The Cardinals went to training camp in 2005 believing their defensive line was loaded with good front-line quality and excellent depth.
And then by Week 17, they were thankful to see a five-win season close mercifully while playing helpless civilians along the defensive front.
By then, end Bertrand Berry and tackles Russell Davis, Kenny King and Langston Moore were on Injured Reserve and end Calvin Pace was on the Non-Football Injury Reserve. It wasn't pretty, yet the Cardinals still managed to finish eighth in the league in total defense.
So with everyone healthy and back on the field, along with newcomers Kendrick Clancy and Gabe Watson inside, the Cardinals opened camp with renewed optimism about the quality and depth of their defensive line -- so convinced they have a load of players who can be relied upon that they planned to use a liberal rotation.
Those plans took their first hit by mid-week when King, who was alternating at end and tackle, suffered a fractured hand that will not require surgery but will sideline him for four to six weeks
That is after King, who was a starting tackle in camp in 2004, lost each of the last two seasons to wrist injuries, opening the door for Darnell Dockett to take over the position.
Dockett and end Chike Okeafor managed to play in all 16 games in 2005, but they had little backup support and it took a toll.
The Cardinals are lining up now with Berry, a 2004 Pro Bowler, and Okeafor at the ends with Clancy and Dockett inside.
Antonio Smith has emerged as a reliable backup end. Pace was moved to weak-side linebacker, where he is working with the first unit while Karlos Dansby recovers from thumb surgery, but Pace is expected to be available for backup duty at end, as well.
"Any time you can eliminate 15 to 20 plays off of a guy in a 65- or 70-play game, that's huge," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.
Rookie tackles Watson and Jonathan Lewis are expected to see duty inside, as well, as are veterans Moore and Tim Bulman.
"If we can have guys come in and spell us every so often, that only keeps us that much more energized and that much more able to fly around and make plays," Berry said. "If you go back to 2004, Calvin Pace was one of the biggest reasons I had the year that I had (14 sacks). He was able to spell me at times during games and I was able to stay fresh.
"You look at teams with the great defenses, they usually can rotate seven, eight defensive linemen in."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff continues through Aug. 17.
Among the key changes are no intra-squad scrimmage and no weekend practices -- Saturdays and Sundays off, an attempt to make the Monday through Friday regimen more intense and give players' bodies time to heal. Widespread injuries -- league-high 14 players on Injured Reserve -- were a problem last season.
The team works out on the fields just east of the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at NAU and practices are open to the public at no charge. If it rains -- and afternoon thunderstorms are common in Flagstaff in August -- they move workouts inside.
--RB Edgerrin James either is truly impressed with the new line that he is to run behind, or he is wise enough to have begun a high-profile P.R. sales job.
"It is unbelievable," James said. "We have an open line of communication and I go to the linemen and I make sure that Kurt (Warner, Cardinals QB) knows this is how the linemen are fitted. Everybody is talking to each other.
"I told them I'm going to try and make the game as easy as possible for them. I am going to set up their blocks and that is what they are not used to. When you come through the line and you set up a block it makes it so easy. I tell the linemen if you see a backer moving a certain way that is because I'm moving and when I'm moving that way, just be ready."
James is especially keen on running behind massive LT Leonard Davis (6-6, 365), the second player chosen in the 2001 draft, who has struggled since moving outside from RG two years ago.
"You send me to 'Big's' (Leonard Davis) side and I might just take my time. It is sweet. This is the biggest offensive line I have ever played with," James said. "We have a lot of talent here and we have a nice chance of doing something special around here. It is just a matter of everyone coming together and actually doing it, not just everything looking good on paper."
That's not going to happen much during preseason, though. Plans are to play James sparingly -- "zero, if it were up to me," he said.
The line suffered a blow during opening week, though, when RT Oliver Ross, whose performance lagged during an injury-plagued 2005, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that could sideline him as long as 10 weeks. Ross is getting a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery.
--RG Milford Brown quickly took command of his position after signing as a free agent during the off-season.
"He is real physical and I think he'll be real spectacular in the run," said Coach Dennis Green. "And then he is just working real hard in the pass. He's already there with the run part. He has a real physical, wide body and comes off the ball real well."
--Green said he can't help but be amused by James' bravado.
"He talks a good game," Green said. "Defensively we have a lot of guys that are good at it, and he is, too. He brings a good intensity but has a lot of fun with it and he likes being out there. That is what we really try to emphasize and that is what we have tried to do from the start. You really have to love the game. You have to love coming out onto the field and Edge has always done that."
--The Cardinals made their first substitution of the season, opting for a "mock game" that was closed to fans and news media at their new Glendale, Ariz., stadium in place of the annual intra-squad scrimmage at training camp headquarters in Flagstaff, where a multitude of fan activities had been linked to the game in previous years.
"Over half of the players who will play in the preseason game (Saturday in the stadium's inaugural against Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh) have never played in pro football before, and this is a good time to get the jitters out," Green said. "It is based on timing and making sure we work with the 40-second clock. We've done two-minute offense and two-minute defense, but now we'll do it in game conditions."
--Green appears to be lighting a fire under OLB Karlos Dansby, who had a breakout season in 2005 with three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and four sacks.
Dansby missed the first week of training camp while recovering from June surgery to repair ligaments in his left thumb.
But according to Green, "he hasn't had a very good winter, spring or summer, to be honest with you."
Responded Dansby: "I thought I did pretty good in (off-season) camps until I got hurt. And even when I got hurt, I still practiced that whole week. I had interceptions and all kinds of stuff, fumble recoveries and causing fumbles. So it was like a slap in my face, kind of."
Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round pick, has moved from DE to strong-side LB and is working with the first defense in Dansby's absence.
--RB Marcel Shipp, the team rushing leader three of the past four years, is attempting to reinvent himself, knowing that his carries will be limited with James now on the scene. Shipp has gone back to his roots, volunteering for special teams to help ensure that he remains on the roster.
"I'm on pretty much every special team," he said. "I'm hard core. I don't mind. That's how I made it into this league, and it's a very important part of the game."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all know how physically gifted he is. He would be the first one to tell you that as great as his year was statistically last year, he can get a lot better. When he comes to understand football better, our system better, he's going to grow and become unstoppable." -- Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, on Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald, who set a franchise record with 103 catches last season.
Cardinals Inside Slant