With the potential of a mass exodus occurring in the desert, here's a look at the top three areas to…
Cardinals: Team Needs & Unit-by-Unit Analysis
Quarterback: The offense collapsed without Kurt Warner, mostly because of a lack of production at quarterback. John Skelton showed promise but he's not ready to become the starter.
Outside linebacker: The starters, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, will be 34. Neither produced much of a pass rush last season, and the team desperately needs someone who can pressure the quarterback.
Inside linebacker: The Cardinals lack size and power inside, which is a big reason the run defense suffered. The unit could also use some leadership and passion.
QUARTERBACK: Starter -- John Skelton. Backups -- Derek Anderson, Max Hall.
It might be more accurate to list all three players as backups. Skelton won't be starting in 2011. The club will look at all available options in free agency and the draft. Anderson didn't play well as the starter and he will be released this offseason. Hall likely will compete for the No. 3 job next season.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Tim Hightower, FB Reagan Maui'a. Backups -- Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright, FB Nehemiah Broughton
Durability has given the Hightower the edge over Wells, who has been hampered by a variety of injuries. Wells has more ability, and the club is hoping he finally starts to show it. Lack of motivation seems a problem at times. Maui'a proved to be a solid blocker in his first season with the team. Stephens-Howling's lack of size keeps him from competing for the No. 1 job, but he is effective as a situational player. Wright is valuable because he can also play fullback and is an excellent special teams player. Broughton missed the year with an ACL tear but showed some ability in camp.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Levi Brown, LG Alan Faneca, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Brandon Keith. Backups -- G/T Jeremy Bridges, G/C Rex Hadnot, C Ben Claxton, T D'Anthony Batiste.
The unit is a huge question mark. Faneca, Sendlein and Lutui are not under contract for 2011 but the Cardinals would like them back. Faneca, however, might retire. Hadnot could replace him but there is no youth behind him. Brown did not play well in his first season at left tackle but the club might have too many other weaknesses to address. Keith improved in his first season as starter but finished the season on IR because of a hamstring injury. Bridges is a valuable backup, but the team has a severe lack of young offensive linemen on the roster.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams, RE Calais Campbell. Reserves -- DE Kenny Iwebema, DE Alan Branch, NT Gabe Watson, NT Bryan Robinson.
The starters should be solid, especially if Williams continues his arc of improvement. Campbell did not play well for two-thirds of the season but improved over the last month. Iwebema suffered an ACL tear at midseason so it's questionable if he will return. Branch can be a solid backup, but more is expected from the top pick of the second round in 2007. Watson likely will look for a chance to play elsewhere. He's a free agent. Robinson is likely to retire after 14 seasons.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Clark Haggans, ILB Paris Lenon, ILB Daryl Washington, ROLB Joey Porter. Backups -- OLB O'Brien Schofield, OLB Will Davis, LB Curtis Gatewood, OLB Cyril Obiozor, LB Gerald Hayes, LB Reggie Walker.
This unit will undergo a dramatic transformation in the off-season. Haggans and Porter will be 34 this year, and Porter especially showed his age last season. The Cardinals could also use a run-stopping inside linebacker. Hayes, an eight-year veteran, won't returner. Schofield is Porter's heir apparent, and possesses some pass rush skills. Washington has great instincts but needs to get bigger and stronger. Davis has some ability. Walker, Gatewood and Obiozor will fight for roster spots.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RCB Greg Toler, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Kerry Rhodes. Backups -- CB Michael Adams, CB A.J. Jefferson, CB Trumain McBride, CB Marshay Green, S Rashad Johnson, S Matt Ware, S Hamza Abdullah.
Rodgers-Cromartie should be an elite player but didn't live up to that standard in 2010. He needs to grow up and concentrate on every player. Toler is a strong tackler but still making at the adjustment of going to the NFL from a small college. Wilson made the Pro Bowl, but he admits he had a down year. Rhodes was the defensive MVP in his first year with the team. Adams is only 5-8 but he's tough and competitive. Jefferson and Green, both rookies, look like they could develop into good players. Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009, finally made a contribution in nickel and dime packages. Ware and Abdullah are expendable.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jay Feely, P Ben Graham, KOR LaRod Stephens-Howling, PR Andre Roberts, LS Mike Leach.
Feely was excellent in his first season. Graham's performance slipped. He's still great at pinning opponents with pooch kicks, but he can't boom the long one when needed. The team is expected to look for an upgrade. Stephens-Howling is one of the NFL's most dangerous kick returners. Roberts improved on fielding punts but has trouble making the first tackler miss. There aren't many long snappers better than Leach.
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