Cardinals Morning Combine Notes: 2.24.07

Lots of news and excitement, including a full press conference with both Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves.

Gaines Adams, DE/LB, Clemson:

Adams just left the podium.  He's definitely someone that we'll need to see the workout numbers for.  Very impressive on film, seems very humble and focused in person.  He stayed for his senior year at Clemson to get his degree (in Sports Management) and that's refreshing to see.  According to him, it wasn't a close decision that went down to the wire as to whether he'd come back.  He wanted to come back and graduate all along.

The reason I say that I'd need to see the numbers is because he just looks skinny and kind of small.  He measured in at 6'4", 258 and looks like a point guard.  Granted, that means he can put on some weight (he estimates 10 pounds without losing any of his explosiveness), but it also means that he weighs about 70 pounds less than the average offensive tackle.  There are only so many Dwight Freeney level players out there.

Is he the next Freeney?  I'm not sure.  He played 8 man football in high school, he's played offense, defense, and he certainly seems like he can take his hand off the ground and play linebacker (in a 3-4 scheme or a 4-3 scheme).   But he definitely seems to want to play end at the next level.  And I'm not sure that he's big enough or that he can get big enough.

There's a lot of potential there and he's regarded as one of the best athletes in this draft.  I just don't know that you can draft a guy 5th overall just based on potential.

I reserve the right to completely detract any negative statements I just made in the event that he runs a 4.4 40.

Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee:

He looks like an interesting guy that we won't draft.  He played some 3-4, some 5 technique, and was also a 4-3 defensive tackle in his time at Tennessee.  Even though he has a biceps injury (not severe), he's still going to do the bench press.  He's really determined and focused and says he wants to prove that he's the #1 tackle in this draft.  Very confident guy.  Very interested in proving to teams that he's the best fit for them.  He even had two interceptions last year.

Lots of different things he can do and he can run (4.9 in the 40), but I just get the feeling that we're not going to take him 5th overall and that he's going to sneak into the bottom half of the first round, making him unavailable in the second.

Whisenhunt Press Conference:

Coach had a lot of interesting things to say at his press conference.  We'll have a transcript of it up on the site later today.  Here are the highlights...

From the interviews I saw of him when he was with Pittsburgh (even up until the interviews he gave to the press when he was interviewing with the Cardinals), it definitely seems as though he's getting coaching from a public speaking expert or a PR firm on his interview demeanor.  He was significantly more polished, comfortable, confident, and concise today than I've ever seen him before.  And, those types of attributes inspire me with confidence for the coming season.

They're looking for a little bit of everything in the draft and free agency, but not especially at wide receiver or quarterback.  The biggest thing they're looking to do is add quality depth and a few key guys at a few key positions (I would assume on the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary).  He wants to create healthy competition at every position.  The more competition, the better everyone becomes.

In free agency, they're specifically targeting defensive guys and Whisenhunt mentioned that he was disappointed that Andre Gurode signed an extension with Dallas, because they were looking for him to hit the market.

He's excited about the prospect of working with Leonard Pope (I hope he teaches Pope how to block) and they're looking at possibly adding a veteran guy to compete/tutor Pope.

On offense, he wants to run the ball early to set the tone.  He said that one of the reasons the wheels fell off in Pittsburgh last year is that they got away from the run too early and were never able to establish the kind of physical presence that he likes to establish and maintain in a game.

One of the things that I found to be interesting is that he and Russ Grimm are planning on evaluating their talent on the offensive line and at running back and constructing a scheme around those guys in the running game.  Whatever their strengths are (Edgerrin James does not run the counter and trap plays that the Steelers are known for well), Grimm and Whisenhunt will tailor the types of plays (types of plays, not the game plan) around that.

He will be involved on draft day and throughout the draft process.  Rod Graves re-iterated on this and expanded on it (see below).

Very impressed with Matt Leinart and his knowledge of the game.  He said that he was surprised by how far along Leinart is in his development.  That's significant because Whisenhunt coached a pretty good young quarterback in Pittsburgh.

The biggest reason he took the Cardinals job over everything else that he had going on is because they offered it to him.  That was much funnier in person.  Can't explain why.

He's also looking forward to seeing what J.J. Arrington can do (said he was a smaller back that was also a tough inside runner) and he mentioned that they're interested in keeping Marcel Shipp in the desert.  Shipp has impressed Whisenhunt with his physical play and Whisenhunt likes the fact that Shipp is also a big contributor on special teams.

Larry Fitzgerald and Antrel Rolle (called him Artrelle at first) were focal points as well, but he basically just talked about how he met with them and that he's looking forward to working with him.

Someone had to ask about what kinds of trick plays he might run with the Cardinals and he threw out the fact that Anquan Boldin played quarterback in college.  Something to think about.

The closing note on the press conference was very positive and was the big thing that made me think that Whisenhunt "gets it" and can build something special in Phoenix.  He was asked about the rabid fan base in Pittsburgh vs. the weaker fan base in Arizona and candidly replied that the best way to get the fans involved and get them excited about the games is to win.  And keep winning.  He said that one of the reasons the Steelers have such a following is that they've won a lot of football games and that he believes there are fans and people in the Valley of the Sun that want to get behind their team and support them.  But first, he needs to make sure he puts a good product on the field.

Once you start winning, everything becomes more fun.

Rod Graves Press Conference:

Graves came on right after Whisenhunt ("All Cardinals, All the Time" was the joke made by John Crist of BearReport).  Transcript will be up later today, but here are the highlights.

The first questions he fielded were about the coach that just left the podium.  One of the primary reasons that they hired Whisenhunt, according to Graves, was that his plan and his philosophy (on both offense and defense) fits well with the talent that's already in place in Arizona.  Judging from what Whisenhunt said (especially his willingness to customize blocking schemes to suit his personnel), that sounds like a fair assessment and a good move.

He also said that Whisenhunt and his staff will bring one thing to the table that the Arizona Cardinals have been sorely lacking the last few seasons: Discipline.  Whisenhunt had great success with Roethlisberger and the Steelers and Graves feels that is because of his ability to teach players discipline and accountability.

And, when asked about the fact that the players were allowed to interview head coaching candidates during the search, he explained that none of them had any say in who got hired, but that he and Mike Bidwell wanted to get a player's perspective on the process. 

In free agency, Graves mentioned that last year was special.  Edge was special.  Like Whisenhunt before him, he said that there are a couple of guys that they're targeting, but it didn't sound as though they were going to be terribly active this off-season.  This statement, paired with the fact that the Cardinals have over $30 million in cap space, made me want to slap myself on the forehead.

I was surprised that he didn't brush past questions about Leonard Davis.  He actually talked about Davis at length and mentioned that they'd love to have him back after he tests the market (translation: at their price, not his).

Someone had bring up the loss to the Bears.  I was kind of blown away by the fact that he admitted that it had a profound effect on the organization.  The two games following that loss disappointed him more than the loss itself.  He felt as though there was too much of a focus on a negative (the fact that they completely choked) and not enough of an emphasis on the positives (that they had a 20 point lead on the NFC's Super Bowl representative late in the third quarter and executed well up until the fourth quarter).  This comes back to preparation, discipline, and mental toughness, attributes that Whisenhunt can instill in his players.

As far as the draft is concerned, he's with Whisenhunt in the "build team depth" philosophy.  He backed up the assertion that Whisenhunt will be involved in the entire process and on draft day and said that they'll use a "team concept" when drafting.  I'd assume, though, that Graves has the final say.

Here's why I think the tandem of Whisenhunt and Graves can work: He specifically said that his role is to support Whisenhunt's plan.  Coach has outlined the type of players he needs to execute his system and Graves wants to support that.  We'll see how long the team atmosphere lasts, but as of right now it sounds very promising.

If they aren't involved in free agency, they're going to use their cap space to sign key players to extensions.  He said that they're looking to get a core of 15-20 guys to be the cornerstone (at first he said "centerstone") of the franchise.  He pointed to Anquan Boldin, Adrian Wilson, and Larry Fitzgerald as players that fit the franchise, are important to the franchise, and are priorities to get signed long term.


At least ostensibly, they seem to be working well as a team thus far.  It's still early and there's always the possibility that the relationship will start to erode and they'll start screaming at each other in the hallway by October, but right now it looks good.

I may be paranoid, but there was something that jumped out at me during the course of the two press conferences: Both men said the name Anquan Boldin repeatedly and without prompting, but they only mentioned Fitzgerald once without prompting.  Boldin was always referred to in glowing terms as a guy that's a centerstone of the franchise, someone that they consider to be a success, and a guy that they want to retire as a Cardinal.  Fitzgerald was just sort of thrown onto the pile, or not mentioned at all in those conversations.

Not saying it means anything, just... interesting.

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