The weather was perfect Wednesday. Better yet, the Cardinals weren’t coming off a loss, thanks to a restful bye week.
So there’s that.
For coach Ken Whisenhunt, the bye provided an opportunity to move past the negative emotion surrounding the team and get back to analyzing and scheming.
"Essentially, it is like starting over," he said. "It gives you an opportunity to get a lot of that out of your system, talk about it, clear it up and then move forward in a productive way."
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their predicament hasn’t improved. It has grown worse after San Francisco rallied to beat Detroit last weekend and open a 3½-game lead over Arizona in the NFC West.
The Cards must think, talk and play as if there is still hope for a playoff berth. We appreciate that, even when we’ve already waved bon voyage to the good ship NFC West. The 49ers will not implode. The division can no longer be won. But as long as the local team is pursuing this positive bent, we decided to play along by focusing on some hopeful signs for the future.
They may be hard to see beneath the 1-4 record and the impending arrival of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top-ranked defense, but we found five gems. Maybe you can find more.
1. ILB Daryl Washington: On a linebacker corps otherwise bereft of stars, Washington is one in the making. He’s fast, he’s athletic and he has a knack for making plays that should only improve with experience.
"The bad thing about our record is that’s overlooked," Whisenhunt said. "The first thing that stands out about him is his speed and what he can do in space. As far as understanding the defense and getting in the right gaps and making plays, that’s a learning process for all of these guys with a new defense, but Daryl understands better what he has to do to prepare, and you see that reflected in his play."
2. CBs A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson: Hold your gasps. Jefferson has actually played well, while Peterson still looks like a rookie but with promise. The coverage issues are not a product of poor cornerback play as much as they are a product of no pass rush. But that would be a negative. We’re all about sweetness and sunshine.
3. The 2011 draft class: Rookie optimism extends well beyond Peterson. Running back Ryan Williams looked electric before he tore his patellar tendon and was lost for the season. Tight end Rob Housler will be a weapon in the passing game. Fullback Anthony Sherman is a ball of granite who blocks well, catches well and makes an impact on special teams. Linebacker Sam Acho is a heady player who is already earning defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s confidence. Defensive lineman David Carter has accentuated just how poor UCLA’s coaching staff must be to miss his talents, and receiver DeMarco Sampson is climbing the depth chart with his combination of size and good hands.
4. Beanie Wells: He’s healthy, he’s running with a burst and he’s fourth in the league in yards per game (95.2). Our favorite part? He’s running with power and anger and owns a two-game streak of knocking a would-be-tackler’s helmet off.
5. Kevin Kolb: Yes, Kevin Kolb: We know he’s backsliding. We know he’s developed a case of happy feet. We know he’s turning the ball over at a Derek Anderson-esque rate. We know his completion percentage (58.7) ranks 22nd in the league. But we still see something in this guy that creates hope. He has the physical tools. He has the temperament. He has the brain. What he hasn’t had is enough time to absorb a new offense at the game’s most difficult position. And that’s not his fault.