With fresh start, Cardinals have reasons for hope - East Valley Tribune: Fox Sports Arizona

With fresh start, Cardinals have reasons for hope

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Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:45 pm | Updated: 4:08 pm, Tue Sep 13, 2011.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is no longer interested in discussing the 2010 season.

"That's gone," he said Friday as the team prepared for Sunday's 2011 opener against Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium. "It's kind of hard to talk about last year when you've got 51 new guys, plus a couple other new ones we've added.

"You talk about last year and they're like, 'What are you talking about? We sucked.' Yeah, we sucked. So, OK, let's move on. We're going to be better this year. That's our goal."

There will be some reminders of 2010 on Sunday, most notably former starting quarterback Derek Anderson, who'll likely be standing on the Carolina sideline as the Panthers' backup.

But all the additions -- and subtractions -- have breathed new life into this team, this organization and this fan base. Aside from the optimism receiver Larry Fitzgerald annually brings, we have five other reasons to feel good about this year's Cardinals, as well as five areas of concern.

FIVE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

SS Adrian Wilson is back: We don't know how serious that biceps tendon tear was/is, and we probably won't know until it has fully healed, but the Cards defensive tri-captain brings more to the table than leadership and an array of skills near the line of scrimmage. He brings attitude. He brings intimidation. He brings a chip on his shoulder for every slight, real or perceived. He adds confidence to a unit that will play with two inexperienced cornerbacks after Greg Toler was lost for the season. Many project the Cards secondary as a potential weakness. With Wilson, playmaking free safety Kerry Rhodes and soon-to-be-star Patrick Peterson, we think it will be a strength as the season progresses.

QB Kevin Kolb: The new franchise quarterback hasn't proven a thing yet, but his low-key approach, his unflappable nature and his obvious physical tools make him a vast improvement over what the Cards had last year. With a favorable early-season schedule, Kolb should be able to get his feet wet without drowning.

CB Patrick Peterson: The Cards' top pick will make mistakes in his new starting role, but he'll also make plays. Maybe it's the quiet confidence that makes you so certain he's a star in the making. Maybe it's the deep voice that reminds you so much of Michael Jordan's. Either way, Peterson's progression could make fans quickly forget about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

K Jay Feely: When he's not busy Tweeting about the Articles of Confederation or the trade deficit, Feely is making every kick in sight. That's a nice security blanket for a coach.

The NFC West: The reigning division champ lost its starting quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) and is going to war with -- wait for it -- Tarvaris Jackson. Down the coast, San Francisco is going to war with the same Alex Smith who led the Niners to a 6-10 record last year and had fans gnashing their teeth. That leaves relatively young St. Louis as the Cards' main hurdle in the division. The Rams open with the Eagles, Giants and Ravens, while the Cards have the easiest schedule in the league, based on last season's records. The playoffs beckon.

FIVE REASONS FOR CONCERN

Offensive line: Line coach Russ Grimm makes a hefty salary, yet none of his players has achieved Pro Bowl status or been deserving of such recognition in his four-plus seasons in Arizona. The Cards have two news guards (Daryn Colledge and Rex Hadnot) to protect their quarterback investment, but tackles Levi Brown and Brandon Keith may be the greater concern with keeping Kolb upright.

Pass rush: The perceived No. 2 offseason need was never addressed through free agency or trade, so it's up to outside linebacker Joey Porter and his understudy, O'Brien Schofield, to provide some pressure from the edge along with ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Porter, 34, needs three sacks to reach 100 for his career. Only 25 players have achieved that milestone since the league started tracking the stat in 1982. Porter had just five sacks in 2010, his lowest total since 2003. Always accountable, Porter's on a mission to prove he has some game left.

NT Dan Williams: Williams drew the ire of defensive coordinator Ray Horton for being out of shape during training camp. He is vital to the 3-4 alignment, both as a run-stuffer and block-eater. His progress and stamina will go a long toward determining the success of the defense.

WRs Andre Roberts and Early Doucet: At some point, younger players have to step up and justify their draft selection. With Steve Breaston (and Anquan Boldin) gone, that time is at hand for Roberts, the team's No. 2 receiver, and Doucet, who has been effective when healthy.

Too little time: The Cards experienced more roster turnover than most teams this offseason, but they didn't have the benefit of OTAs or mini-camps to put all the pieces together. That lack of cohesion could be evident over the first half of the season.

 

CARDINALS vs. PANTHERS

Three things to watch

1. RB Beanie Wells: The Panthers may not have LB Jon Beason (foot), and defensive tackles Terrell McClain, Sione Fua and Andre Neblett looked downright awful in the preseason. Carolina allowed 21 rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs in 2010. Early running success would also ease the pressure on new quarterback Kevin Kolb.

2.  WR Larry Fitzgerald: One of the myriad causes of consternation last season was the team’s inability to get the ball to its biggest star. Kolb made a point of throwing more to Fitz in the preseason, even finding him on an 80-yard TD strike against the Chargers. The Cards want more of that. Duh.

3. Run defense: The Panthers gashed the Cards for 270 and 177 rushing yards in their meetings the past two seasons.

Three quick facts

• Cards TE Jeff King and CB Richard Marshall were both drafted by Carolina in 2006 and became starters before leaving in free agency this offseason. Carolina third-string QB Derek Anderson was Arizona’s season-opening starter last year.

• The Panthers have defeated the Cards seven straight times in the regular season.

• The Cardinals open the season at home for just the third time in 24 seasons in Arizona.

What’s at stake? Belief. If the Cards want to erase the memory of last season quickly, a win at home against what was the NFL’s worst team last season is a must.

Outlook: Maybe we’re drinking the Kool-Aid, but we believe the Cards will be vastly improved this season. Preseason usually isn’t much of an indicator, but the passing offense looked good, Beanie Wells had his rookie-year burst and the defense had a swagger again.

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Panthers 10

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