Thursday Preseason Preview

QB Matt Leinart (Matt York/AP)

The Cardinals 2008 campaign begins Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints. Expectations are high, with both teams expected to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC. Although the starters will likely see limited action, there will be plenty of backups jockeying for position on the depth chart. Brad Wilbricht breaks down the matchup in this AZRedReport.com exclusive.

For the first time in a number of years, the Cardinals enter the season with a stable group of players and coaches. The majority of last year's starters return and head coach Ken Whisenhunt enters his second season in the desert. Due to the familiarity of the system, the Cardinals should show drastic improvements this year. Although the offensive line has already been slowed by injuries, it's been a successful training camp up to this point.

While the New Orleans Saints suffered through a disappointing 2007 season, there is still optimism in the Big Easy. The Saints remain a heavy contender in the NFC West, only one year removed from a 10-6 season and a berth in the NFC Championship game against the Chicago Bears.

QB Drew Brees is armed with an additional downfield target with the acquisition of former New York Giants TE Jeremy Shockey. Although Shockey is not expected to play Thursday night, he along with RB Reggie Bush and WR Marques Colston supply the Saints with one of the most potent offensive units in the NFL. Colston, the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year, could also miss the Saints preseason opener in Arizona.

Although, the Cardinals focused on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, the team returns nearly the entire offensive starting lineup from last year's 8-8 squad. While QB Matt Leinart struggled last season, he is surrounded by tremendous playmakers. Pro Bowl wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are arguably the best receiving tandem in all of football. Furthermore, RB Edgerrin James looks to be in the best shape of his career and is poised for a breakout year in Arizona.

While the preseason is generally overlooked, it's an opportunity for the Cardinals to set a winning foundation for this season and beyond. Arizona will face a much more challenging regular season schedule this year and will need to utilize the preseason to prepare for the grueling task of a 16 week regular season.

Additionally, the preseason allows backup players and new faces to emerge from the shadows and into the spotlight. While the Cardinals core players are apparent, the team is counting on numerous players to blossom into key contributors. With a roster stacked full of young talent, Thursday's game will begin the evaluation process for those potential diamonds in the rough.

The Cardinals are determined to improve off last year's performance and experience their first winning season since 1998. With Pro Bowl players returning on both sides of the ball, the Cardinals are finally prepared to turn the corner as a team and a franchise.


Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at bwill5025@msn.com

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