When Ken Whisenhunt came to Arizona three years ago, he was expected to install an offense that revolved around the run. After all, that was his style in three years as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, and the Cardinals badly needed an infusion of toughness. Three years later, Whisenhunt might get to run that type of offense. When he came to the Cardinals, Whisenhunt recognized his offense talent was at receiver. He played a huge part in Kurt Warner's resurgence, and the passing game flourished thanks to a deep corps of receivers, led by Larry Fitzgerald. With Warner gone, the offensive style will change. And Whisenhunt now has the linemen to make it work.
The addition of guard Alan Faneca gives the club another powerful run blocker, and one who is excellent at pulling and finding defenders on the second level. That hasn't been one of the team's strengths. In the recent minicamp, Faneca played left guard, his usual spot, with Reggie Wells moving from left to right. Deuce Lutui, the projected starter at right guard, hasn't signed his restricted free agent qualifying offer and didn't attend. Even without Lutui, the Cardinals are deep in the interior of the line. Behind Wells, Faneca and center Lyle Sendlein are Rex Hadnot and Jeremy Bridges. Both have starting experience at guard and Hadnot can also play center. Bridges is expected to compete with Brandon Keith for the right tackle's job.
With a dynamic running back duo in Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, the Cardinals have the talent in the backfield to make the power offensive style work. Quarterback Matt Leinart is a capable play-action passer, and he's better on the run than Warner. Look for the Cardinals to use him on a lot of naked bootlegs.
--For the past few years, the Cardinals desperately needed an elite pass rusher who could win one-on-one battles. Without one, the club had to rely on blitzes and other schemes to get pressure on the quarterback. That put considerable pressure on a secondary that often didn't hold up. Over the past two years, the Cardinals have worked to saturate the roster with potential candidates. A year ago, they drafted Cody Brown (second round) and Will Davis (sixth round). Late in the year, they added Mark Washington to the practice squad, and he has made a positive impression.
This offseason, the club signed Joey Porter and drafted O'Brien Schofield in the fourth round. Schofield might miss the season after suffering a torn ACL in Senior Bowl practice, but he's a potential replacement for Porter, 33. The Cardinals need Porter to play an elite level this season. Strength coach John Lott believes Porter can be a demon if he drops 10 to 15 pounds, down to the 245 or 250 range. That should not only make Porter faster but should make him more durable as the season progresses. The club needs one of its young players to come to the forefront this season. Brown missed last year with a dislocated wrist, so he is starting over. He played defensive end in college and is converting to a 3-4 linebacker. Davis started showing pass rush skills by mid-season but a knee injury stopped his progress.
--QB Coach Chris Miller is working hard with the four quarterbacks on the roster. The top three -- Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson and rookie John Skelton -- have similar problems. All are tall and tend to over-stride when throwing. As a result, they tend to spray passes to unintended spots.
"We're trying to eliminate that nemesis ball," Miller said.
For Leinart, that's the pass that tends to sail high and to the left. Anderson, who was with Cleveland before signing with Arizona, also tended to be erratic.
"He would miss a lot of open guys," Miller said. "We watched the Cincinnati game last year, they are going for a game-winning drive and he had a guy wide open on third and nine or third and 10 on an in route. He throws it behind him in the dirt and he's got no pressure."
--DE Darnell Dockett participated in the mandatory minicamp, unlike the past two years when he attended but watched from the sideline because of alleged hamstring strains. Dockett wants a new contract but decided to show up to display his leadership ability. "I just wanted to put my personal issues to the side and just got out and focus," Dockett said. "I felt I owed it to them. I owe it to DRC (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), who has been here rehabbing his injury, hasn't missed a day.
"At the end of the day, it's not about my contract situation, it's more about the respect I have from my teammates."
--DT Bryan Robinson decided to return for a 14th NFL season. It was better than working in his wife's spa business in Chicago. "Love my wife, but she had me running around doing all kinds of things. She was getting very demanding," Robinson said.
Robinson has started the past two years but he knows that's likely to change since the club drafted Dan Williams in the first round. Robinson talked to Williams at minicamp and told him that if Robinson is playing more than Williams this year, there's a problem. "I'm getting up there in age and we needed another nose tackle in here. I'm going to do everything I can to help him out, too."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As far as a leadership role, trying to take over for an Anquan Boldin or a Kurt Warner ... I don't think you can earn that with one day of minicamp. You got to really go through a training camp with these guys, you have to really do the blood, sweat and tears with them during the dog days." -- OLB Joey Porter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Cardinals have filled most of their needs, nearly all of which were on defense. Some young players will have to come through, however. NT Dan Williams, the first-round pick, will contend for a starting job with veteran Bryan Robinson and backup Gabe Watson. LB Daryl Washington, the second-round pick, will be given every chance to start at one of the inside positions.
Needs remain, however, at cornerback and fullback. There isn't much depth at corner, and team doesn't have an established fullback. The Cardinals will look to fill those jobs through the summer.
MEDICAL WATCH: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is rehabilitating after surgery to repair an MCL and chipped bone near a knee. He wasn't at full speed in minicamp but he participated in all drills.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--CB Ralph Brown, entering his 11th season, is smart and a great locker room influence. He probably will sign a short-term deal.
--OT Mike Gandy played steady as the left tackle but likely will want something close to the $5 million he made last year. He likely won't get that.
--FB Dan Kreider is an excellent blocker. The team would like him back. Injuries are a concern, however.
--LB Chike Okeafor is getting up in age and never was a great fit as an outside linebacker. He probably won't return.
--QB Brian St. Pierre is liked by the team, but had had back problems throughout 2009. He needs to prove he's healthy before the club re-signs him.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--DE Jason Banks (not tendered as ERFA).
--FB Justin Green (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*G Deuce Lutui (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) was a starter at right guard. He showed improvement in 2009.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Hamza Abdullah: Not tendered as RFA; terms unknown.
--CB Michael Adams: ERFA; terms unknown.
--TE Anthony Becht: UFA; $950,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.
--LB Monty Beisel: UFA; terms unknown.
--WR Steve Breaston: RFA; (tendered at $2.396M with first-round pick as compensation); $2.396M/1 yr.
--T/G Jeremy Bridges: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--FB Nehemiah Broughton: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Jeremy Clark: ERFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Ben Claxton: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Ben Patrick: RFA; (tendered at $1.684M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.684M/1 yr.
--DT Bryan Robinson: UFA; terms unknown.
--C Lyle Sendlein: RFA; (tendered at $1.684M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.684M/1 yr.
--TE Stephen Spach: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Matt Ware: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--*NT Gabe Watson: RFA; (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.684M/1 yr.
--LB Steve Baggs: CFL FA; terms unknown.
--TE Dominique Byrd: FA; terms unknown.
--OG Alan Faneca: FA Jets; $2.5M/1 yr.
--PK Jay Feely: UFA Jets; $3.5M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--G Rex Hadnot: UFA Browns; $9M/3 yrs.
--LB Paris Lenon: UFA Rams; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Justin Miller: FA; terms unknown.
--LB Joey Porter: FA Dolphins; $17.5M/3 yrs.
--S Kerry Rhodes (trade Jets).
--DE Bertrand Berry: UFA; retired.
--WR Anquan Boldin (traded Ravens).
--LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Dolphins; $43M/5 yrs, $11.6M SB/$22M guaranteed.
--CB Bryant McFadden (traded Steelers).
--WR Sean Morey: UFA Seahawks; terms unknown.
--K Neil Rackers: UFA Texans; $4.1M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.
--S Antrel Rolle (released).
--*WR Jerheme Urban: Not tendered as RFA/Chiefs; $630,000/1 yr.
--QB Kurt Warner (retired).