Matt Leinart (Gett Images)
The Cardinals came away from organized team workouts feeling ... really organized. The second year under coach Ken Whisenhunt is far beyond where the team was in the first, players agree. But then, what team doesn't go to training camp optimistic, believing that this is going to be their year?
The Cardinals have had one winning record -- 9-7 in 1998 -- since moving to Arizona 20 years ago. They've taken the high road and spouted the right talk many times before as they attempt to gauge their offseason progress.
But by nearly every evaluation, the Cardinals' personnel is superior to any they've had and the coaching staff is from a successful pedigree.
"That's really been the theme of the OTAs, that it's gotten better, quicker, this year than it did last year," Whisenhunt said. "Last year, everybody was feeling it out and we had a lot of learning to do. Now it seems guys are picking it up a lot faster, they understand the scheme, so we're getting more accomplished. I think when we start training camp, we'll be much farther along."
Whisenhunt was especially excited about an improved two-minute offense, stronger competition among the defensive backs and backup receivers.
The Cardinals finished offseason workouts on Wednesday. Matt Leinart is the first-team quarterback -- for now. The job is his to lose as he attempts to come back from a collarbone injury. Veteran Kurt Warner, who filled in admirably in 2007, has shown that he remains capable if Leinart falters.
Whisenhunt rotated the two before Leinart suffered his injury, and the coach said he is considering a rotation again in 2008.
"I certainly wouldn't rule something like that out," Whisenhunt said. "Last year we did it because we felt it gave us the best chance to win. Kurt ran the no-huddle better at that time but Matt is much farther along with it."
The biggest concern is whether contract issues will keep defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and wide receiver Anquan Boldin out of training camp. Both are under contract but both of the emerging young talents want more money. Neither took part In OTAs.
Training camp begins with mandatory meetings July 23 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz.
--Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents disgruntled WR Anquan Boldin and DT Darnell Dockett, visited the Cardinals' Tempe, Ariz., training facility this week but there was no news on the new contract that both players seek. Both are under contract for 2008.
--C Al Johnson, the starter last season who underwent offseason knee surgery, reported no problems in his return during organized team workouts.
"It was just cleaning," Johnson said. "Now I just need to get my strength back."
--Late-afternoon thunderstorms are a fact of life in July and August in Flagstaff, Ariz., where the Cardinals conduct training camp. They typically move practices inside Northern Arizona's Walkup Skydome when it rains. The artificial surface in the dome was notoriously grabby. Many players were injured on it, including at least one career-ender.
Now comes good news, or so the players hope: A new surface has been installed that is touted to be safer for the players. If true, the team no longer will have to cut back on indoor sessions as a safety precaution when it rains.
--Coach Ken Whisenhunt is fond of giving players an unexpected change of pace during offseason drills -- anything from a punt-catching competition among defensive and offensive linemen to bagging on-field work and taking the players bowling.
"It builds chemistry and camaraderie, these little events like this," said quarterback Matt Leinart after Whisenhunt canceled a workout in favor of a trip to the lanes. "It's a way to hang out and get to know each other better. It is good to do things like this. We're in meetings all day, every day -- football, football, football. Now it's just hanging out, and you become better friends."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You hope with a player of his caliber that everything works itself out and he can be there for training camp. Again, we all understand that this is part of the game. And we all understand we still have to go out there and practice and prepare for the season." -- Cardinals QB Matt Leinart, on former Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin skipping organized team workouts because he wants a new contract.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: LB Karlos Dansby (tendered at $8.065M; signed tender April 17).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--DL Rodney Bailey (not tendered as UFA).
--P Mitch Berger (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Tim Euhus (not tendered as RFA).
--QB Tim Hasselbeck (not tendered as UFA).
--S Bhawoh Jue (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Ross Kolodziej (not tendered as UFA).
--QB Tim Rattay (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--DE Kenny Iwebema (4/116): 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Tim Hightower (5/149): 3 yrs, 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.
--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.
--CB Michael Adams: ERFA; 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.
--WR Jamaica Rector: ERFA; 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.