Cardinals No Longer in Tight Situation

T. Bienemann & L. Pope (Jeff Gross/Getty)

A year ago, the Cardinals had more concerns at tight end than just determining who would become the starter. That job was open, as was the No. 2 spot, the No. 3 job. The club had just one tight end, Leonard Pope, with any experience, and he was coming off an uneven rookie season. Things have changed dramatically in a year.

Leonard Pope proved to be a decent receiver before suffering a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia in the 13th game. Ben Patrick, a seventh-round pick a year ago, also played well down the stretch after being promoted from the practice squad.

Troy Bienemann, the No. 3 tight end, showed some skills in his first NFL season. All three of those plays return this year, and with the addition of veteran Jerame Tuman, the position should be one of the deepest on offense.

"I think last year we didn't know what we had at that position; we were really looking," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We had a lot of guys who hadn't even played. This year, it's completely different."

Pope hasn't practiced since suffering the ankle injury but is expected to be 100 percent by training camp. Tuman is known for his blocking skills, so he could be the specialist among the group. The most intriguing prospect is Patrick, who might have languished on the practice squad last year if the Falcons hadn't tried to sign him at mid-year.

That forced the Cardinals to promote him, and he played right away. He finished the year with just seven catches, but two of them were for touchdowns. He has been impressive in off-season practices.

NOTES, QUOTES

--While many coaches and general managers are complaining about the 80-man roster limit, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't see a big problem with it.

"I don't anticipate (problems) unless we get a bunch of nagging injuries that are going to keep guys out," Whisenhunt said. "If we do, then you just have to adjust your practices accordingly."

He admitted, however, that the roster limit is one reason the team is carrying only one punter, kicker and long snapper. In most years, the club has brought at least two kickers and two punters to camp.

--The Cardinals haven't started to experiment with placing a radio in a defensive player's helmet, as is allowed this year.

The leading candidates to wear the radio are inside linebackers Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby, along with safety Adrian Wilson. Hayes doesn't play in some nickel packages so he might be the last choice.

"It depends on our packages," Whisenhunt said. "If we're playing a team that runs a lot of four wides, then maybe we don't have the linebacker in some of the packages. Then potentially it would be a defensive back, like Adrian.

"That's going to be a little bit of an experimentation in seeing how it works, but I think ultimately it will be a good thing."

--Punter Dirk Johnson recently delivered the keynote speech for his high school's graduation ceremony. He told the grads of Montrose (Colo.) High about perseverance. He has punted for the Saints, Eagles and Bears and worked numerous jobs to make ends meet while out of the league.

He worked as a car valet, in a liquor store and a caddy. He was a handy man, cleaned carpets and for a company that restored homes after fires and floods. "You have to keep the faith," Johnson said.

--Whisenhunt is curious to see how much his rookies have retained since minicamp and how much information they'll know when they return for camp in July.

"It's a subtle test," he said. "You don't come out and say, 'this is how you are going to be evaluated.' You put it out there and you see the ones who are going to work, who are going to be prepared."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It puts a little heat on you and increases the target on your back, but I relish the pressure of that and look forward to it. And it's obviously as close to the game as you can get." -- Offensive coordinator Todd Haley on assuming play-calling duties this year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Larry Fitzgerald's new deal solved only one of the team's problems. Now they have several other veterans who want new deals. Not all of them will be addressed this off-season.

The priorities will be signing inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the franchise player, to a long-term deal, and re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Adrian Wilson.

The club would also like to re-sign Kurt Warner and accomplish two things: lock up a backup for a couple more years and lower his $5 million cap figure.

MEDICAL WATCH: SS Adrian Wilson, who missed the second half of last season with a heel/Achilles injury, is recovering nicely from surgery. He is expected to be 100 percent by training camp.
--QB Matt Leinart appears to be at full strength after suffering a fractured collarbone last year. Leinart is throwing deep and seems to have good zip in the ball.
--DE/OLB Bertrand Berry is progressing well from a torn triceps tendon that caused him to miss the last half of the season. Berry should be 100 percent by the time training camp opens.
--DE/OLB Chike Okeafor has recovered from a torn biceps tendon that caused him to miss the 2007 season. Okeafor practice during minicamp and appears healthy.
--OG Elton Brown had minor knee surgery to clear up a problem that hampered him throughout last season. He has returned to practice.
--C Al Johnson recently had knee surgery but should be ready to for training camp in July.

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