Camp countdown: Matt Leinart’s wing will determine how far Cardinals fly

This is the 29th in a series of team-by-team breakdowns that will run on SportingNews.com before the start of training camp.

Thanks to an old quarterback, a new coach and some blue-chip draft picks, the Cardinals spent the past three seasons distancing themselves from their futile past and proving that no NFL team is too far away from winning.

The Cardinals defense will be a main concern for coach Ken Whisenhunt this season.
The Cardinals defense will be a main concern for coach Ken Whisenhunt this season.

Back-to-back NFC West titles earned coach Ken Whisenhunt a contract extension, but there are changes everywhere else. Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded, and free safety Antrel Rolle (Giants) and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (Dolphins) signed big-money contracts in free agency.

Oh, and the old quarterback, Kurt Warner, retired, handing the job to Matt Leinart. And though Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, will be the feature story of ’10, the performance of the defense could have more of an impact on the overall record.

What’s new

Offense: Arizona’s offense finally should resemble the one everyone thought Whisenhunt would bring three years ago. While Whisenhunt isn’t afraid of the pass, this club should feature a power running attack with two physical runners, a huge line and big play-action schemes.

Leinart’s inaccuracy sometimes plagues him, but he played well in his only ’09 start and the Cardinals hope that’s a true indication of his ability. Steve Breaston is a proven replacement for Boldin and more of a big-play threat. Breaston has speed and, despite a thin frame, runs well after the catch. Boldin’s impact will actually be felt most down the depth chart. Early Doucet moves up to the third wideout role.

The offensive line is being overhauled, too. Former Steeler and Jet Alan Faneca will play left guard with Reggie Wells possibly moving to right guard or right tackle. Levi Brown has moved from right tackle to left tackle, replacing Mike Gandy. If Wells stays at guard, Brandon Keith and veteran Jeremy Bridges will compete for the job at right tackle.

Defense: The linebacker unit is the team’s biggest concern, despite having three of the four starting positions manned by veterans. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, both 33, will start at outside linebacker, just as they once did with the Steelers. The Cardinals signed Porter, who had nine sacks for the Dolphins last year, with the hope he can provide the one-on-one pass rush they’ve lacked.

The bigger problem is replacing Dansby at inside linebacker. Arizona signed Paris Lenon, but he spent time with the Lions and Rams the past few years and neither team decided to re-sign him. Coaches hope second-round pick Daryl Washington can at least contribute in passing situations.

The question along the line is at nose tackle. First-round pick Dan Williams will be given every chance to start because Gabe Watson has been hampered by injuries and Alan Branch has moved to end. Kerry Rhodes, obtained in a trade with the Jets, takes over for Rolle at free safety. Rhodes might be better in coverage than Rolle but will be hard-pressed to match Rolle’s toughness.

Breakout player

Greg Toler, CB. Toler spent his rookie season making the transition from Division II Saint Paul’s College. He has all the tools to be an above-average corner, and the Cardinals are looking for a reliable starter opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Toler (6-0, 191) has decent size and good speed.

"I’ve got 100 percent confidence in Greg. He reminds me of myself, coming from a small school and having to fight a lot of the talk that small-school guys can’t compete. But Greg does compete. I love his speed and ability to break on the ball. He loves to hit, too. He has all the potential."
Rodgers-Cromartie

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Cardinals)

"You have to replace a top-echelon quarterback; that’s the biggest weakness. That’s awfully hard, no matter who is coming in after that. I think Beanie Wells, if he’s allowed to have an impact on the ballgame, can wear you down. He’s a big, fast, explosive guy who can go straight downhill. But his history says he will get hurt. He’ll need help, and the other guy (Tim Hightower) is really similar. They can use those guys to crush people, and Matt has always been a great play-action passer. They did a good job of setting things up this way. …

"On defense, they lost two playmakers in Dansby and Rolle. Karlos was a leader and he could go sideline-to-sideline. With Antrel, you lose another guy you could count on; he was going to make three plays a game. Now you find yourself asking, ‘Who is going to make those plays?’ "

Bottom line

Anyone expecting Leinart to meet the standard set the past two seasons by Warner is unrealistic. With Leinart, the Cardinals will rely on the run and use play-action passes more often. Most of the offseason focus was on the QB change, but the season will be determined by the defense. The unit collapsed at the end of ’09, mostly because of a lack of depth and lack of a pass rush.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson
FB: Nehemiah Broughton, Reagan Mauia
RB: Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Onrea Jones
WR: Steve Breaston, Early Doucet
TE: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht
LT: Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges
LG: Alan Faneca, Reggie Wells,
C: Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot
RG: Reggie Wells, Deuce Lutui
RT: Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges

Defense

DE: Darnell Dockett, Kenny Iwebema
NT: Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson
DE: Calais Campbell, Kenny Iwebema
OLB: Clark Haggans, Cody Brown
ILB: Gerald Hayes, Reggie Walker
ILB: Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington
OLB: Joey Porter, Will Davis
CB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Adams
CB: Greg Toler, Michael Adams
SS: Adrian Wilson, Matt Ware
FS: Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson

Specialists

K: Jay Feely
P: Ben Graham
KR: LaRod Stephens-Howling
PR: Steve Breaston
LS: Mike Leach

This is the 29th in a series of team-by-team breakdowns that will run on SportingNews.com before the start of training camp.

Thanks to an old quarterback, a new coach and some blue-chip draft picks, the Cardinals spent the past three seasons distancing themselves from their futile past and proving that no NFL team is too far away from winning.

The Cardinals defense will be a main concern for coach Ken Whisenhunt this season.
The Cardinals defense will be a main concern for coach Ken Whisenhunt this season.

Back-to-back NFC West titles earned coach Ken Whisenhunt a contract extension, but there are changes everywhere else. Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded, and free safety Antrel Rolle (Giants) and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (Dolphins) signed big-money contracts in free agency.

Oh, and the old quarterback, Kurt Warner, retired, handing the job to Matt Leinart. And though Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, will be the feature story of ’10, the performance of the defense could have more of an impact on the overall record.

What’s new

Offense: Arizona’s offense finally should resemble the one everyone thought Whisenhunt would bring three years ago. While Whisenhunt isn’t afraid of the pass, this club should feature a power running attack with two physical runners, a huge line and big play-action schemes.

Leinart’s inaccuracy sometimes plagues him, but he played well in his only ’09 start and the Cardinals hope that’s a true indication of his ability. Steve Breaston is a proven replacement for Boldin and more of a big-play threat. Breaston has speed and, despite a thin frame, runs well after the catch. Boldin’s impact will actually be felt most down the depth chart. Early Doucet moves up to the third wideout role.

The offensive line is being overhauled, too. Former Steeler and Jet Alan Faneca will play left guard with Reggie Wells possibly moving to right guard or right tackle. Levi Brown has moved from right tackle to left tackle, replacing Mike Gandy. If Wells stays at guard, Brandon Keith and veteran Jeremy Bridges will compete for the job at right tackle.

Defense: The linebacker unit is the team’s biggest concern, despite having three of the four starting positions manned by veterans. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, both 33, will start at outside linebacker, just as they once did with the Steelers. The Cardinals signed Porter, who had nine sacks for the Dolphins last year, with the hope he can provide the one-on-one pass rush they’ve lacked.

The bigger problem is replacing Dansby at inside linebacker. Arizona signed Paris Lenon, but he spent time with the Lions and Rams the past few years and neither team decided to re-sign him. Coaches hope second-round pick Daryl Washington can at least contribute in passing situations.

The question along the line is at nose tackle. First-round pick Dan Williams will be given every chance to start because Gabe Watson has been hampered by injuries and Alan Branch has moved to end. Kerry Rhodes, obtained in a trade with the Jets, takes over for Rolle at free safety. Rhodes might be better in coverage than Rolle but will be hard-pressed to match Rolle’s toughness.

Breakout player

Greg Toler, CB. Toler spent his rookie season making the transition from Division II Saint Paul’s College. He has all the tools to be an above-average corner, and the Cardinals are looking for a reliable starter opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Toler (6-0, 191) has decent size and good speed.

"I’ve got 100 percent confidence in Greg. He reminds me of myself, coming from a small school and having to fight a lot of the talk that small-school guys can’t compete. But Greg does compete. I love his speed and ability to break on the ball. He loves to hit, too. He has all the potential."
Rodgers-Cromartie

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Cardinals)

"You have to replace a top-echelon quarterback; that’s the biggest weakness. That’s awfully hard, no matter who is coming in after that. I think Beanie Wells, if he’s allowed to have an impact on the ballgame, can wear you down. He’s a big, fast, explosive guy who can go straight downhill. But his history says he will get hurt. He’ll need help, and the other guy (Tim Hightower) is really similar. They can use those guys to crush people, and Matt has always been a great play-action passer. They did a good job of setting things up this way. …

"On defense, they lost two playmakers in Dansby and Rolle. Karlos was a leader and he could go sideline-to-sideline. With Antrel, you lose another guy you could count on; he was going to make three plays a game. Now you find yourself asking, ‘Who is going to make those plays?’ "

Bottom line

Anyone expecting Leinart to meet the standard set the past two seasons by Warner is unrealistic. With Leinart, the Cardinals will rely on the run and use play-action passes more often. Most of the offseason focus was on the QB change, but the season will be determined by the defense. The unit collapsed at the end of ’09, mostly because of a lack of depth and lack of a pass rush.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson
FB: Nehemiah Broughton, Reagan Mauia
RB: Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Onrea Jones
WR: Steve Breaston, Early Doucet
TE: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht
LT: Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges
LG: Alan Faneca, Reggie Wells,
C: Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot
RG: Reggie Wells, Deuce Lutui
RT: Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges

Defense

DE: Darnell Dockett, Kenny Iwebema
NT: Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson
DE: Calais Campbell, Kenny Iwebema
OLB: Clark Haggans, Cody Brown
ILB: Gerald Hayes, Reggie Walker
ILB: Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington
OLB: Joey Porter, Will Davis
CB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Adams
CB: Greg Toler, Michael Adams
SS: Adrian Wilson, Matt Ware
FS: Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson

Specialists

K: Jay Feely
P: Ben Graham
KR: LaRod Stephens-Howling
PR: Steve Breaston
LS: Mike Leach

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