With the draft over, Cards can begin real work - East Valley Tribune: Sports

With the draft over, Cards can begin real work

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Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2009 6:48 pm | Updated: 2:26 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Preparation took months. Formulations took weeks. Finalizing took days and the waiting took hours. All pale in comparison to decades of losses, where drafts were viewed as an annual savior to this Cardinals franchise. The 2009 draft class of eight players won’t reveal itself as a bust or bounty immediately – or even a year or two.           

Draft notebook: Cardinals a hit with Davis | The Cardinals' day 2 draft at a glance

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Bordow: 'Beanie’ a perfect fit, but Boldin is on rocks | Complete 2009 draft results

Preparation took months. Formulations took weeks. Finalizing took days and the waiting took hours.

Draft notebook: Cardinals a hit with Davis | The Cardinals' day 2 draft at a glance

Plenty of winners, losers in NFL draft  |  The Cardinals' new 'House'

Bordow: 'Beanie’ a perfect fit, but Boldin is on the.rocks | Complete draft results

All pale in comparison to decades of losses, where drafts were viewed as an annual savior to this Cardinals franchise.

The 2009 draft class of eight players won’t reveal itself as a bust or bounty immediately – or even a year or two.

Perhaps that helps explain why, moments after they made their final NFL Draft selection on Sunday, general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt qualified the weekend’s eight picks as successful.

Perhaps their first-round pick (running back Chris “Beanie” Wells) could push Tim Hightower to be the starting running back.

Perhaps their third (safety Rashad Johnson), fourth (cornerback Greg Toler) or seventh (running back LaRod Stephens-Howling) selections will make an impression on special teams this season.

Perhaps time will pave the way for “Big Baby:” Offensive lineman Herman Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 383-pound guard whom the Cardinals hope can continue a recent trend of successful fifth-round choices.

“He’s a humongous man,” Whisenhunt said.

Whatever their career arc, they have time. Fresh off their first Super Bowl appearance in team history, the Cardinals returned most of last year’s squad, which leaves a couple free agent signings (cornerback Bryant McFadden and tight end Anthony Becht) to compete for starting jobs.

The weekend’s draftees have a chance to develop on their own and compete for roster spots and playing time, a far cry from previous year when they were needed to become instant starters, and, in some cases, stars. More often than not, it didn’t happen.

“A lot of our veteran players understand what we’re trying to get done,” Whisenhunt said upon completing his third draft as Cardinals coach. “That helps with young players like this. I think we have a lot of outstanding character and leaders on our team already, and they’ll help the young guys get better, and that’s what’s important.

“We’re not so concerned about the time it’s going to take because I think they’ll transition to their positions more readily because of the fact we have a veteran crew to help them.”

A day after fielding few phone calls regarding Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals listened to more offers which involved moving up or down for Sunday’s final five rounds, but instead stayed pat.

With four players taken on each side of the ball, the Cardinals believe they’ve accomplished their primary goal of enhanced depth on the offensive line, backfield and secondary, while hoping a few emerge immediately to improve special teams.

Graves said the team will bring in “somewhere in the area of 8 to 10” undrafted free agents, fewer than last year.

Most figured the Cardinals would take a lineman or linebacker with early picks on Sunday, but they stuck to their draft board and took a pair of defensive backs in Alabama safety Rashad Johnson, and Toler, a cornerback from Division II St. Paul’s College, who was once a mess academically and worked at JC Penney after high school.

“For the most part the entire day we stuck to our board and we’ve always built the board under the idea of best player available,” Graves said.

Depth and development are part of a championship blueprint being constructed by Graves and Whisenhunt, and this weekend’s minicamps for veterans and rookies will be the Cardinals first large-scale gathering since losing Super Bowl XLIII.

It’s also the first chance to work with their newest projects.

“After a little bit of a bitter taste from the last time we left together, which was after the Super Bowl, it’ll be great to get everybody back together again and get out on the field,” Whisenhunt said.

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