Cardinals searching for people to catch on

Cardinals searching for people to catch on

Everyone who follows the Arizona Cardinals knows who isn't going to catch the ball. Their top three receivers from opening day in 2002 are at new addresses via free agency.

The greater question is who is going to catch it in the absence of David Boston, Frank Sanders and MarTay Jenkins.

The Cardinals have two first-day draft picks, a second-tier veteran acquired in a draft-day trade, and a handful of speedy young players who have yet to make their mark on an NFL field.

To outsiders, that's trouble, but to new offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan, who coached many of these guys the past two years as the team's receivers coach, there's potential to build something special.

First-round pick Bryant Johnson, chosen 17th overall in the first round, and Anquan Boldin, chosen in the second, and veteran Larry Foster, acquired from Detroit for a seventh-round pick and who once was coached by Sullivan, appear to have the best chance to become 1-2-3 in a receiving corps that has to be taken just seriously enough to give Emmitt Smith and the ground game a chance.

With four year's experience, Foster is the old-timer in the group.

But other receivers, some coming off injuries and others having gained experience late last season playing in place of injured players, could figure, as well.

Bryan Gilmore, coming off a fractured ankle, and Jason McAddley, who caught 25 balls for a 14.5-yard average as a rookie, are the two fastest on the team. Kevin Kasper filled in admirably as a possession receiver (15 catches, 12-yard average) and kick returner. Nathan Poole caught 13 passes as an undrafted rookie. Jake Soliday, another undrafted rookie in 2002, caught four.

But because it is a largely inexperienced group, this is their quandary: Make believe, or make believers?

Sullivan particularly likes Gilmore and was distraught when the ankle injury cut short Gilmore's second pro season just when he was on the verge of blossoming. Gilmore is just now back running, taking part in the team's rookie/free agent camp, to be followed by another full-team minicamp.

New quaterback Jeff Blake, who has a vested interest in the success of the receivers, showed up last week to work with the group during a rookie camp practice.

"Hopefully, it's a message that we want to win here, it's not just a bunch of country clubbers trying to come in and be here just to be here," Gilmore said. "The veterans really want to win, and they're putting forth the effort even to know the rookies, which is unheard of in this league. He wants to make sure everything is sharp. He demands excellence, and he should. The only way to get it is to work at it."

Gilmore at least knows his way around the locker room. There will be heat on the rookies, Johnson and Boldin, to be effective right away.

During the receivers' meetings, Sullivan talks about option routes and goes into his personal library of what Boldin calls "visuals" -- a tape of former San Diego receiver Tony Martin running a "Deep 8" route, and former Washington receiver Art Monk running a shallow crossing pattern.

Sullivan tells Boldin that, depending on coverage, he has the option to run across the field or to break off the route.

"It's one thing to look at a notebook and memorize it," Boldin said, "but once you have him go over everything and break it all down it's much easier."

Sullivan promises to give the group a quiz.

"I want to see if you know what to do," he said to them. "I don't want to look in your eyes and see the back of your head."

Among the returning receivers, Gilmore is the one to watch.

"I trust it," Gilmore said of the ankle. "I'm healed and running. It's just a matter of forgetting about it now. You have to get to a point where you're not thinking about it. You have to release all fear to play this game. I'm testing it full-speed. I've come a long way, but I still have a ways to go."

Coach Dave McGinnis, heartened by what he's seen in the non-contact camp, said, "We need that speed out there, we really do."

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