The Cardinals should be a better team if they are a healthier team.
But they also may be a different team if, as expected, Matt Leinart takes over the starting quarterback job from Kurt Warner.
Last season Leinart fractured his collarbone in October. The 37-year old Warner took over, probably playing his best ball since his glory days in St. Louis six years earlier. But now he is expected to lose his job to Leinart, who has been only an average performer in 16 pro starts.
If the Cardinals had not invested so much in Leinart, there is no doubt starting Warner would be the prudent thing to do. But it is time for Leinart to deliver on his potential.
And the indications are that the former Heisman winner is ready to do that. When Leinart was injured last season, he was assigned by offensive coordinator Todd Haley to break down the opponent's defense each week. As a result, Haley learned how to watch tape and decipher defensive tendencies.
Haley believes Leinart is "head and shoulders" above where he was a year ago in terms of understanding the offense. As a result, Leinart is more capable of concentrating on reads and pressures without having to worry about terminology and routes.
In the offseason Leinart also worked on shortening his delivery and improving his footwork, especially on shotgun plays.
Leinart is trying to distance himself from his party boy image, and Cardinals coaches have been impressed with Leinart's commitment and more serious approach to his profession.
The Cardinals passing game also will be impacted by a change in play calling. Last season, head coach Ken Whisenhunt called some of the plays, but this year he's turning over the play calling responsibilities to Haley.
Haley figures to call for many passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and he'll also have to find a third receiver to replace Bryant Johnson, who signed with the 49ers. In offseason work, return man Steve Breaston has been very impressive as a wide receiver, so he figures to be first in line. But Breaston likely will be challenged for playing time by Jerheme Urban and third round pick Early Doucet.
After drafting Antrel Rolle in the first round of the 2005 draft and playing him for three years at cornerback, the Cardinals came to the conclusion they should use their first round pick on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and move Rolle to free safety.
Rolle may be better suited to play free safety. But the transition probably won't be a seamless one. If the Cardinals were sure Rolle had the instincts for the position, they probably would have moved him there a long time ago.
Rolle needs to continue to be a playmaker and avoid making mental mistakes at a new position. If not, the next move may not be to a new position.
Overheard at camp
When the Cardinals signed Fitzgerald to a four year, $40 million deal in the offseason, it cleared cap space that allowed them to sign others. But it also may have raised the expectations of several of his teammates.
Now some of the Cardinals' other big guns have lined up for their share. Among them are linebacker Karlos Dansby, who is playing under the franchise tag, Darnell Dockett, Boldin and Wilson. It will be interesting to see if contract issues impact this team in camp and beyond.
Comings and goings
The Cardinals lost Calvin Pace to the Jets in free agency just as Pace had come into his own after five seasons in the league. But they replaced his pass rush by adding two free agents—defensive end Travis LaBoy from the Titans and linebacker Clark Haggans—and second round draft pick Calais Campbell.
The team has to hope third year guard Deuce Lutui has matured to the point where he can replace Keydrick Vincent, who signed with the Panthers.
The Cardinals seem to be a popular choice to be a darkhorse team every year. But this year, they should be.
They are in the second year of Whisenhunt's regime, and things appear to be coming together. If Leinart can take the next step, he'll take the Cardinals with him and they finally will win more than they lose.
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