> Russ Grimm,Arizona's first-year offensive line coach, doesn't do grades. When he playedfor the Redskins, Grimm hated how some position coaches assigned percentages orhanded out letter grades to each player, based on such factors as the number ofmistake-free snaps. It isn't professional, Grimm believes, and it also doesn'tserve the larger purpose. "The misnomer about the offensive line is thatyou can grade a person individually," says Grimm, an 11-year NFL guard whowas the Steelers' line coach for six years. "If there are 75¬†snaps ina game and the left tackle had five bad plays, he would grade out at above 90%.But if he had five and the left guard had five and the center had five andeveryone on the line had five . . . well, they all graded out fine, but we gotour butts kicked."
Beyond theoverall change in tone wrought by new coach Ken Whisenhunt, formerly Grimm'soffensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, the new philosophy on the O-line and thedrafting of Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown with the fifth pick in Aprilare the most significant additions to the Cardinals. Optimism in Arizona stemsmostly from the belief that a motivated and rebuilt line (which also addedfree-agent center Al Johnson from Dallas) can open holes for Edgerrin James,the former Colt who failed to have the hoped-for impact after he signed thelargest free-agent deal in Cardinals history last year. A boost in the groundgame would lend some balance to an offense with an already potent passingattack. "There is not a lack of talent [on the line]," Grimm says,despite the likely loss of left tackle Oliver Ross for the season with a tornleft triceps, "but there has been a lack of consistency."
> If Grimmcan coax even a modicum of improvement from a rushing attack that finishedahead of only Cleveland's and Detroit's last season (and had the worstyards-per-carry figure, 3.2, in the league), the Cardinals' offense could roll.Quarterback Matt Leinart figures to get better in his second season; coachestinkered with his drop back, teaching him to take a deeper first step to gethim more in sync with star wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Andthough tight end remains a weak spot after second-year man Leonard Popestruggled in camp--no small concern since Whisenhunt likes two-tight-endsets--the Cardinals should not want for points. "It's all there,"Johnson says. "We don't have any excuses. [Grimm] has simplifiedeverything, made it easy for us to understand what we have to do. If we don'tdo our job consistently, then it is our fault."
Defensively, thesecondary has been strengthened by the addition of free-agent free safetyTerrence Holt (Pro¬†Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson's college roommate atN.C. State) and the improvement of young corners Antrel Rolle, Eric Green andRoderick Hood. The defensive backfield will be more involved in blitzing in theaggressive scheme of holdover defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who likeGrimm lost out to Whisenhunt for the head job but decided to work under him."We've got a young secondary, but they're learning the nuances of theposition," Wilson says. "It's exciting to think about going out thereto make plays rather than [just] doing a job so others can make them."
Wilson and mateswill be busier now that the front seven likely lost strongside linebacker ChikeOkeafor for the season because of a torn biceps. He had been moved from end tooutside linebacker in Arizona's hybrid 3-4 defense. His versatility, along withthat of Bertrand Berry (both started their careers as linebackers), wascritical to the Cardinals' defensive plans. The drop-off from Okeafor to DarrylBlackstock or Calvin Pace is steep, and it's likely to alter everythingPendergast does. Fourth-year linebacker Karlos Dansby, who teammates believe ispoised to have a breakout season like Wilson's last year, might need to rushthe passer more, though his plate is full as is. "Karlos, like a lot of theguys up front, is versatile," Holt says. "He can play inside oroutside, rush the passer, cover the slot. Guys like him are the reason I thinkwe can be successful, because we can throw a lot of different looks atyou."
Success, however,is not expected, at least not to the level forecast last season, when theCardinals were the trendy pick to go from futility to the playoffs. Arizona'sdivision rival San Francisco now has that burden, and it has provided theCardinals with some cover while they adapt to Whisenhunt, Grimm and the"Steeler mentality" they're trying to bring to the desert.
"It's thatblue-collar attitude where you don't talk about what you're going to do but yougo out and do it," Wilson says. "We want to be known as a team thatplays tough, man-on-man football, a team that just goes and gets it done."--G.D.
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH KEN WHISENHUNT (0-0 in NFL), first season with Cardinals
TERRELLE SMITH(NEW ACQUISITION)
LEVI BROWN (R)(NEW ACQUISITION)
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 4"
AL JOHNSON (NEWACQUISITION)
HT 6' 6"
HT 6' 4"
MIKE GANDY (NEWACQUISITION)
HT 6' 4"
SACKS 1 1/2
TERRENCE HOLT(NEW ACQUISITION)
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
> 2006 RECORD5-11 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 30/10/18 DEFENSE 16/30/29
10 at San Francisco (M)
23 at Baltimore
7 at St. Louis
21 at Washington
4 at Tampa Bay
18 at Cincinnati
25 SAN FRANCISCO
9 at Seattle
16 at New Orleans
30 ST. LOUIS
NFL rank 32
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .461
Games against playoff teams 4
Instant access to the latest and best Cardinals stories, stats and blogs fromacross the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
THE KING 500
A Pro Bowler in 2004, Berry missed eight games with a torn pectoral muscle in'05 and six games last season with a torn triceps. He lost 15¬†pounds thisoff-season (down to 256) in an effort to avoid injury and to fit in as astanding pass rusher in the Cardinals' hybrid 3-4. Says Berry, who had sixsacks in his final five games last season, "I've just got to find a way tostay on the field."
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE CARDINALS
> The Cardinals' defense was already terribleagainst the pass, so it's a huge blow to lose their best pass rusher, ChikeOkeafor, with a torn biceps. . . . I love the pick of Alan Branch in the secondround. He'll push Gabe Watson at the nose and should give the Cardinals a verygood defensive tackle rotation. . . . Matt Leinart is a 65% passer waiting tohappen, with a big if--and that's if the tackles keep him clean. Rookie tacklesalways struggle, and first-rounder Levi Brown goes from a run-first offense atPenn State to a team that might pass 550 times. And [left tackle] Mike Gandygets beat too much by edge rushers. . . . Neil Rackers went from one of thebest seasons a kicker ever had in 2005 to missing nine kicks from beyond 40. Ateam that's going to struggle to be .500 can't have that.
desert storm A more aggressive secondary scheme suits Wilson's Pro Bowl skills.
GENE LOWER/ARIZONA CARDINALS