The team's pass defense has been weak the past few seasons because of an inconsistent rush and weakness in the secondary. It's questionable if either area has been upgraded this off-season. The Cardinals are counting heavily upon outside linebacker Joey Porter to help the pass rush, and on some young cornerbacks to come through for them.
Porter, 33, became a part-time player last season with the Dolphins and missed two games because of injuries. He still had nine sacks, and the Cardinals think he could flourish after an offseason in John Lott's strength and conditioning program. Lott wants Porter to play at about 250 pounds, 10 fewer than his playing weight last season. The Cardinals need Porter to win some individual battles with tackles so they don't have to call an inordinate amount of blitzes to pressure the quarterback.
The secondary has had trouble holding up in recent years. The club is on its fourth right cornerback over two years. Bryant McFadden was traded to Pittsburgh, which likely will mean Greg Toler will start opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Toler has great athletic ability but little experience. Drafted a year ago out of Saint Paul College in Virginia, Toler is raw but started to show improvement last season. If he falters, the Cardinals will rely upon Mike Adams, a competitive but physically limited player. The club is going to need better pass coverage from its safeties. Strong safety Adrian Wilson is one of the best at his position but he was beaten too often in coverage last year. He would be aided by a better pass rush.
--Quarterback Matt Leinart returns to the starting lineup in his fifth season and thinks he will benefit from playing behind Kurt Warner the past two years. "It's not what I wanted, but at the same time, I got to learn from a great quarterback for a long time," Leinart said. "Kurt is a Hall of Fame guy. I feel like I've learned so much and I'm more prepared and ready."
Leinart turned 27 this week and appears to have greatly matured since his first few years in the league. He's turning down most interviews that delve too deeply into his personal life. Leinart likely is reasoning that he has to prove himself on the field before revealing too much about his life off of it.
--Beanie Wells looked lean and fast in the team's recent minicamp, and he should post big numbers if he stays healthy. While Wells will become the featured back in the Cardinals' offense, he won't carry the entire load. Coach Ken Whisenhunt loves Tim Hightower, a versatile back who is a proven receiver, blocker and was strong as a short-yardage option as a rookie.
Hightower and Wells have similar running styles. Neither dances much, and they're good at finding a hole and accelerating through it. Wells, who plans to play at 225 pounds, is a bigger threat to make the long run. That's something the team has been missing for the past several years.
With a revamped offensive line ahead of him, Wells should be able to get into the secondary regularly this season. In the recent minicamp, Alan Faneca lined up as the starter at left guard with Reggie Wells moving to right guard. Levi Brown, previously at right tackle, has moved to the left side. Brandon Keith, in his third season, is the starter at right tackle now but is being challenged by Jeremy Bridges. With Rex Hadnot, Bridges and Deuce Lutui, the Cardinals have a deep offensive line and could swing a trade to address other positions.
--The Cardinals are still trying to figure out guard Deuce Lutui's reasons for not signing his qualifying offer. A restricted free agent, Lutui wants a long-term deal but the team isn't going to give him one. Meanwhile he's been replaced in the starting lineup.
--Coach Ken Whisenhunt says he's pleased with his quarterback situation but he won't rule out the possibility of signing Marc Bulger, who was cut last month by the Rams.
--Whisenhunt was happy with the way guard Alan Faneca fit into the offensive line after signing a few weeks ago. Faneca played for the Steelers when Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh.
"When you make changes like that, you don't expect the chemistry to come together as quickly as it did," Whisenhunt said. "I think that's a function of having a guy who has been a nine-time Pro Bowler, as well as a guy like Levi (Brown), who has played. They have bonded.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "People can say what they want about me but I still haven't really proved anything yet. I haven't been out there, so I don't think you can make a fair judgment." -- QB Matt Leinart.
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.
There are needs at cornerback and fullback. There isn't much depth at corner, and the team doesn't have an established fullback. The Cardinals will look to fill those jobs throughout 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.