Improvement key for Cardinals offense

Arizona's defense has done its part in improving and now the offense must make strides heading into the 2012 campaign.

Toward the end of offseason practices, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt teased reporters about their tendency to dwell on the club's offensive deficiencies.

But Whisenhunt knows better than most that it's no laughing matter, not if the team wants to return to contending for an NFC title.

Specifically, Whisenhunt would like his offense to play better early in games. Too often in 2011, it misfired early, leading to deficits that could not be overcome.

The offense produced some late-game heroics over the last half of the season, but Whisenhunt wants to see the group capitalize on opportunities early.

It's the coaching staff's belief that the problems were in personnel and players unfamiliarity with the system. Fans tend to spread the blame wider: to Whisenhunt and his staff.

Whisenhunt and his staff could turn on video of almost any game early last season and point out big plays that were just missed. He also realizes no one wants to hear about big plays that were almost made.

"I can sit here all day and tell you what I see on tape and people are going to say, 'Well, the numbers don't back that up,'" Whisenhunt said. "And that's right, they don't. We have guys open and we have a breakdown in protection. How can you say you're close when that happens? I feel like we're on the right track and our guys are working.

"And what's more important: Do they believe we're on the right track? And I see that. Where I really saw it, was in those overtime games and the end of games last year. They really believed we could do it."

Whisenhunt said he saw signs of that in offseason practices. There was improvement from the beginning of OTAs through the final practice of minicamp, he said.

Of course, all coaches say that. And Whisenhunt was the first to point out that practices in shorts and helmets don't mean much.

In reality, the Cardinals have some issues. They don't have an established starting quarterback. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are competing.

Their top two running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, are coming off knee injuries. The right side of the offensive line might include new players at guard (free agent Adam Snyder) and tackle (rookie Bobby Massie).

Whisenhunt, however, was encouraged that his offense seemed to keep pace with a defense that is expected to be the strength of the team.

"It was up and down the first couple weeks of OTAs, but I really started to see it (improvement) last week and into this week," he said after the final practice before training camp. "That's an indication you're making progress.

"I don't think there's any doubt we have a chance to be good defensively based on the way we finished (last season). But we got questions on offense, so to see our guys make plays against what could be a good defense, that's encouraging."

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