2011 Arizona Cardinals preseason preview

by | Special to CBSSports.com

Kolb is the future, and the future of Whisenhunt (background) depends on the QB's success. (Getty Images)  
Kolb is the future, and the future of Whisenhunt (background) depends on the QB's success. (Getty Images)  

2010 RECORD: 5-11 (3rd, NFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to New Orleans, 45-14, in NFC divisional round

COACH (RECORD): Ken Whisenhunt (36-34 in five seasons with Cardinals)



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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 32nd rushing, 31st passing, 26th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 30th rushing, 22th passing, 30th scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Kevin Kolb (from Eagles), G Daryn Colledge (free agent), LB Stewart Bradley (free agent), CB Richard Marshall (free agent), TE Todd Heap (free agent), TE Jeff King (free agent), DENick Eason (free agent), DL Vonnie Holliday (from Redskins), WR Chansi Stuckey (free agent), G Floyd Womack (free agent), CB Patrick Peterson (first round, LSU), RB Ryan Williams (second round, Va. Tech), TE Rob Housler (third round, Fla. Atlantic), LB Sam Acho (fourth round, Texas), RB Anthony Sherman (fifth round, UConn), LB Quan Sturdivant (sixth round, UNC), DT David Carter (sixth round, UCLA), WR DeMarco Sampson (seventh round, San Diego St.)

KEY DEPARTURES: WR Steve Breaston (free agency, to Chiefs), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (traded to Eagles), LG Alan Faneca (retired), LB Gerald Hayes (released), QB Derek Anderson (released, to Panthers), RB Tim Hightower (traded to Redskins)

COUNTING ON KOLB: The Cards found out what life is like without a franchise quarterback last season when Kurt Warner retired a year before most expected. They didn't like that life. Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton were a disaster, posting the worst combined quarterback rating of any NFL team, as the Cards' two-year playoff run ended in a 5-11 season. Finding a quarterback was priority No. 1 for several reasons this offseason. First, the team knew it had no shot of winning without one. Second, coach Ken Whisenhunt's neck was on the line after a questionable decision to release Matt Leinart in the 2010 preseason. Finally, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is entering the final year of his contract. Without a legitimate quarterback, the Cards had no chance of re-signing him -- a move they now hope to accomplish before the regular season begins. Is Kolb a franchise quarterback? Nobody knows, but the Cards gambled that he is when they gave up 2009 Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to acquire Kolb from the Eagles. It's a move they had to make -- and a move that will determine the futures of Whisenhunt, Fitzgerald and this franchise.

GUARDED OPTIMISM: A battle is shaping up along the Cards' offensive line. When left guard Alan Faneca retired and right guard Deuce Lutui briefly signed with the Bengals, it appeared the team would have to start the Kevin Kolb era with two new guards. Arizona signed Packers guard Daryn Colledge right out of the chute, then added Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack shortly afterward. Then Lutui failed his Bengals physical after reporting at 381 pounds. In doing so, he left $8.5 million on the table and limped back to Cards camp with his tail between his legs, on a minimum-level salary. His loss is the Cards' gain. Arizona has four guards -- Rex Hadnot is the other -- battling for two starting spots with the versatile Jeremy Bridges also capable of playing that spot (along with tackle). Lutui's weight will force him to earn his starting spot back, but the left side appears to be Colledge's to lose. Whisenhunt loves competition at positions. He got his wish at guard.

THE YOUNG AND THE OLD: After a quarterback, finding a consistent, edge pass rusher was the Cards' biggest offseason need. They never filled it -- at least from the outside. Outside linebacker Joey Porter, the team's biggest free-agent disappointment last season, re-signed at a fraction of the $5.75 million he was due, vowing to be better in defensive coordinator Ray Horton's Steelers-inspired system (Porter's best years came as a Steeler). But Porter will have to work to start opposite Clark Haggans. Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield has shown enormous promise after battling his way back onto the field faster than expected following a horrific knee injury suffered in Senior Bowl practice last year. The University of Wisconsin product has the tools, the head and the work ethic. He gained some experience over the latter half of the 2010 season and registered two sacks. The Cards are hoping, maybe praying, he can take a giant leap forward and provide an element they sorely lacked last season.

LET THE KID PLAY: There has been some debate as to whether the Cards will allow first-round pick Patrick Peterson (No. 5 overall) to start at cornerback when the season begins. Whisenhunt never starts rookies, but he's never had one the caliber of Peterson, who most scouting reports rated as the top player in the 2011 draft. The LSU product looks polished and strong safety Adrian Wilson, a demanding defensive leader, says Peterson already knows the playbook inside and out. With Rodgers-Cromartie gone, Greg Toler and Richard Marshall are the other starting options. Peterson will make some mistakes, but the Cards should allow that because he'll also make plays, even if the roster generously lists him at 6-foot-1. He's also a dynamic force as a kick returner and will at least factor in that area in spot-duty -- perhaps more if he's not starting at cornerback when the season begins.

FINAL WORD: The Cards had an offseason plan and were aggressive executing it. But how long will it take to mesh all those new parts without the benefit of OTAs? They have two new coordinators (OC Mike Miller has been with the team) and they have a new quarterback. Kolb may take half a season to learn the intricacies of the offense and the Cards still don't have a field-stretching receiver, although they remain interested in adding that piece. The defense must play better than last year, but may not have Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson (biceps) for a chunk or all of the season.. And running back Beanie Wells must become a consistent big-play threat while Kolb finds his way. There are a lot of questions surrounding this team, but there's also a lot of excitement.


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