Simply getting players back from Injured Reserve is going to make the Cardinals' defense more effective in 2006 -- and even though it was reduced to fielding helpless civilians at many positions by year's end, it still finished in the top 10 in the league last season.
Getting Pro Bowl pass rusher Bertrand Berry, 2005 first-round draft pick cornerback Antrel Rolle and starting middle linebacker Gerald Hayes back on the field is a good start.
Tackle Kenny King, a projected starter in 2004, is coming back from two years away because of wrist injuries.
The Cardinals augmented a growing nucleus of playmakers by signing free-agent tackle Kendrick Clancy and drafting tackles Gabe Watson and Jonathan Lewis.
The team also is trying a move with 2003 first-round draft pick Calvin Pace in an attempt to resurrect his career and get some return on investment. He was a bust as a rookie starter with one sack in 16 starts, lost the job in 2004, began to make a comeback last season and then suffered a season-ending arm cut in a non-football incident at home that nearly cost him his roster spot.
Pace has been moved from defensive end to outside linebacker on the strong side.
"Like I tell people, it's not hard, it's not like playing corner or safety," Pace said. "It's basically time on the job. I think the true test will be in training camp and preseason games."
Early returns in team organized workouts are favorable, coaches say. Pace would back up Karlos Dansby, who will be pushing for Pro Bowl consideration after a big 2005, and give the team options in scheming.
"You remember the days of Broderick Thomas, guys who could play the 'Sam' linebacker and then when it's time to rush the passer could stay in the game?" coach Dennis Green said. "It gives us another speed rusher."
The newcomers and returnees complement Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson on a unit that while ranking among league leaders couldn't make the critical stop when needed.
The influx of tackles in particular should now make the unit better equipped to give the ball back to the potent offense.
--This shapes up as a big year for "Big."
Everything about Leonard Davis has been big -- even his nickname -- EXCEPT for his consistency on the field.
But now, with his career at a crossroad and the Arizona Cardinals with a wad of cash available under the salary cap that they're itching to burn on deserving players, Davis has to come through in 2006.
If he does, he can expect an extension offer before the season is complete, according to Rod Graves, vice president of operations.
Certainly big things were expected after the Cardinals made Davis the second pick overall in the 2001 draft. And he burst onto the NFL scene in memorable fashion, starting at right guard as a rookie and mauling foes. He is most remembered in 2001 for his pancake of Brian Urlacher.
Since then, though, Davis has performed passably at right tackle, filling in because of injuries, and for two years at left tackle, where he was an All-America in college at Texas and where everyone believed he would flourish as a pro.
Unfortunately, since coach Dennis Green moved Davis there in 2004, Davis is most known for his blunders -- the false starts, including one in the closing seconds that caused a game-ending clock run-off when the Cardinals were in the red zone with a chance to score and win a game.
The Cardinals are about $9 million under the $102 million cap before they sign rookies. Their rookie pool could take half of that. They'll still have a cushion for emergency and plenty left to extend the high-performing veterans whose contracts are about to lapse -- those who earn it this season.
"We're going to be focused on where we want to spend that money," Graves said. "We may address a handful of guys over the course of the year."
Others on Graves' "watch list" will be starting middle linebacker Gerald Hayes, who missed all of last season to injury, and outside linebacker Orlando Huff, whose debut with the team in 2005 after signing as a free agent was something less than stellar.
--Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in Phoenix, touring the new stadium that opens in suburban Glendale in August and visiting with Cardinals ownership and management. The new stadium is sold out for 2006. It is to be the site of the 2008 Super Bowl.
"The design is so bold, so striking and so in tune with the landscape out there," Tagliabue said. "I think that it is not only going to be a fun place but a wonderful place to play the Super Bowl."
The Cardinals are tweaking the concept of luxury suites and leasing what they market as "lofts" in the new building.
"It is such a nice thing that the excitement around the stadium and the upswing around the team is coming at the same time," Tagliabue said.
--The most excitement in on offense, where RB Edgerrin James and QB Matt Leinart have been added to a group that includes WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and QB Kurt Warner.
"We like the fact that we are strong at the receiving corps and we think with Edge, Marcel (Shipp) and J.J. (Arrington) we are strong at running back," coach Dennis Green said. "I think those are two really good signs. We also think we are strong on the offensive line. We've added to it and the guys we have brought back are going to help us offensively and I think we have some good players at the starting position."
--The Cardinals are promoting Steve Keim to head the college scouting department in a retooling of the operation.
Scout George Boone is retiring. Dave Razzano, who was with the Rams for 14 seasons, is Boone's replacement. He will work the western part of the country.
Lonnie Young is being promoted to supervise the west.
--Coach Dennis Green used the accident involving Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger to remind his players to make good decisions away from the game.
"You always want the players to understand that anything they do off the field -- whether it be skiing, water skiing, sky diving, motorcycling -- there is a certain amount of judgment that has to be used about whether or not a guy should do those things," Green said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really think they want to make this work, and I want to make it work, too. Coach (Clancy) Pendergast (Cardinals defensive coordinator) is pretty much a mad scientist out there. He's going to have something for you, so I think it's going to turn out good." - OLB Calvin Pace, on his off-season move to strong OLB from DE.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- OLB Brandon Johnson, the Cardinals' fifth-round draft pick from Louisville, signed a three-year contract and should provide depth at a critical position of need.
Johnson is a poor man's Karlos Dansby, whom Johnson may back on the strong side. Johnson, wrapped in a similar tall, lean package (6-5, 224), made 7.5 sacks and intercepted four passes during his days at Louisville.
Dansby burst onto the scene last year with his interceptions and quarterback sacks and is expected to make a strong run at the Pro Bowl this season.
Because the Cardinals are woefully thin at both outside spots, Johnson is expected to get work on both sides during training camp.
Despite being a second-day pick, Johnson stands a reasonable chance of making the roster because of the team's need at his position and because Johnson is a special-teams demon. He blocked six kicks in college.
-- WR Todd Watkins, the Cardinals' seventh-round pick from Brigham Young, signed a three-year contract.
His greatest asset is speed. That could translate into stretching a defense as the burner the team lacks. It also makes Watkins a candidate to become the return specialist, which would be his ticket to a roster spot.
But despite being fast, he is raw and he comes to a team loaded with high-quality receivers. With Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson in the fold, it is difficult to envision Watkins (6-2, 191) as anything more than the fourth or fifth receiver, and he'll have competition there.
At Brigham Young, the burner caught 13 touchdown passes in two seasons as a starter.
At the very least, Watkins is a strong practice squad candidate.
--TE John Bronson (6-feet-2, 260 pounds), whose 2005 rookie season was thwarted by a knee injury in the opener, has made a recovery and is trying a new position -- fullback.
The team does not have a stud blocker at fullback, and tight end suddenly appears to be the domain of rookie third-round pick Leonard Pope.
"In college I was switching between positions I had played in high school (defensive end, tight end at Penn State) so I knew a little bit and it was not as hard," Bronson said. "I have to learn all of the different formations and learn to read the defenses more than what I would as a tight end so it is more difficult for me."
The team is keeping close watch on another young player at a new position. Undrafted rookie Micheal Spurlock, a quarterback at Mississippi, is getting a look at receiver and may also get a tryout as a return specialist in training camp.
--Elton Brown, tossed in as a starter at right guard as a rookie last season, took some snaps at right tackle during team organized workouts. Coach Dennis Green said it is nothing more than a depth-building move during off-season.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): C Billy Conaty; OG Adam Haayer; RB James Jackson; FB Harold Morrow; RB J.R. Redmond; WR/KR Reggie Swinton; DE R-Kal Truluck.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Damien Anderson; FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo; OT Jeremy Bridges; DT Tim Bulman; CB Dyshod Carter; S Aaron Francisco; LB Gerald Hayes; LB Isaac Keys; DT Kenny King; OL Shawn Lynch; DE Langston Moore; PK Nick Novak; DE Anton Palepoi; DE Antonio Smith; QB Kurt Warner; CB Robert Tate; OG Reggie Wells.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: S Jack Brewer; LB Mark Brown; OG Milford Brown; DT Kendrick Clancy; RB Edgerrin James; WR Troy Walters.
PLAYERS LOST: OT Ian Allen; DT Russell Davis; S Quentin Harris; DT Ross Kolodziej; QB Josh McCown; CB Raymond Walls.
Big Things In Store for 'Big'