|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Emmitt Smith of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball, and will have to carry the load for a injury depleted offense.
Getty Images/Gary Williams
Key matchup(s): September 12 - at St. Louis, September 19 - at New England, October 10 - at San Francisco, October 24 - Seattle, November 21 - at Carolina, December 12 - San Francisco, December 19 - St. Louis, December 26 - at Seattle.
Star Power: Anquan Boldin (WR, 2nd year, 6'1", 218 lbs.), Freddie Jones (TE, 8th year, 6'4", 260 lbs.), Dexter Jackson (S, 6th year, 6'1", 205 lbs.), Freddie Jones (TE, 8th year, 6'4", 260 lbs.).
Notable Additions: Bertrand Berry (DE, 7th year, 6'3", 250 lbs.), Shaun King (QB, 6th year, 6'1", 215 lbs.) Troy Hambrick (RB, 5th year, 6'1", 233 lbs.)
Notable Subtractions: Jeff Blake (QB, 13th year, 6'1", 223 lbs.), Pete Kendall (G, 9th year, 6'5", 286 lbs.)
Notable Returnees: Emmitt Smith (RB, 15th year, 5'10", 221 lbs.), Josh McCown (QB, 3rd year, 6'4", 212 lbs.), Bryant Johnson (WR, 2nd year, 6'2", 214 lbs.).
Offensive Overview: The stellar offense that new head coach Dennis Green anticipated putting on the field in 2004 may not resemble the original architect's drawings at all to start the season. The Cardinals had to put RB Marcel Shipp on IR on Sept. 1 with a broken leg - he's out for the year. Super-rookie WR Anquan Boldin is out for at least half the season with a torn right knee, and Boldin's supporting cast, WRs Bryant Johnson and first-round pick Larry Fitzgerald, have been slow to practice with their own injuries. Green may try to run the three-wide with a patchwork unit to start the season, but he's got some serious unexpected challenges in putting a quality offense on the field over the first few weeks.
The Cardinals recently picked up former Cowboy RB Troy Hambrick, and he will likely share time with the man he replaced in Big D - all-time yardage leader Emmitt Smith. Hambrick had the worst yards-per-carry average (3.5) of any starter in the NFL, and while Smith hasn't lost one iota of the internal qualities which will propel him to the Hall of Fame, it's safe to say that his best days are behind him.
The Cards can put a fairly impressive vertical attack together when Johnson and Fitzgerald hit the field. When Boldin joins them, it could get interesting. The quarterback who will be throwing passes to them, third-year man Josh McCown, has Green's full support and will be given every chance to succeed.
The big news on the offensive line was the release of guard Pete Kendall, a controversial move to some. Kendall has since landed on his feet with the Jets.
Defensive Overview: Unfortunately, the Cardinal defense couldn't escape the injury bug, either. Second-year DE Kenny King was the pick to start until he re-injured his wrist - an injury that will have him missing all of 2004. The team will rely heavily on DE Bertrand Berry, a free-agent acquisition from the Broncos. Although under the national radar compared to the likes of Jevon Kearse and Adewale Ogunlye, Berry is one of the better defensive ends in the NFL. He'll have to really bring it this year for Arizona's line to make an impact. Third-round pick Darnell Dockett will be asked to make his mark right away.
At linebacker, the Cards drafted Auburn's Karlos Dansby in the second round, and it's hoped that Dansby will be able to make an impact fairly immediately. Ronald McKinnon will be the man in the middle, and Raynoch Thompson will line up frequently on the weak side, using his speed and athleticism to help with blitz packages. Thompson served a league suspension the last four games of the 2003 season - a situation that cannot repeat itself if the defense expects to make a difference.
The secondary lacks a "marquee player" and has been hamstrung by a lack of pressure from the front seven. Still, former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson did come away with a career-high six interceptions in 2003. CB Duane Starks missed all of '03 after blowing out his left knee in the preseason, and the team will need him healthy this year. Renaldo Hill, David Macklin and Adrian Wilson round out a unit that may have more questions than answers.
Special Teams Overview: Neil Rackers replaces Bill Gramatica at kicker. Gramatica only played four games in '03 after being shelved with a back injury. Rackers went made 9 of 12 field goal attempts in 2003 for the team (including 3 of 3 from 40+ yards). Punter Scott Player averaged 42.8 yards per punt in 2003. Kick returner Josh Scobey excelled last season - he had a 100-yard return. Punt returns, handled by Boldin last year, will be taken by former Buccaneer Karl Williams.
The Cardinals will become competitive if:..... they can somehow overcome a plethora of nasty injuries to rebound late in the year, Green does his "Offensive Genius" thing and everyone drinks the Kool-Aid, and the defense steps it up big-time. The hypothetical injury-free Cardinals had a good shot at 8-8, but the depleted version can get there with a great deal of determination.
|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
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