Arizona Cardinals: Just Tuning In?

Ken Whisenhunt (Jeff Gross/Getty)

The last thing on a Cardinals fan's mind is the Draft, but Arizona has to stay sharp. With the Senior Bowl next week, NFC Championship contender Coach Ken Whisenhunt fields questions about what kind of players he wants to pick up in April and in free agency. He also talks about how Anquan Boldin is looking, his relationship with Edgerrin James and everything else those just tuning in need to know.

On if there are certain characteristics that he looks for in the draft and free-agency when putting a team together:

Ken Whisenhunt: "Yeah, we were looking for the right kind of players on the standpoint of character. You do as much research on them as you can about what they are like; team-type mentality. Guys that work and study the game. We have had very good fortune getting some high character guys in here. I think that has been a big reason that we have had some success."

On how WR Anquan Boldin looked today:

"He looked better. The biggest thing with Anquan is just seeing how he can continue doing that on a day-to-day basis. It looks to me like it is improving and he is doing better. Hopefully that will be the case tomorrow. That will be another critical day for us."

On if QB Matt Leinart pushed QB Kurt Warner for the starting job in training camp:

"Absolutely, I think that they pushed each other. When we came out the backside, I think they were both better because of it. It made Kurt work a lot more on some of the little things that we had been stressing; his footwork, his fundamentals, those kinds of things. I think that really made Matt work at a higher standard because he had a former MVP pushing him for the job. We said this from the very start that competition is a great thing. I believe that was a great benefit to our team."

On if WR Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the league:

"He has been there, in my eyes, for awhile now. We see him do things on the practice field everyday that a lot of people don't see. Those catches that he has been making the past couple of weeks, we have seen a number of times. I think that we are very lucky that we have two of the best receivers in the game on our football team. We have some young ones who have stepped up this year."


Larry Fitzgerald
(Getty)

On if Larry Fitzgerald still has room to improve and get better:

"I think that is why Larry has become such a good player. He believes that he has a lot of room to improve. He has been willing to take coaching. He is self-motivated from the standpoint of working on little things. He never feels like he has arrived. He is out here working on catching the ball. This is a guy with great hands and he's working on catching the ball. His route-running, his run after the catch, all of the things that he has continued to work on, I think is a very good sign of him continuing to even be better."

On his communication and relationship with RB Edgerrin James:

"I think Edgerrin and I have always communicated. He obviously was not happy because he felt he could still play at a (high) level in this league. I think he has proven that these past few weeks. I don't know if there was ever any real tension between Edgerrin and me. I know a lot of times he wasn't happy because he wasn't playing, and that's what you want. You want players like that. He has been respectful. We have had a number of communications. I have a great deal of respect for him and what he has done for our team, especially in the latter part after going through a hard time."

On what factors contributed to benching James in the first place:

"There are a lot of things that go into that. Part of it was the fact that we had a young running back that we wanted to see do some things that we were excited about. And we are still excited about Tim Hightower. I think Edgerrin has always been a good player. We said from the very start that we thought we were going to need Edgerrin later in the season. At a time when we were going into the playoffs, we had a guy who had that experience, who has been successful in the playoffs. It has been a big part of what we have done successfully. It is a tribute to him that he has continued to work and be prepared and done well."

On if he was ever concerned that by not playing James, he would lose him mentally:

"No. I did not think that at all. I felt like at times, if the games hadn't gone the ways they had gone late in the season where we were behind, I felt like he would have played more than he did. I think that was just a function of us not playing well as a team. I never got that feeling in the situation."

On if the public talk between the front office and James' agent had any affect on James or the team's approach:

"No. It never affected anything. Edgerrin said he didn't want to be a distraction. He wanted to play football, and he was true to his word. He came out here and he worked and he did what he felt he needed to do. When it was his time, he showed that. To me, that is what being a professional in this league is all about."


Edgerrin James
(Getty)

On if James looked faster or stronger when he came back as a starter:

"His legs were fresh. He hadn't taken the toll that he was taking earlier in the season with the hits and the carries. He did look fresher. That is a good thing for us."

On the theory that the Cardinals as a team struggle when they get down early in a game:

"That is something that we have worked on since we first got here. I think that it was something we went through a little bit in the first season, and we thought we had done a much better job in being able to come back. Obviously, in some of the games this year, we didn't play well early. We were not as affective. We believed in what we were doing in this last game. We knew there was going to be chance that something like that could happen, and I felt this was us responding to that. The key to becoming a good, consistent football team is to be able to respond to that. That is what good teams do. To me, that was probably the thing I was the proudest of. In a tough environment, to go down like that, with their crowd into it, we were able to respond."

On how tough the decision to bench a superstar like Edgerrin was compared to benching a lesser known player:

"It was tough, but I think it held true with what our belief was and that was putting the players in that we felt gave us the best chance to win. That is what it really was about. We were excited about Tim (Hightower). We had seen him do some things earlier in the season that led us to believe he might be able to perform for us. That was the reason for the change. Not that anybody knew it would come back to Edgerrin the way it has or that he would perform the way he has. Again, that is a credit to him and the way he has worked."

On how working with Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau may have prepared him to face Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson:

"In this league, you see those schemes at different weeks during the year. We saw it this year back-to-back when we played the (NY) Giants and then we played Philly. I know what it has done for us, and I know it has done for me as a former offensive coordinator and also having Russ (Grimm) with us, it has taught the ability to adapt to different defenses and to adapt to their pressures. I wouldn't say it has given us a library of knowledge, but it has given us a background in how we have to adjust. And that has been the focus of what Russ has done with our offensive line. The reason we have had success protecting Kurt this year is because of that. Because we have had to go against that. Our defense did a great job of that this year in training camp, giving us a bunch of different blitzes from different packages. When you do that on a competitive basis, it helps. Hopefully that is a benefit of both going against our defense, we have some pretty good players there, and from our knowledge of going against Dick LeBeau."

On the type challenges the Eagles pass-first offense presents after facing two running offenses in the first two rounds:

"Well they have a quarterback who is playing at a high level right now, moving in the pocket and extending the play. Obviously, their running back is an outstanding football player; he is a game changer. They have some good young receivers that the quarterback has gotten confident with. It is a difficult challenge because their offensive line does a good job in protection. Just when you think you have them covered, the quarterback will make a play to one of their backs out of the backfield or he will run with the football. I think it really comes back to being disciplined and heightened defensively. You have to change it up and you have to be willing to give them some short gains so you don't give up the big play. They present a number of challenges because they have a lot of weapons."

On if he has treated this week any differently than other weeks:

"I think that one of the benefits of not having been here before is that we are just working. Everybody understands the magnitude of this game as far as it being one game away from going to the Super Bowl. We have kind of been a team that nobody gave a chance to. We have just been working and getting ready for our first two games, and that has carried over to this game, so hopefully that will help us."

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