Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Offense takes timing, precision, reps, togetherness. <br><br>So it is particularly unsettling to the Cardinals that camp began with the identity of the team -- the massive offensive front known as The Big Red Line -- in disarray.

Most of the skill position players are new, starting with running back Emmitt Smith, quarterback Jeff Blake, fullback James Hodgins, and most of the wide receiving corps.

Add to that the fact that the Cardinals are with their sixth offensive coordinator in nine seasons and there already was plenty of cause for concern regarding the offense.

The large veteran line is being counted upon to help stabilize the unit.

But with left tackle L.J. Shelton on the Physically Unable to Perform List, left guard Pete Kendall moving to center, and right guard Leonard Davis and Anthony Clement working cautiously as they come back from injuries, the development of the unit isn't likely to be brisk.

That could spell trouble because the team's defense is the weak link. If the Cardinals can't hold the ball and score, they're headed or another single-digit wins total.

Coach Dave McGinnis is beginning to feel the heat. He has this season and next remaining on his contract, but if he and his staff don't get the team to at least .500, McGinnis might not be back for that final season.

Blake has shown that he can throw an excellent long ball - and it really sails in the rarified air in Flagstaff, elevation 7,000 feet. Blake, however, needs rookie first-round pick Bryant Johnson on the field. Johnson has not yet signed. None among a lengthy but undistinguished field of receivers has more than four years experience in the league. Most have two or fewer.

Smith still appears to have gas in the tank, and working behind Hodgins (6-1, 274), who has been the lead blocker for Marshall Faulk, should help.

But it all starts up front for the Cardinals. While the unit that lined up with the first team as camp opened isn't likely to be the opening-day lineup - rookie sixth-round pick Reggie Wells at left tackle, free-agent acquisition Cameron Spikes at left guard, Kendall at center, Davis at right guard, Clement at right tackle - if the anticipated starting unit isn't on the field together for another week or two it is going to hurt the team's fortunes early in the season.

It is just another indicator that any hopes fans might have of seeing appreciable improvement from the Cardinals might be only that - just hope.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff continues through Wednesday, Aug. 13. The most notable highlight along the way is the annual intra-squad scrimmage in the Walkup Skydome on Saturday, Aug. 2.

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