to become a featured running back. Rookie Ryan Williams was a top running back prospect entering the 2011 NFL Draft, and the talented rusher from Virginia Tech will likely take over on passing downs and could push for a bigger role if Wells struggles.

Backup RBs: For now, Ryan Williams leads the top of the depth chart behind Chris Wells, but the rookie will look to pounce on any misstep by the lead back. LaRod Stephens-Howling gets very little work aside from special teams, and Alfonso Smith might not make the final cuts.

Fullback: Justin Green leads the depth chart at fullback, a position not used very often by the Cardinals. Should Arizona really adopt the West Coast Offense as a bigger part of their playbook, especially with Kevin Kolb under center, then Green may not be needed very much at all.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts
Backups: Early Doucet, Stephen Williams, Chansi Stuckey, Max Komar, Isaiah Williams, Demarco Sampson, Davieun Curry-Chapman

Starting WRs: Larry Fitzgerald had an off year by his lofty standards, but he should regain that elite level status now that he has a much better quarterback under center in Kevin Kolb. Fitzgerald will still be the primary target in the passing game, as Steve Breaston signed with Kansas City, leaving the WR2 as a positional battle between Early Doucet and Andre Roberts.

Backup WRs: The loser of the Doucet / Roberts battle will likely be used as the third wide receiver in Arizona, while newly acquired Chansi Stuckey will push for time as the WR4. Stephen Williams and Max Komar are the most likely to battle for whatever is left for the final roster spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Todd Heap
Backups: Jeff King, Rob Housler, Stephen Spach, Jim Dray

Former Baltimore Raven Todd Heap was brought in to start right away for the Arizona Cardinals, a move that gives the team several intangibles along with Heap's veteran skills. Rookie Rob Housler now has a new mentor in a former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, who will help transition the rookie to the NFL. The added bonus of a blocking tight end (Jeff King) with modest receiving skill also frees up Heap to be used mostly as a receiver. The biggest bonus of all is that Kevin Kolb is now the quarterback, a West Coast Offense QB who loved to target TE Brent Celek when he was in Philadelphia. Heap could have a solid year in Arizona, especially with the Cardinals lacking a strong WR2 option.

Place Kicker

Jay Feely : Feely is the newest of the Cardinals' specialists, having been signed during the offseason of 2010. He'll be working with the same co-specialists as last year: long snapper Mike Leach and punter Ben Graham (who also serves as the holder). Last year was the second most accurate of Feely's career, and he rewarded his fantasy owner's with one huge week when ran in a TD to go along with a slew of FGs. Aside from that week however, scoring opportunities for the Arizona kickers have been sparse the past two years when they ranked only 29th and 28th.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Patrick Peterson, Andre Roberts, A.J. Jefferson

Punt Returners: Andre Roberts, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Marshay Green

Last years primary returners, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling on kickoffs and WR Andre Roberts on punts, are both back this year and both are still listed atop the depth chart. Both will probably be joined this year by rookie CB Patrick Peterson, as noted by HC Ken Whisenhunt, "We'll integrate Patrick in there. He looks like a natural...it's pretty surprising to see how smooth he is...When you have a guy that's that special in the return game you want to incorporate him.” The team may look at lining up both Stephens-Howling and Peterson deep on kickoffs. DB A.J. Jefferson and CB Marshay Green have also been working on returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Levi Brown, LG Rex Hadnot, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Daryn Colledge, RT Brandon Keith
Key Backups: Jeremy Bridges, Ben Claxton, Deuce Lutui

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: Darnell Dockett DE/DT, Calais Campbell DE, Dan Williams NT
Backups: Vonnie Holliday DE, Nick Eason DE, David Carter DE (R), Jeremy Navarre DE

Starting DL: The Cards suffered a collective breakdown on defense in the forgettable 2010 campaign (admittedly an even more horrific offense repeatedly placed the defense under tremendous pressure), yielding the third most points in the league - 27.1 PPG. Social media capers notwithstanding, the irrepressible Dockett has serious talent, may be the best player on the defense and is one of the top 3-4 DEs in the league (tying Reggie White's record of three sacks in the heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Steelers). The former Florida St. star and serial Pro Bowler was rewarded for his stellar play with a four year contract extension prior to last season (through 2015), worth up to $48 million, with $30 million guaranteed. He has been extremely resilient, missing just three games in his career (one last year was his first since 2004). Dockett set a career high in solo tackles last season (45), had his third highest sack count (5), and is still in his relative prime at 30. Campbell has freakish, nearly Too Tall Jones-like size (6'7" 290 lbs.), and is at his best when he maintains leverage. Coming off of a strong 2009 season, he got off to a slow start, but closed strong, finishing with a career best 46 solo tackles, along with six sacks. Nose Tackle has been an Achilles heel for the Arizona defense in the Whisenhunt era, where they have looked in vain for their version of Casey Hampton. Williams is being counted on, particularly with the departure of Alan Branch to divisional foe Seattle. Unfortunately he showed up to camp looking like he and Deuce Lutui employed the "buddy system" on the buffet circuit, but has a month to slash off some of the lockout flab.

Backup DL: Holliday came from Washington (with a 2012 pick) in exchange for RB Tim Hightower. The former first rounder is now a journeyman with his sixth team, strictly for depth fortification. Turning 36 this year, he isn't a long term answer even in that diminished capacity. Eason is one of several ex-Steelers on the roster courtesy of the popular Pittsburgh pipeline. Former UCLA interior DL Carter is a sixth round rookie that has the requisite body type for and fits the profile of a developmental 3-4 DE.

Linebackers

Starters: Daryl Washington ILB, Stewart Bradley ILB, Clark Haggans OLB, Joey Porter OLB
Backups: Paris Lenon ILB, Quan Sturdivant ILB (R), O'Brien Schofield OLB, Sam Acho OLB (R), Will Davis OLB

Starting LBs: Arizona moved up in the second round of the 2010 draft, parting with an extra third rounder, to secure TCU LB Washington, envisioning him as the successor to Karlos Dansby, who defected to Miami. He had an up and down rookie year (67 solo tackles, a sack, FF and INT), struggling at times getting off blocks and compromising gap control. At one point he lost his job to the since released Gerald Hayes, only to regain it later, after which he increasingly began to flash formidable athleticism. At 6'2" 230 lbs., he is similar in size to SS Adrian Wilson (and significantly smaller than Dansby at 6'4" 250 lbs.), but he compensates for lack of sheer bulk with exceptional instincts and outstanding speed. The Cards reportedly have big plans for him this season, with new DC Ray Horton (former PIT secondary coach) envisioning a reprising of Lawrence Timmons role with the Steelers for the talented young ILB. Former PHI MLB/SLB Bradley's best campaign for the Eagles was in 2008 (86 solo tackles, a sack, FF and INT). He was becoming a borderline Pro Bowl caliber talent when he blew out his ACL in 2009. After another medically checkered season last year (including a dislocated elbow and a concussion), the front office showed no interest in re-upping, paving the way for the Cards to sign Bradley to a five year contract in free agency. Pre-injury, he was an ascendant player, with a nice combo of size, strength, speed, athleticism, instincts and football smarts. The presumptive starter next to Washington, Paris Lenon was extremely productive in IDP leagues from this spot in 2010. Twin 34 year old ex-PIT OLBs Haggans and Porter are part of the Steel Town exodus to the desert. Well past their prime (Porter accepted a pay cut to remain), one or both could soon cede their starting roles to young understudies O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho.

Backup LBs: Long time NFC North denizen Lenon (first four years of his career in GB, followed by three in DET) was a revelation in IDP leagues last year, but is not a blue chip talent and is better suited to a back up role. He seems destined for more bench time with the acquisition of projected starting SILB Stewart Bradley, who is younger, far more talented and, if healthy, easily has superior upside. Sturdivant was a sixth rounder from North Carolina and one of the higher graded MLB/ILBs from the admittedly less than spectacular class of 2011. With a talented young tandem of ILBs signed long term in front of him, playing time could be scarce for the forseeable future, barring injury. Schofield was a medical gamble (pre-draft ACL injury) who improbably played 10 games last season and could soon yield big dividends. If not for the injury, he would have gone higher than the fourth round last year, due to natural pass rushing ability. His skill set and game exactly align with the most critical weakness on the defense. Rookie Acho is a former Texas DE similarly taken in the fourth round for his promising raw material as a developmental pass rushing 3-4 OLB.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Adrian Wilson SS, Kerry Rhodes FS, Patrick Peterson CB (R), Greg Toler CB
Backups: Rashad Johnson SS, Matt Ware S, Richard Marshall CB, Michael Adams CB

Starting DBs: For years Wilson labored in relative obscurity, and was one of the most underrated DBs in the league. His reputation began to catch up to his gridiron heroics with his high profile record breaking 2005 campaign, setting the new NFL season standard for sacks (8) by a DB. Nearing 32 years old, he could be approaching that time in a career when the light of afternoon shines less brightly, before fading into twilight. Once there, he could experience an inverse of his inital career arc (when recognition still lagged behind accomplishment), to the point where his on field play falls short of his considerable stature. Last season saw more searings in coverage than a Ruth's Chris Steak House. That could be chalked up to a torn groin, but ominously, he already has suffered a partially torn bicep, and could be showing signs of breaking down. While reportedly a pain tolerance issue, the bicep injury could impact his tackling ability. Ex-Jet Rhodes (78 solos and 4 INTs) is a freakish athlete, and his career resurgence was a pleasant surprise filling the gaping hole left by the departure of Antrel Rolle to the Giants. Prized top five overall CB Peterson may have been the fateful first tumbling domino that ultimately allowed ARI to deal DRC (and a 2012 second round pick) to PHI for expected franchise QB Kolb. With safety size (6'0" 220 lbs.) and CB explosiveness (4.34 40 and 38" VJ), Charles Woodson could be his upside. One of the most decorated LSU recruits ever, Peterson was arguably the most talented prospect in the draft at any position, and also brings game changing return skills. He has NFL genes (WAS WR Santana Moss and PIT CB Bryant McFadden are cousins, among others) and has reached the pinnacle at prep (USA Today Defensive Player of the Year - 2007) and collegiate levels (Bednarik and Thorpe Award winner - 2010). Toler could start, but more likely will yield to talented ex-CAR free agent Richard Marshall.

Backup DBs: Johnson was a 2009 third rounder and former Alabama walk on who at the time looked like a contingency in the event of Antrel Rolle departing, which they later ended up filling with Rhodes. He could still factor in a future post-Adrian Wilson secondary landscape, or be pressed into action even sooner if Wilson's bicep injury proves too problematic. Ware is a gifted athlete that never fulfilled his potential flashed at UCLA, but the Cards could do worse for a backup. Marshall could be ticketed for a starting gig as noted above. Inconsistent in recent years that may have been worsened by contract wrangling, earlier in his career he looked like an emerging talent and ascendant player. When on his game and at his best, he has a well rounded game, combining aggressive run support ability with playmaking ball skills. Adams is tiny (5'8" and 180 lbs.) but feisty, and well liked by the coaching staff for his effort.

Last modified: 2011-08-18 14:01:49

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