For years, the Arizona Cardinals had been a losing franchise. However, things changed in 2008 when the Cardinals made an epic run to the Super Bowl and came within seconds of bringing the Lombardi Trophy to the desert.
Arizona followed up that surprising rise to success with another playoff berth in 2009, which included an overtime win for the ages against the Green Bay Packers.
Then the 2010 season commenced and everything fell apart.
The success stories that came upon coach Ken Whisenhunt’s arrival in Arizona are quickly fading. A dismal 5-11 campaign that was downright embarrassing last season is the main culprit and with no resolution is in sight – at least at this point in time – optimism remains slim.
With a fresh slate heading into 2011, the Cardinals will attempt to regain the momentum gained in recent years. It won’t be easy, but the recipe for redemption is straight forward and simple. If Arizona can plan accordingly and execute in all three of these areas a quick turnaround could be in store.
1. Get a quarterback
While certain draft classes have produced signal callers worthy of starting from the get go, this year appears to be lacking that type of prospect. Auburn’s Cam Newton is a project and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri can’t be depended on just yet. Furthermore, the likes of Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder have talent but aren’t ready to step in and contribute at the NFL level.
With the lack of options in the draft, Arizona will be forced to go elsewhere to acquire new blood under center. Even there the options are limited but the Cardinals should have a narrow focus on who’ll ultimately fit the bill.
Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb should be at the top of the list. Kolb is still waiting for his big break – after last year’s attempt was derailed by Michael Vick. Kolb hasn’t accomplished much so far in his career, but he’s light years ahead of players such as Newton and Gabbert. The Cardinals need to return to the winners circle sooner rather than later and Kolb provides them with the best chance.
Other possibilities: Carson Palmer (Cincinnati Bengals), Marc Bulger (free agent)
2. Invest multiple picks on offensive linemen
It’s still uncertain what will happen with Alan Faneca, Deuce Lutui and Lyle Sendlein (all free agents) but even if all three return, Arizona still needs help in the trenches. There are currently no candidates to be selected with the No. 5 overall pick but that will change come Rounds 2 and 3. This particular scenario would also allow the Cardinals to trade their first-round pick to secure a quarterback and still fill needs in the ensuring rounds or with a later selection in the first round.
There are several offensive linemen that will be available at that point in the draft who are capable of contributing during their first year in the league as well as provide the foundation in the trenches for the future. Not only is help needed in the short term but pieces for o-line coach Russ Grimm to develop over the long haul will be a vital part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.
Mississippi St’s Derek Sherrod will likely be available at the beginning of Round 2 and has the ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line. Marcus Gilbert of Florida is another versatile prospect able to move around in the trenches. He currently grades out lower than Sherrod and could be available in Round 3.
Other possibilities in Round 2: Marcus Cannon (TCU), Danny Watkins (Baylor)
Other possibilities in Round 3: Benjamin Ijalana (Villanova), William Rackley (Lehigh)
3. Focus on pass rushers late in the draft
In the modern day NFL, 'specialty' roles are becoming increasing popular and important. Arizona needs to improve its pass rush but also has more pressing areas to address. Yes, a player such as Von Miller will be tempting with the Cardinals first-round pick but he’s far from a sure thing. Similar highly rated prospects, most recently Vernon Gholston, haven’t panned out. Arizona had its own firsthand experience with this after investing a second-round pick on Cody Brown. Brown is no longer with the team.
The Cardinals 3-4 hybrid defense puts even more of a premium of 'specialty' pass rushers and the team would be best suited looking for these types of candidates later in the draft. There’s a chance Joey Porter could stick around for one more season, as long as he still has something left in the tank. In addition, O'Brien Schofield is poised for a breakout year after showing flashes of his ability during his rookie campaign.
Looking at Round 4 and beyond, Neveda’s Dontay Moch is a relentless pass rusher with experience lining up with his hand on the ground as well as standing up and rushing off the edge. The primary concern about Moch comes in pass coverage, but his pass-rushing talents could be maximized by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton in select blitz packages.
Other possibilities: Bruce Miller (UCF), Mark Herzlich (Boston College)
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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