Levi Brown & Elton Brown (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
No other group has symbolized the Cardinals' two decades of futility more than the offensive line. Every coach who came through the desert said all the right things about building the offensive line, and the team has invested considerable resources into developing a workable group.
Nothing much has worked. Sometimes, the offensive line has been the root of the problems. At other times, it's been unfairly blamed for the problems caused by others.
This year, the Cardinals are hoping that stability equals improvement. For only the second time since the club moved to Arizona in 1988, the offensive line is returning intact. All the same players are playing the same positions.
It's only May, but the Cardinals think they can already see the advantages of having a group that's played together for a season.
"We're checking things at the line of scrimmage, and the communication there is already light years ahead of where we were last year," coach Ken Whisenhunt said after a recent minicamp practice.
"That's the benefit of having a line that's been together for a year. So I think it will help us in meshing together in the run game, such as the combination blocks, and it really help us in pass protection in identifying blitzers and identifying fronts."
The continuity is especially important to someone such as left guard Reggie Wells, who has moved around a lot in five years with the team. This is the first time in his career that he's played two consecutive years for the same offensive line coach, Russ Grimm.
The continuity is especially appreciated by Wells, who bounced between guard and tackle his first three years. Now, he's at left guard for the second straight season.
"You really just kind of pick up where you left off," Wells said.
--The club will look to acquire a veteran offensive lineman or two before the start of the season, if necessary.
There isn't much depth at tackle. The delay in re-signing Larry Fitzgerald didn't cost the team a chance at a huge number of free agents. However, the delay did make it difficult for the club to re-sign veteran Keydrick Vincent, who signed with the Panthers.
--The team's first minicamp ran smoothly, and coach Ken Whisenhunt was pleased that the club appears to be much further along than it was a year ago at this time. "The biggest thing I saw is we didn't have a lot of mistakes," Whisenhunt said. "I just think overall the tempo was good, the enthusiasm was good and I saw a lot of learning going on. We didn't have as many mental mistakes as we've had, so I'm encouraged."
--Several veterans noticed that practices seem to go quickly, although they were the same length as last year.
"It seemed like it was an easy minicamp," said guard Reggie Wells. "I don't think it really was because we got some good work in and we went at it. But whenever you know all those things and you're comfortable, things tend to run pretty smooth."
--The team begins organized team activities on May 20, and Whisenhunt is curious to see how much information the rookies retained. "We made an emphasis on taking notes," Whisenhunt said. "When we come back for the OTAs (organized team workouts) we're going to push forward. You can see the young guys at times during practice, their eyes are almost spinning around in their heads because there is so much going on."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As far as being with the guys and playing football, you look forward to that because you have been away. If I had been here every week, I'd be like, 'Same old (stuff).'" -- RB Edgerrin James to the team Web site on why he leaves Arizona at the end of the season to train in Miami.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Karlos Dansby (tendered at $8.065M; signed tender April 17).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--DL Rodney Bailey has the ability to play inside and out adds to his value.
--P Mitch Berger didn't secure the job in the final weeks of '07.
--QB Tim Hasselbeck is probably out of the picture after the addition of Brian St. Pierre.
--S Bhawoh Jue could provide depth.
--DT Ross Kolodziej was banged up last year, and he probably won't return.
--QB Tim Rattay is a solid backup but is trying to seek a No. 2 job elsewhere.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--TE Tim Euhus (not tendered as RFA) is average at best and could return as a camp body.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--CB Michael Adams: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Clark Haggans: UFA Steelers; $1.5M/1 yr, SB unknown.
--P Dirk Johnson: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Travis LaBoy: UFA Titans; $22M/5 yrs, $7.5M guaranteed.
--WR Jamaica Rector: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DL Bryan Robinson: UFA Bengals; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Brian St. Pierre: UFA Steelers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Matt Stewart: UFA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Jerame Tuman: FA Steelers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Troy Bienemann: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OT Elton Brown: RFA; $927,000/1 yr.
--CB Ralph Brown: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Oliver Celestin: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Karlos Dansby: Franchise FA; $8.065M/1yr.
--CB Eric Green: RFA; $2.017M/1 yr.
--LS Nathan Hodel: UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Ahmad Merritt: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Sean Morey: FA; had been released by Cardinals; terms unknown.
--DE Bo Schobel: Not tendered as ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Antonio Smith: RFA; $2.017M/1 yr.
--DE Joe Tafoya: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Jerheme Urban: Not tendered as RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Matt Ware: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Darryl Blackstock: Not tendered as RFA/Bengals; $560,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB.
--DT Chris Cooper (released).
--S Terrence Holt (released).
--LB Brandon Johnson: Not tendered as ERFA/Bengals; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Bryant Johnson: UFA 49ers; $2M/1 yr, SB unknown.
--OLB Calvin Pace: UFA Jets; $42M/6 yrs, $22M guaranteed.
--OT Oliver Ross (released).
--OG Keydrick Vincent: UFA Panthers; $2M/2 yrs, $400,000 SB.