Following their most successful season in 61 years, the Cardinals face a unique challenge this year,…
Arizona Cardinals Unit-By-Unit Analysis
Warner resurrected his career for a second time last season, setting franchise records for nearly every passing category. No one handles the blitz better, although he does tend to hold the ball too long at times. Leinart has shown great progress this off-season and has improved his mechanics. St. Pierre is a steady veteran, but he's been hampered by a sore back.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Tim Hightower, FB Dan Kreider. Backups - Beanie Wells, Jason Wright, LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Hightower, only in his second year, is mature and dedicated. Becoming an elite back is important to him. He will be challenged throughout the year by Wells, who has great physical skills but must prove his toughness and durability. Wright is a solid third-down back and special teamer, but Stephens-Howling is more dangerous in the open field. If Stephens-Howling has to pick up the blitz, however, there could be problems. The Cardinals use a fullback about 25 percent of the time so they likely won't keep two of them.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Stephen Spach. Backups - Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Dominique Byrd.
Patrick could be the starter but he's suspended for the first four games. Spach is the best remaining all-around tight end and has made a remarkable comeback from knee surgery in February. Becht is the best blocker of the group, while Byrd is an excellent receiver. It wouldn't be surprising to see Leonard Pope, a starter for part of the past three years, cut.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald. Backups - Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Sean Morey, Early Doucet, Lance Long.
Boldin and Fitzgerald might be the best starting tandem in the NFL. Boldin is nagged by a hamstring injury but should be able to go for the opener. Fitzgerald is one of the top two receivers in the game. Breaston is considered a starter, too, because the three-receiver set is the base offense. Urban had a great camp, as did Morey. Doucet, a third-round pick, is dealing with injuries but has a great upside. Long could be cut. If that happens, he'll likely be claimed by the Chiefs and former Cards offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown. Backups - T Oliver Ross, T Herman Johnson, G Brandon Keith, C Ben Claxton.
There is not a Pro Bowl player in the starting lineup but most of the group has been together now for three years. The starters don't get fooled much by blitzes, and they improved as run blockers. Lutui and Brown are good run blockers and Sendlein should improve after playing through a shoulder injury last year. Ross is an experienced backup, and Johnson and Keith are promising young players. Claxton can play some guard, which gives him the edge over Melvin Fowler.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Darnell Dockett, NT Bryan Robinson, RE Calais Campbell. Backups - E Kenny Iwebema, E Bertrand Berry, T Gabe Watson, T Alan Branch.
Dockett is a force who is a great one-gap player. Robinson is steady inside and has held off challenges from Watson and Branch. If Branch loses some weight, he could play end, too.
Campbell is starting for the first time and shows great promise. There isn't much depth at end.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Clark Haggans, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Gerald Hayes, ROLB Chike Okeafor. Backups - OLB Bertrand Berry, OLB Will Davis, LB Victor Hobson, LB Ali Highsmith.
Haggans and Okeafor are over 30 but their experience should pay off. Dansby is a special player but could be more consistent. Hayes, at 246, brings a physical presence to the inside. Berry is a pass rush specialist who will replace Haggans in those situations. The depth at all the spots is questionable. Hobson can play inside or out. No one else has much experience.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RCB Bryant McFadden, SS Adrian Wilson, S Antrel Rolle. Backups - CB Ralph Brown, CB Greg Toler, S Aaron Francisco, S Matt Ware, S Rashad Johnson.
Rodgers-Cromartie has the talent to be one of the best in the league but needs to practice harder. McFadden is a solid veteran who signed from Pittsburgh. He's been hampered by an ankle injury. Wilson is one of the best in the game and he'll line up at linebacker in passing situations and blitz off the edge. Rolle should be a playmaker at free safety and moves to nickel cornerback in those situations. Ware and Francisco play in dime situations.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Neil Rackers, P Ben Graham, LS Mike Leach, KOR LaRod Stephens-Howling, Steve Breaston, PR Steve Breaston.
Rackers is coming off a fine season, although he wasn't asked to make too many pressure kicks. Graham, a late-season addition last year, has shown more consistency in preseason and is great at putting the ball inside the 20. Leach is a solid snapper and can cover. Stephens-Howling already has shown to be a dynamic kick returner. Breaston is a reliable punt catcher, but averaged just 7.2 yards last year, with a long of 25.
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