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2010 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Leinart
Backup(s): Derek Anderson, John Skelton

Starting QB: Kurt Warner's retirement left a gaping hole in the offense for Arizona after a solid playoff run last season. While everyone is saying that Matt Leinart is ready and that this is his team until further notice, the addition of Derek Anderson and the drafting of John Skelton are not exactly big votes of confidence. Neither are the rumors of Marc Bulger showing up soon to compete for a backup job. With all of that said, assuming Leinart seizes control and is the starter, he has several weapons at wide receiver (Fitzgerald, Breaston, Doucet) and a nice pass-catching running back out of the backfield in Tim Hightower. While Leinart cannot be considered as a fantasy starter, he could be a part of a committee approach and would most definitely be a solid QB2 / backup if he wins the Arizona job outright. The team understands that Leinart has limitations. Here are comments from May concerning his accuracy: CBSSports.com notes that according to Cardinals quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, Matt Leinart looked good during the team's mid-May OTA. Miller said Leinart "threw maybe one poor ball in three days" of work and has done some things to earn the trust and respect of his teammates. They are also working on the details of his game. "We're working on pinpoint accuracy -- throwing the ball from the waist to the face mask, and he's getting there," Miller said, adding that Leinart got off to a good start. According to AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban, HC Ken Whisenhunt praised Leinart's play during offseason workouts: "You see it in Matt's confidence and how he sees the plays. His reads are much more decisive," Whisenhunt said. "He is throwing the ball with confidence. It's obvious to me he's more comfortable with the process. He understands the concepts of the plays ... I am excited about what he has done in OTAs so far." Craig Morgan, from CBSSports.com, reports Arizona must find out this season what Leinart can do because his salary will increase almost $5 million to $7.4 million in 2011. He will also be due a roster bonus of $5.5 million. If he does a lousy job this year, at least it will come at a bargain price. "I understand that this is an important season for me, but I don't feel like there's added pressure," Leinart said. "Being a starting quarterback in the NFL is enough pressure."

Backup QB: Derek Anderson has had a troubled career, thanks in part to his underwhelming performances in Cleveland and part due to his supporting cast with the Browns. Anderson was brought to Arizona as the backup, but rest assured that Matt Leinart has to show that he can handle the starting role in training camp or else Anderson may become a viable threat to steal the top role. Kent Somers, from the Arizona Republic, reported in June that Anderson had yet to dispel the reputation for inconsistency he earned with the Cleveland Browns. He has been both impressive and erratic - often in the same series of plays - during off-season work. Rookie John Skelton is third on the depth chart and could be a factor in 2011, but he must first adjust to the NFL and that likely will take at least a year. In July, Mike Sando, of ESPN.com, reported that John Skelton had made a positive impression in offseason workouts, but he'll "remain a developmental player for the foreseeable future". There had been much discussion that the Cardinals were interested in adding Marc Bulger, those rumors were apparently unfounded. The team said in June that they had no recent discussions with the former Ram, and Bulger ended up in Baltimore.

Running Backs

Starter: Chris Wells, Tim Hightower
Backup(s): LaRod Stephens-Howling (KR), Jason Wright
Fullback(s): Justin Green, Nehemiah Broughton, Charles Ali

Starting RB: Chris Wells, often referred to as Beanie Wells, will be getting more and more touches this season. Arizona's passing attack will be diminished due to the retirement of Kurt Warner, so the ground game will be asked to pick up some of that workload. Wells will not be alone in the backfield, however, as Tim Hightower worked well with Wells last season and stole several goal line and third down opportunities. Hightower saw more work in September last season, but Wells started to come on in the second half of the schedule. Wells had 15 or more touches in five of the last eight regular season games, whereas Hightower had under 15 touches in all of the final six contests. Wells should see more action and workload but Hightower will still be a factor in the running back committee for the Cardinals.

Backup RBs: Tim Hightower is not quite 1A to Chris Wells, but he will likely see a good workload on third downs and even at the goal line this season. After Hightower, the depth chart gets a bit slim with Stephens-Howling more of a special teams contributor. Note that in the OTA workouts, Hightower was running with the first team. However, speculation still remained that Wells will be the primary ballcarrier. In early July, Mike Sando, of ESPN.com, reported that the battle between Wells and Hightower will be the best in the NFC West. Sando said Wells will play extensively again this season, but that Hightower has been working with the first-team offense through the offseason practices. Wells time could increase as he becomes more reliable across situations, according to Sando. He also believes that Hightower could get short-yardage and goal-line work even if Wells wins the first-string job because of Hightower's success in those situations in the past. Also early in July, Dan Arkush, from ProFootballWeekly.com, reported that Hightower did a fine job as the Cardinals third-down running back last year, but the team could move in a different direction in 2010. LaRod Stephens-Howling reminds some of Chargers RB Darren Sproles because of his elusiveness, vision, balance, and low center of gravity. "They continue to be really intrigued by him," the observer said of Stephens-Howling. "The only problem is that he's small (5-foot-7) and could have trouble picking up blitzes."

Fullback: There was not much to see here last season at fullback as the Cardinals usually went with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back in numerous instances with Kurt Warner. Even if a fullback is used more this year, for fantasy purposes the impact will be minimal.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston (PR)
Backups: Early Doucet, Andre Roberts (KR), Onrea Jones, Darren Mougey, Ed Gant

Starting WRs: Larry Fitzgerald is a top-tier talent regardless of the quarterback situation. Do not worry about his production with Kurt Warner's retirement, as Fitzgerald put up solid numbers with Leinart when he was starting in place of Warner. In fact, last season Warner had issues with the deep ball yet Fitzgerald still posted WR1 numbers. No matter who lines up on the other side of the field or is under center, Fitzgerald is a virtual lock for 80+ catches, over 1,000 yards and many trips to the end zone in 2010. Speaking of lining up on the other side of Fitzgerald, the loss of Anquan Boldin will be tempered by Steve Breaston finally getting his shot at starting for a full season. Breaston caught two-thirds of his targets (55 of 82) and led the receivers in yards per reception with nearly 13 yards per catch. It is a safe assumption that his targets will go up dramatically this year, giving him a realistic shot at 70 or more catches and to approach 1,000 yards for the second time in his career.

Backup WRs: Early Doucet is the odds-on favorite for the third wide receiver for the Cardinals this season, and with good reason. Doucet put up outstanding numbers in two playoff games last year against Green Bay and New Orleans, totalling 14 receptions for 145 yards and two scores. Doucet has the physicality and toughness to be a factor in the red zone and across the middle, an area that lacks big targets for Arizona. Rookie addition Andre Roberts is likely to compete for the fourth spot on the depth chart and will try and become Steve Breaston's understudy for 2010. If anything should happen to Breaston this year as far as an injury, Roberts could become a hot fantasy pickup in a hurry. In the May OTAs, it was reported by AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban that Onrea Jones was the leader for the No. 4 job. Ed Gant has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, according to AZCardinals.com's Urban.

Tight Ends

Starters: Steven Spach
Backups: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Jim Dray

This is not an area of strength for the Cardinals at all. None of the tight ends had more than a dozen catches last year, and for the most part they are afterthoughts both in the Cardinal passing attack and in fantasy football. Look elsewhere for help.

Place Kicker

Jay Feely : Although Neil Rackers missed only one field goal last regular season, he missed two games due to injury towards the end of the season and returned and missed one short field goal in the playoffs. Ultimately he and the Cardinals did not come to terms on a new contract and he became a free agent. The team replaced him with Jay Feely - another established free agent veteran that ended last season with some playoff misses and that did not come to terms on a new contract with his prior club (Jets). The last three years saw a shift to more PATs and fewer FG attempts for the Cardinals, as the offense performed well under the Whisenhunt regime. During that span they ranked 20th, 15th, and 17th in kicker scoring.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Justin Miller, Jason Wright, Jorrick Calvin, Steve Breaston, A.J. Jefferson

RB LaRod Stephens-Howling averaged 21.4 yards on kickoff returns during his senior year at Pitt and scored once during his freshman year. As a rookie last year, he handled but two of the Cardinals kickoff returns (52 returns, 24.2 avg., 1 TD). Stephens Howling will be challenged for the starting job by newcomer CB Justin Miller. As a rookie with the Jets in 2005, Miller averaged 26.3 yards and scored once. In his second year he averaged 28.3 yards and scored twice. Despite his success, he lost his job to injury and the success of his replacement, Leon Washington. With the Raiders in 2008, he proved he can still be very effective (32 returns, 24.8 avg., 2 TDs). WR Steve Breaston, one of the fastest players in the 2007 draft class, served as the return specialist during his rookie year. He returned 62 kickoffs for 1389 yards (22.4 avg.). In 2008, as his role on offense increased, he shared time on kickoffs (33 returns, 20.2 avg). RB Jason Wright returned five kickoffs during four years with Cleveland. He added two more as a Cardinal last year. Rookie CB Jorrick Calvin was academically ineligible last year, however he averaged 25.7 yards and scored once on kickoff returns during his junior year at Troy. Undrafted FA rookie CB A. J. Jefferson averaged 23.2 yards on 26 kickoff returns for Fresno State last year.

Punt Returners: Andre Roberts, Steve Breaston, Marshay Green

Steve Breaston handled the vast majority of punt returns for the Cardinals the last three years (38 returns, 6.7 avg last year). He scored once during his rookie year. Although he'd strongly prefer to continue handling returns, given his increased role on offense the coaches prefer otherwise. Third round draft pick WR Andre Roberts will get the first shot to take over on punt returns. During his Citadel career he amassed 1160 punt return yards, averaged 14.0 yards, and scored three TDs. Undrafted FA rookie CB Marshay Green averaged 10.2 yards on punt returns for Mississippi last year. The Cardinals have ranked 18th, 14th and 10th in fantasy returns points the last three years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jeremy Bridges, LG Alan Faneca, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Rex Hadnot, RT Reggie Wells
Key Backups: C/G Ben Claxton, T Levi Brown, G Alan Faneca, T Brandon Keith, T Herman Johnson, G Deuce Lutui

The Cardinals offensive line did a very good job at pass protection last year but still are struggling to open holes for the running game. There is good continuity now along the starting unit with one player brought in (Rex Hadnot, seventh season) to start at right guard. Former 41st overall pick, The club signed veteran Alan Faneca, and he is certainly in the picture to start at guard. One scenario put out by OL Coach Russ Grimm is to move Reggie Wells to right tackle and Faneca into the left guard spot. Last year's starting right tackle Levi Brown really struggled in pass protection and has never reached his lofty potential. Left tackle Jeremy Bridges only started four games last year and perhaps he'll compete with Levi Brown for the position. The Cardinals offensive line is certainly headed in the right direction and could make the transition into a top-10 unit if improvements continue. Deuce Lutui was signed in June and promptly weighed in at 396 pounds.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: Darnell Dockett DE, Gabe Watson DT, Calais Campbell DE
Backups: Alan Branch DE, Kenny Iwebema DE, Dan Williams DT (R)

Starting DL: The Cards were middle of the pack in scoring defense (20.3), but that was better than a TD (or two FGs) per game improvement over their 2008 finish (26.6 - 28th). Leading the charge was a penetrating DL, spearheaded by social media trend setter Dockett and the ascendant Campbell. They contributed to a near top five sack ranking (43), representing a dozen sack up-tick over the previous season. Despite his off-field twitter antics, between the lines Pro Bowler Dockett is as serious as being stranded in the desert without water. He has the Richard Seymour-like protean skill set and encompassing game to effortlessly shuttle back and forth between 3-4 DE and 4-3 DT, and the critically important scheme versatility needed to make the defense's morphing fronts and alignments work. Dockett also has the strength to be a factor against the run, and the explosiveness and disruptiveness to make plays behind the LOS (held the Florida State record for TFL at one time), including sacks (20 since 2007)... from inside or outside. Second round (2008) bookend Campbell is very nearly an Ed "Too Tall" Jones doppleganger, with a similarly overwhelming combination of size and power, to go along with freakish feet, quickness, agility and athleticism for a 6'8" 290 lb. human. He came into his own in 2009 (7 sacks), seemed to grow in leaps and bounds from game to game, and could be just scratching the surface of his massive potential. Campbell also has the requisite but unusual trait/skill diversity to play DE/DT. Watson has generally disappointed and should quickly be overtaken by prized rookie 1st rounder Dan Williams.

Backup DL: Former second rounder Branch has generally underwhelmed at NT (like Watson), so he has been shunted to DE for depth purposes. Iwebema will also be in the rotational mix. Williams (6'2", 330 lbs) looks like the long awaited answer at NT, and represents one of the best confluences of BPA with team need in the entire draft. He has an outstanding work ethic and motor, stuffs the run, collapses the pocket and eats double teams for breakfast. Williams is expected to make quick work of dispatching the plodding incumbent Watson and could be a key, missing piece of the puzzle-type player for the defense.

Linebackers

Starters: Gerald Hayes ILB, Daryl Washington ILB, Joey Porter OLB, Clark Haggans OLB
Backups: Paris Lenon ILB, Monty Beisel ILB, Cody Brown OLB, O'Brien Schofield OLB (R)

Starting LBs: Hayes (2003 - third round) is a solid if unspectacular inside presence. His solo tackle numbers have deteriorated two years in a row, in a downward spiral from 81-68-48. Hayes is a warrior, but his play slipped last season in part due to a herniated disc, and he could be breaking down at 29. This might put even more pressure on coveted 2010 second round ILB Daryl Washington (6'2", 230 lbs.), as if he didn't have enough already trying to fill the Sasquatch-sized big shoes of departed Karlos Dansby. The Cards coughed up an extra third round pick to move up and secure a player they determined was a must have replacement. Arizona GM Rod Graves called the former TCU star the most athletic LB in the draft (3 INTs in 2009), and the Cards caught lightning in a bottle twice, as Washington also represented one of the closest alignments of BPA and team need in the entire draft. He is a guided, heat-seeking missile in the open field, and with development and experience (only started one season), could have eventual Pro Bowl potential. Four time All Pro selection Porter has been reunited with fellow 33 year old ex-Steeler Haggans (as well as HC Ken Whisenhunt) by signing a three year contract in free agency. He is an integral part of a plan to apply more pressure on QBs without blitzing as often, which should help gap control in run defense, and leave more bodies in coverage. One of the most prolific pass rushing LBs of his era (92 sacks - career high 17.5 in 2008) will be counted on heavily before he rides off into the sunset and fades away in the twilight of his career.

Backup LBs: Lenon started at WLB with the Rams last season, and is expected to provide depth at ILB, as will former Chief Monty Beisel. Brown is an unproven second year player who had his rookie year shut down by a broken wrist. Rookie Schofield is a promising pass rusher that tore his ACL during Senior Bowl practices, and is expected to start the year on the PUP list (possible IR). The two youngsters figure to play a bigger role in future seasons, and could be groomed as the heir apparents for the dueling 33 year old, ex-Steeler starting OLBs.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Adrian Wilson SS, Kerry Rhodes FS, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB, Greg Toler CB
Backups: Rashad Johnson FS, Matt Ware S, Michael Adams CB

Starting DBs: Pro Bowler Wilson (6'3", 225 lbs.) has been a big play machine for a sustained length of time, and combines the size and run support capability of an extra LB with the range and coverage skills of a safety. A member of the exclusive 20/20 club (20 sacks/INTs), during the 2005 season he set the NFL record for sacks by a DB (8). Wilson signed a five year extension ($39 million - $18.5 guaranteed) last offseason, and he was worth every million in 2009 (2 sacks, 1 FF and a career high 5 INTs). His on-field production and numbers clearly suggest that he is still in the prime of his career and continues to play at a high level at 30. In the four seasons prior to sky walker Rhodes falling out of favor with Jets HC Rex Ryan (after signing a five year extension in 2008 worth $33 million - $20 guaranteed), he was a playmaker with a combined 9 sacks, 12 INTs & 6 FFs. He inherits the spot vacated by Antrel Rolle. Rodgers-Cromartie (1.16 - 2008) is the second Pro Bowl member of the Cards secondary (and cousin of Jets Pro Bowl CB Antonio). In retrospect, level of competition concerns (Tennessee State) by some scouts were severely misplaced. He followed up a brilliant rookie year (4 INTs,1 TD) with an even more incendiary soph campaign (6 INTs, 1 TD & 3 FFs). The freakishly athletic third year phenom has developed with ridiculous speed, come very far very fast, and DRC's career arrow is pointed straight up. Second year DB Toler outplayed free agent CB Bryant McFadden as a rookie, so the ex-Steeler was regurgitated back to Pittsburgh in a draft-day trade.

Backup DBs: Johnson didn't distinguish himself as a rookie last season, and won't see the field a lot as long as Wilson and Rhodes are healthy. Former Eagle Ware provides athleticism, versatility and valuable depth. Adams makes up for a lack of optimal size (5'8", 180 lbs.) by being feisty in run support and pesky in coverage. Ideally, the secondary could probably stand a physical, athletic and talent upgrade at the nickel CB position at some point in the future.

Last modified: 2010-07-12 08:15:02