Because he's a celebrity quarterback, Leinart is the default "face of the franchise." But the team's identity is more aligned with Wilson – a 6-foot-3, 230-pound destroyer in the secondary – or Boldin, one of the hardest-working and most productive receivers in football. Or Whisenhunt. A tight end for the Falcons, Redskins and Jets during an eight-year career, he's got the physical aura of an ass-kicker but maintains a guardedly pleasant disposition. He's a less demonstrative version of Bill Cowher, the man he worked under in Pittsburgh from 2001 through 2006.
"Progress is being made," Whisenhunt told me outside the cafeteria at Northern Arizona. "We're much further along as a team, as a unit this year than we were last year. Our players are a lot more comfortable with how we practice. What we expect of them and what they expect of themselves. We're able to do more things team-wise this year because we have a better base. Our depth is veteran depth and you're able to move more quickly with those guys than younger guys."
Whisenhunt points out that 12 of the Cardinals games last year were decided by seven points or less.
Leinart, whose 2007 season ended in October with a broken collarbone, says: "We haven’t learned how to finish games and finish seasons. Last year was a big-time confidence builder. Even though it was 8-8 we were in every single game last year. Every single one. And winning the last couple of games sparked this team."
The most obvious question around the team is at quarterback with Leinart and veteran Kurt Warner. Leinart is the presumed starter at this point but last year, poor performances before his injury led to questions about his fitness to lead. He’ll have to start well to quell conversation. Everywhere else, the Cardinals have more than enough talent to compete in the weak NFC West where only the Seahawks are to be taken seriously. They are in a good spot.
"Me and (linebacker) Karlos Dansby were talking about how good the team is right now," said Wilson. "Good team, good players, youth and people who've been together for three or four years. We know we only have a short time to get this thing done before salary cap, free agency and things pull it all apart. We came back with the same coaching staff and pretty much the same players. We got to be able to take that and go and I think that’s something the starters on this team realize. We gotta take this thing and we gotta go."
Said Leinart: "We just have to go out there and do it. Enough said. We have to go out there and let this team speak for itself."
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