Ken Whisenhunt (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Unlike many of his predecessors, Ken Whisenhunt has taken a more conservative and practical approach in turning around a historically losing franchise. The Cardinals hadn’t experienced a winning season since 1998 and hosted its first home playoff game since 1947 last week. With both of those goals already checked off in his second season in the desert, big plans could be in store for Arizona.
Many new coaches make the mistake of implementing massive overhauls, which make it difficult to turn around an organization within the expected time period. With the “what have you done for me lately” mentality of the NFL, three or possibly four years is usually the maximum amount of time a new coach is given to turn things around. Former Cardinals coach Dennis Green is a prime example as he went through three different offensive coordinators and made frequent personnel changes during his tenure in Arizona.
Instead of revamping the roster that he inherited, Whisenhunt has maximized each player’s contributions while adding key newcomers through the draft and free agency. Many new regimes bring in several new faces and cut capable players in hopes of molding their new team to their liking. However, many instances end with unfavorable outcomes as their short lived opportunity is filled with turmoil and inconsistent results.
Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ front office added much needed depth on defense during the past offseason. Rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was selected with the 16th overall pick in the draft, and has made as big as impact as any defensive rookie in the league. With the exception of RB Tim Hightower, the remainder of Arizona's 2008 draft class has been quiet thus far but will be knocking on the door for playing time come next season.
Veteran LB Clark Haggans brought a winning mentality with him from the Pittsburgh Steelers and has proved to be a dependable situational player. DL Bryan Robinson was brought in to backup Gabe Watson and Alan Branch but has passed both players on the depth chart. Robinson has played in every game this season and has recorded at least one tackle in all but three of those occasions.
Although he’s been slowed by injuries in recent weeks, DE Travis LaBoy has made the biggest impact of last year’s free agent signees. He missed the final two games of the regular season and sat out the NFC Wild Card game against the Atlanta Falcons. LaBoy compiled 31 stops and four sacks in his first season in the desert.
Now that Whisenhunt has established an extremely solid foundation, look for him to begin molding the Cardinals' roster starting this offseason. Objective number one will be acquiring more toughness in the trenches as well as installing a successful rushing attack. Whisenhunt’s philosophy relies on a consistent running game, evident during his days in Pittsburgh.
Last year Arizona finished 8-8 and they now have a 9-7 season with a playoff victory under their belt. There will be several key questions answered during the upcoming offseason, including luring additional talent to the Valley of the Sun. Regardless of how it plays out, the Cardinals’ organization seems to be in good hands with Whisenhunt at the helm.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org