HOF game gives Cardinals extra camp time

For Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, the decision to play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5 was an easy one. But that doesn't mean he isn't aware of the risk involved.

For coach Ken Whisenhunt, the decision to play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5 was an easy one. But that doesn't mean he isn't aware of the risk involved.

The Cardinals will play in the game for the first time since 1986, and for Whisenhunt, the timing could not be better.

"We finished up 7-2, we said we couldn't wait to get back on the field, so we're going to get a chance to do that," he said. "We're going to be the first ones back out there."

His team struggled in the first half of 2011, and he blamed part of the 1-6 start on the lack of an offseason.

The Cardinals had a new quarterback, Kevin Kolb, and several other key players who had no time to learn their system.

The merits of that argument are debatable, since the 49ers won the division with a new coach and a new system.

But the lack of preparation time in 2011 has Whisenhunt thinking there is no better time to play an extra preseason game than now.

If Kolb returns as the starting quarterback, he will do so after spending his first full offseason with the team. Backup John Skelton, 25, and Rich Bartel haven't spent an entire offseason with the team, either.

Whisenhunt hasn't mentioned Peyton Manning's name, but the Cardinals' extra prep time would obviously help should Manning sign with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals could open training camp as early as July 21, and Peyton and the Cardinals would benefit from the extra time.

There will be other changes on offense, too. Left tackle Levi Brown will be released if the team can't re-sign him to a new deal. The Cardinals would like him back, but there's a solid chance that won't happen. Right tackle Brandon Keith is an unrestricted free agent, too, and the team is looking to bring someone in to compete with right guard Rex Hadnot.

So that's three potential changes on the offensive line.

An extended preseason would be less important to the defense but still useful.

The unit improved greatly in the latter half of the 2011 season as players began to understand, and accept, coordinator Ray Horton's complex system.

An additional week of preseason practice and another game would only help the unit prepare for this year.

But playing an extra preseason game comes with risk, as Whisenhunt pointed out. The team lost two young players to injuries in the preseason last year: running back Ryan Williams and cornerback Greg Toler.

Both were expected to have large roles but missed the season because of knee injuries.

Williams suffered a torn patellar tendon. His rehabilitation is progressing normally but his rookie season was lost.

Toler was competing for a starting job when he suffered a torn ACL in Green Bay. His injury left the team scrambling to find adequate depth at the position.

Whisenhunt has always been smart about preparing his team for the season, however, and he's not likely to take any foolish chances.

He's been accused of running soft camps, an accusation he hates, but players love his methods.

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