The Arizona Cardinals experienced a breakout season as a franchise a year ago thanks in large part to one of the top offenses in the NFL. Wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald performed at their usual Pro Bowl level, opening the door for WR Steve Breaston to emerge as a tremendous third wide receiver. Although Boldin’s future is still unknown, all three receivers are scheduled to be back on the field in 2009.
Taking Breaston’s place as the breakout wide receiver this season could be second-year WR Early Doucet. Doucet entered camp late last summer, stunting his potential as a rookie. With a full season under his belt and the benefit of learning from arguably the best wide receiving corps in the league, Doucet could be due for a productive sophomore campaign if given the opportunity.
Although the tight end position is currently a logjam, Arizona is still hoping one of their versatile options grows into a reliable down-field threat. Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick have been steady but have been derailed by injuries up to this point in their careers. Stephen Spach rose from the depths of obscurity late last season and could be the answer if he’s able to pick up where he left off.
At running back, Tim Hightower stole the show a year ago and incoming rookie Chris Wells is the logical choice to assume that role in 2009. Wells comes in with high expectations, much higher than Hightower's during his first NFL season. Wells is a more balanced runner who has the potential to stay on the field at all times. Meanwhile, Hightower may be best suited as a short yardage specialist and receiver out of the backfield.
There are several players who could surprise along the offensive line and that scenario would help the Cardinals improve their depth in the trenches. While OT Brandon Keith’s work ethic has come under question, he possesses the ability to succeed at the professional level. He is currently the second-string left tackle and can also play on the interior. If an injury occurs, Keith along with Elton Brown will likely be the first called upon to step in.
A few other dark-horses who could emerge on the offensive line are OT Elliot Vallejo and OG Ben Claxton. Like Keith, both players demonstrate the capacity to play multiple positions and hold extra vale due to that versatility. With the jury still out on starting center Lyle Sendlein, Claxton could end up anchoring the Cardinals’ line. Vallejo is an underrated prospect who could push for more playing time as the season progresses.
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