The Earnest Byner Award: Tim Hightower
The daily struggle to hold onto the football has been a frustrating aspect of the Cardinals’ offense. Tim Hightower has been at the forefront of this dilemma, fumbling five times during the course of the season. With the playoffs less than 48 hours away, Hightower undoubtedly has Whisenhunt sweating bullets. Can he be trusted with the ball come crunch time?
Anybody who has seen Earnest Byner’s famous fumble understands the pain of not being able to protect the rock. If Hightower is going to be a successful “change of pace” back in this league, he must, first and foremost, secure the football.
The Rasheed Wallace Award: Levi Brown
Wallace notoriously collected 41 technical fouls during the 2000-2001 NBA Season. Levi Brown has always held the distinction of being a player who competes with great intensity. Sometimes intensity can lead to bone-headed plays. Brown led the Cardinals offensive line this year with ten penalties. He also was responsible for seven sacks throughout the season.
Teams that win in the playoffs usually have two key attributes. They can play tough defense and they do not commit mental lapse induced penalties. Seven of Levi Brown’s ten penalties were false starts. He will have to improve this stat tremendously if he is going to refrain from having a negative impact on Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
The Underachiever Award: Alan Branch
Drafted with high expectations, Branch has done little to show the Cardinals he had the potential they thought they saw. Branch apparently put in the effort during the offseason, losing weight and coming into camp in better shape than ever.
Unfortunately, this new found dedication never panned out, leaving him with another disappointing season. Branch finished 2009 with only 2 sacks. Part of that was because of his inability to crack the starting lineup.
With the age of Bryan Robinson, next season may be Branch’s best chance yet to repay the Cardinals for taking a chance on an underachiever.
The Thanks for the Memories, But It’s Time to Move On Award: Bertrand Berry
Bertrand Berry has been a staple of the Cardinals defense for the past six seasons. The peak of his career occurred from 2003-2004, when he accumulated 26 sacks in two seasons.
Following those breakout years, Berry has yet to record more than six sacks in a single season. This year, Berry recorded his lowest tackle total ever, with ten. He has not played a full season since 2004 and at age 34 is on the tail end of his career.
Berry’s veteran leadership will most likely not be worth the high price of keeping him on the roster. It would be best just to thank Berry for all his contributions to the franchise and look elsewhere for linebacker depth in 2010.
The Ryan Leaf Award: Matt Leinart
Leinart began his career as a Arizona Cardinal with high hopes. Following his rookie season, those hopes have slowly faded. From a promising start (11 touchdowns in 12 games in 06) to off the field mistakes (keg parties, lack of motivation, tabloid pictures), Leinart has done nothing to prove to Coach Whisenhunt that he deserves to be the future.
This season he posted a meager 64.6 quarterback rating with zero touchdowns and three interceptions in relief of Kurt Warner. His best performance of the season involved a game in which the Cardinals lost, but he did not throw an interception.
With the Cardinals looking for a better long term option once Warner retires, it would not be a surprise to see Leinart continue his underwhelming career in another city.
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