Kurt Warner & Larry Fitzgerald (Getty)
With training camp over a month away, things are expected to be quiet in the desert. Unlike the past, there’s little to complain about as the Cardinals enter 2009 in as good of shape as ever. After being a trendy pick for several consecutive seasons, Arizona finally delivered a year ago. However, with the NFC West improving can the Cardinals continue leading the pack? Brad Wilbricht explains.
The Arizona Cardinals received many breaks en route to a Super Bowl berth last year but there’s no denying the team’s transformation into a viable contender. After years of losing and disappointment, head coach Ken Whisenhunt has instilled a winning culture in Arizona. The Cardinals will need to find success for a second straight season in order to avoid being labeled as a one-year wonder. However, that may be easier said than done.
Although veteran QB Kurt Warner currently resides as the starter in Arizona, the soon to be 38-year old signal caller is getting more fragile by the day. Recent history has proved anyone under center is susceptible to injury, particularly someone of Warner’s age. Backup QB Matt Leinart’s future as a Cardinal is still on the rocks and it’s uncertain whether he can lead the team if Warner goes down.
Thankfully for Arizona, the competition around the NFC West may have even greater question marks at the quarterback position. Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck is coming off an injury that kept him out of nine games last season. In addition, Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams has been on the shelf several times in recent years and it’s unlikely he’ll make it through 2009 injury free.
With or without Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals feature a deep and talented receiving corps. Furthermore, the team boasts a progressing offensive line along with a youthful backfield, leaving few remaining question marks on offense.
However, the defensive side of the ball is a different story. Arizona is deceptively old on defense, with several aging players in the rotation. Although the Cardinals have managed to compile a good portion of young talent, it’s unknown whether that talent will perform when called upon.
Besides the fact that LB Karlos Dansby may not be with the team past this season, there is little proven depth behind him in a linebacking corps that primarily consists of veterans. Gerald Hayes is already entering his seventh season while Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans are both over 30 years of age. Arizona has a few younger options at the position but they’re not ready to contribute on a full-time basis.
On the defensive line, the future of DT Darnell Dockett is up in the air, but chances are that he’ll be back in Arizona. The Cardinals also have defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema available providing long-term security in the trenches. Additionally, Arizona has ample depth in the secondary, including a potential shut-down cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
After an up-and-down season a year ago that nearly ended in a Super Bowl win, the Cardinals will set out to be more consistent in 2009. With an improved division around them, Arizona will need to accomplish that goal in order to retain their NFC West crown.
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