A changing of the guard for Cardinals?

Arizona's offensive line struggled last year and could feature several different faces when the 2011 season commences.

If free agency had taken place as normal, the Cardinals likely would be set at guard.

Veteran Alan Faneca, the starter on the left side, would have made a decision about retiring. Right guard Deuce Lutui, who would have been an unrestricted free agent, would have chosen a team by now.

And depending upon the decisions made by those two players, the Cardinals likely would have addressed the position in free agency.

Instead, however, the Cardinals enter the draft with a need at guard.

Coaches were happier with the play of the offensive line than statistics suggested they should be.

Contrary to popular opinion among fans, Faneca played fairly well in his 12th season. Coaches felt Faneca delivered just what was expected. He was an effective run blocker, and he provided a leadership presence.

They would like Faneca back but he remains undecided. Lutui, who has six seasons of experience, has a tenuous relationship with the team since staying away from most offseason work in 2010.

There isn't much depth behind the two starters. Rex Hadnot plays both guard and center. He could start at right guard, but that would leave the team few backup options at guard and center.

Jeremy Bridges also has starting experience at guard, but he is the chief backup at both tackle spots, too. If he becomes a starter at guard, the team will have to bolster its depth at tackle.

Ideally, the Cardinals would like to re-sign both Faneca and Lutui.

Faneca seems more likely to return. Lutui is from the Phoenix area, but he has been unhappy that the club has not offered him a multi-year deal.

Coaches like Lutui's fierceness, but believe he is too heavy. Lutui played last season at around 355, and coaches think he could have a better impact if he weighed 10 fewer pounds.

The Cardinals aren't likely to take a guard high in the draft. Coach Ken Whisenhunt believes in offensive line coach Russ Grimm's ability to identify and develop talent.

But playing guard in the Cardinals' system isn't as easy as it is at many other places. The Cardinals like to pull their guards, and Faneca has built a fantastic career around his ability to run and hit defenders on the next level.

Guard/center Mike Pouncey of Florida would make a lot of sense, but the Cardinals won't take him with the fifth overall pick and he's likely to be gone before they make their second-round selection.

Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi makes sense, too, but he also is likely to be taken by the time the Cardinals are up in the second round.

TCU's Marcus Cannon has the size the Cardinals like (6-5, 358) and could be available in the middle rounds.

The Cardinals are expected to address other needs before they take a guard. They need a pass rusher, a quarterback and an inside linebacker.

They will rely on Grimm's evaluation of prospects to help them identify a later-round pick who could step in and play immediately.

That wouldn't be ideal, but it may be the club's best alternative in 2011.

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