At the Cardinals' Northern Arizona training camp site in
mid-August, theories about the reasons for Jake Plummer's decline
were as plentiful as the pines ringing the practice fields. From
coach Dave McGinnis to quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to the
student-intern shuttle-bus driver, everyone had an idea as to why
Plummer, an erstwhile wunderkind, had bottomed out over the last
two seasons, throwing 45 interceptions to 22 touchdowns as
Arizona went 9-23. Some thought Plummer had crumbled under the
pressure of playing in the same town where he'd been a star at
Arizona State. Others pointed to his myriad injuries. Others
cited the lack of help he received from his teammates or his
General manager Bob Ferguson opted for a combination of the last
two, saying, "Jake's not a guy who can throw the ball 35, 40
times a game, but since we couldn't run, he had to. In the end,
Jake was struggling with his confidence."
Snacking on an apple after a morning practice, Plummer, 26,
breaks a polite silence upon hearing the last suggestion.
"Everybody's entitled to his opinion, but anybody who thinks my
confidence is shot has no idea about me," he says with a shake of
his head. "I won't make excuses. I realize everything's on the
quarterback's shoulders, win or lose. And I know there have been
times when I just sucked. But a lot of things were happening
beyond my or anybody else's control. All we can do is look ahead
For the first time in three years, what Plummer sees won't make
him cringe. Second-year tailback Thomas Jones, who had three
injured ribs diagnosed and treated in late June, is pushing
incumbant Michael Pittman. The receiving corps can be called
dangerous, with the return of Plummer's favorite target, Rob
Moore, from a torn left ACL sustained last August and the rise of
David Boston and the dependable Frank Sanders in Moore's absence.
Most important, the offensive line has been rebuilt with the
signing of former Seahawks guard Pete Kendall and the drafting of
mountainous Texas guard Leonard Davis.
The retooling of the offensive line--the main culprit for an
anemic rushing attack that averaged 79.9 yards a game last year,
fifth worst in the NFL--was left to the fiery McGinnis, who became
permanent coach and de facto head of football operations in
January after replacing Vince Tobin on an interim basis midway
through last year. McGinnis chose to focus his attention and
resources on the offense, to Plummer's delight. "We all know that
we sucked running the ball and that we have to help our defense,"
Plummer says. "We've got the guys to run behind now."
To understand how bad it got, consider how good it was as
recently as 1998, when a spunky Plummer led the Cardinals to
three straight December victories before Arizona ended a 51-year
playoff drought with a win at Dallas.
His troubles began shortly thereafter. Plummer, who signed a
contract extension in December '98 that included a staggering $15
million bonus, severely sprained his right thumb in the 1999
preseason, played poorly and then broke his finger midway through
the schedule. The injuries cost him four games, and he finished
the season with nine touchdown passes, 24 interceptions and a
50.8 passer rating. Last season brought more misery. Considering
Plummer had been hailed as the second coming of Joe Montana, the
drop-off was as shocking as it was precipitous. "Look, 14
interceptions happened when we were down at least 14 points,"
Chryst says. "Most happened because he was our only playmaker. I
have no doubt he'll be better this year because of our
The same can't be said of the defense, a unit too young and too
thin to allow the Cardinals any playoff hopes. Last year Arizona
ranked last in sacks (25) and next to last in total defense
(358.6 yards per game), rushing defense (163.1 yards per game)
and scoring defense (443 points)--and then lost its two best
defenders (defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Aeneas
Williams) to free agency in the off-season. "The defense will be
young, energetic and motivated," McGinnis says. "We'll have to
feed off each other's successes."
It's a heartening forecast, if only for Plummer, a man whose
rebirth remains largely dependent on the players around him. "We
know Jake'll have a better year, but not because he changed
anything," says Sanders. "He's the same ol' Jake--same fire, same
leadership. People need their theories, but really, Jake's been
great all along. It's the rest of us who need to get
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK There's hope that a revamped offensive line will let promising second-year-man Jones move forward.
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT TROYANOS TILLMAN
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals
Expect Jake Plummer to have a rebound year. He's thrown so many
picks over the last couple of seasons, you've got to believe it's
something correctable. His health is apparently better, as are
his receivers, particularly David Boston.... The offensive line
should be better, especially with those big suckers, Pete Kendall
and Leonard Davis. Kendall is darn near Pro Bowl level. Their
tackles are both good, and all together they make up for Mike
Gruttadauria's lack of technique.... Thomas Jones looked bad last
year, even behind a bad line. He went down easy, got banged up
and never looked comfortable. I like Michael Pittman. He's a hard
runner who breaks tackles and is a good receiver with a quick
burst. But he's become a bad-character guy. [He pleaded guilty to
misdemeanor counts of criminal trespassing and criminal damage
after two incidents this summer in which he angrily confronted
his estranged wife; the NFL suspended him for the 2001 opener.]
...Arizona is below average on every defensive unit. The line
isn't good--Kyle Vanden Bosch gets overpowered, and Russell Davis
stinks--the linebackers are nothing special, and the secondary is
in for a long year. They'll miss Aeneas Williams, since Corey
Chavous isn't a cover guy and Tom Knight is the only known
quantity. Pat Tillman will be good again, in the John Lynch mold,
but overall--yikes! ...Dave McGinnis is a players' coach, so it's
not surprising that he was able to keep his job last year."
Sept. 9 Open date
16 at Washington
Oct. 7 at Philadelphia
14 at Chicago
21 KANSAS CITY
28 at Dallas
Nov. 4 PHILADELPHIA
11 N.Y. GIANTS
25 at San Diego
Dec. 2 at Oakland
15 at N.Y. Giants (Sat.)
30 at Carolina
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 13 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .500
Games against playoff teams: 6
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Dave McGinnis; second season with Arizona (1-8 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 3-13 (fifth in NFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 27/17/25; defense 30/11/30
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Jake Plummer 88 475 att. 270 comp. 56.8% 2,946 yds.
13 TDs 21 int. 66.0 rtg.
RB Thomas Jones 95 112 att. 373 yds. 3.3 avg. 32 rec.
208 yds. 6.5 avg. 2 TDs
RB Michael Pittman 170 184 att. 719 yds. 3.9 avg. 73 rec.
579 yds. 7.9 avg. 6 TDs
FB Joel Makovicka 334 3 att. 8 yds. 2.7 avg. 6 rec.
18 yds. 3.0 avg. 0 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR David Boston 73 71 rec. 1,156 yds. 7 TDs
WR Rob Moore 84 37 rec. 621 yds. 5 TDs
WR Frank Sanders 125 54 rec. 749 yds. 6 TDs
TE Terry Hardy 270 27 rec. 160 yds. 1 TD
K Bill Gramatica(R)[N] 204 29/30 XPs 16/24 FGs 77 pts.
PR Bryan Gilmore 344 no punt returns in 2000
KR MarTay Jenkins 318 82 ret. 26.7 avg. 1 TD
LT L.J. Shelton 6'6" 360 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LG Pete Kendall[N] 6'5" 292 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Mike Gruttadauria 6'3" 297 lbs. 8 games 8 starts
RG Leonard Davis(R)[N] 6'6" 370 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RT Anthony Clement 6'7" 355 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Brad Ottis 38 tackles 1 sack
LT Russell Davis 37 tackles 1/2 sack
RT Mao Tosi 43 tackles 0 sack
RE Kyle Vanden Bosch(R)[N]56 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB Ray Thompson 43 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Ronald McKinnon 155 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Rob Fredrickson 99 tackles 1 sack
CB Tom Knight 56 tackles 1 sack
SS Pat Tillman 153 tackles 1 int.
FS Kwamie Lassiter 100 tackles 1 int.
CB Corey Chavous 48 tackles 1 int.
P Scott Player 65 punts 44.2 avg.
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"Tillman will be good again, in the John Lynch mold, but overall