Cardinals: Unit-by-Unit Analysis
Bertrand Berry (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
Bertrand Berry (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

Posted Jan 22, 2009


Here is how the Cardinals stack up on both sides of the ball.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Kurt Warner. Backups - Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre.

Warner turns 38 in June and is non-committal about returning next season. He's in the last year of his contract, but it's unlikely he'll go anywhere. He likes Arizona and the club wants to re-sign him. Negotiations could get sticky if Warner wants to be paid in the $14 million a year range.

Leinart spent the season as a backup but no one knows if he's ready to start. He had some good moments in the preseason and a horrible outing in Oakland. He's worked hard during the season and has advanced mentally.

St. Pierre is a smart guy who understands the system. His arm isn't bad, either.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith (FB). Backups: Tim Hightower, J.J. Arrington, Tim Castille.

James will be 31 in August and would like to play elsewhere. Upset that the team benched him at mid-season, James swallowed his pride on the sideline. He was returned to the starting lineup last in the year and looked quick and fresh. Hightower is the heir apparent. He has deceiving quickness and speed but he prefers to run over people. He has breakaway ability but tends to dance too much and take negative plays.

Arrington is a role player who excels on third downs. Smith is an excellent lead blocker but he's in the last year of his deal.

That might mean that Tim Castille takes over as the starting fullback next year.

RECEIVERS: Starters -- Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin. Backups - Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Early Doucet, Sean Morey.

Fitzgerald and Boldin form one of the game's best tandems. Fitzgerald might be the best receiver in the league. No one else has his combination of size, strength and hands. Boldin remains unhappy about his contract status and wants out. The situation might become so poisoned that the team lets him go. Breaston emerged as a solid No. 3 this year, and would move up to starter if Boldin departs. He improved greatly and he has Kurt Warner's trust. Urban is very fast and reliable. Doucet, a rookie, was a disappointment, mostly because of injuries.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown. Backups - G/T Elton Brown, T Brandon Keith, T Elliot Vallejo, C Pat Ross.

There isn't a Pro Bowler among the starters, but together they form a solid group. Gandy and Wells are the best along the front. Gandy has played well in his two seasons in Arizona, often facing the other team's best rusher. Wells is a physical run blocker. Sendlein sometimes has a hard time holding up at the point of the attack. He's a bit undersized but he improved as the season progress.

The right side of Lutui and Brown played better in the second half of the season. Elton Brown is a suitable backup but he tends to gain weight when he's not playing. Keith and Vallejo are projects and Ross was just an insurance policy.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- End Darnell Dockett, nose tackle Bryan Robinson, end Antonio Smith. Backups - NT Gabe Watson, NT Alan Branch, DE Calais Campbell, DE Kenny Iwebema.

Dockett can be an elite player when he's into the game. He's very quick and disruptive. Robinson is a savvy veteran who is more suited to playing end. But he has done a solid job at nose tackle. Smith played is best at the end of the season. Smith and Robinson are restricted free agents and it's questionable if they'll be back. Watson is capable of taking over at the nose, and Campbell is waiting his turn to start. Overall, it's a fairly young group but the club could stand to add one more difference maker.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - ILB Karlos DAnsby, ILB Gerald Hayes, OLB Chike Okeafor, OLB Bertrand Berry. Backups - OLB Travis LaBoy, LB Monty Beisel, LB Ali Highsmith, LB Victor Hobson.

Dansby is one of the league's best playmakers. He has great range and plays the pass and run equally well. He's the team's franchise player and it's questionable if he'll return. He wants huge money and the club might not want to pay it. Hayes is a quiet, solid veteran who is a run stopper. Okeafor and Berry are well north of 30 but each had decent seasons. LaBoy, a key free agent signee, was hampered all year by injuries. Highsmith was coming on when he suffered a season-ending knee injury at mid-season. Beisel is a smart veteran who plays well on special teams. Hobson is a stop-gap, signed because of injuries.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Rod Hood, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Antrel Rolle. Backups: CB Eric Green, CB Michael Adams, CB Ralph Brown, S Matt Ware, S Aaron Francisco.

The starting unit improved greatly, most because of the development of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a rookie. He is fast and is just learning the game. He has made numerous plays down the stretch and is taking on the best receivers on the other team. Hood is decent, but he gave up some long touchdowns this year. Green has had a terrible year, going from starter to inactive. Too many blown coverages. Brown is an excellent nickel and dime corner. He understands the game, studies hard and is a great influence on younger players. Wilson is as good as any safety in the league, and this defensive revolves around him. Rolle improved at free safety throughout the year after moving over from corner. Ware and Francisco could start for some teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters - K Neil Rackers, P Ben Graham, LS Nathan Hodel, KR J.J. Arrington, PR Steve Breaston.

Rackers had one of his best seasons. He was reliable and his wide array of kickoffs - from pooch kicks to onsides kicks - served the team well. Graham solidified a weakness. Signed late in the year, he proved adept at pinning opponents deep in their territory. Hodel is one of the best. The return guys didn't produce much, especially Breaston. He has sure hands but he doesn't break many. Arrington has that ability but didn't have much blocking.



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