Doug Farrar: Receiver Anquan Boldin was a quarterback in high school, and he would seem to have the skillset for another Whisenhunt trademark: the gadget play. Can we expect more of this type of versatility from Boldin and other players, where we might see touchdown passes on reverses and such?
Brad Keller: I have a blanket response for people when they say, "so and so played quarterback in high school." The response is: Ben Roethlisberger played receiver in high school. As much as I would love to see all sorts of gadget plays and trickery, I don't see it happening a lot with this group of players, and almost definitely not in his first year as a coach. The thing that everyone forgets about Whisenhunt is that he's by-in-large a very cautious, conservative guy. He calls a lot of running plays. He withheld a lot of the playbook from Roethlisberger in the quarterback's first year. He takes calculated risks. If it turns out that Edgerrin James has a rocket for an arm, we might see a halfback option at some point this season. Aside from that, the most exotic he's liable to get is an end-around. Of course, I could just be saying that...
DF: How do the Cardinals plan to reconcile the old 4-3 sets with the 3-4 ideology seen in Pittsburgh? Will we be looking at hybrid sets, and will the team be hamstrung by the relative lack of talent at linebacker with anyone not names Karlos Dansby?
BK: The funny part about this is that, barring injury, linebacker is the position that concerns me the least in the switch to the 3-4 (*insert plug here: I'm going to be covering this in further detail, position-by-position next month*). Buster Davis can play the Buck position (James Farrior's position), Gerald Hayes can play Mack (Larry Foote), Calvin Pace, who saw time at linebacker last season will most likely play Will (Joey Porter), and Dansby, or a rotation of Chike Okeafor and Bert Berry - depending on how well they adjust to playing with their hand off the ground - will play the Sam position (Clark Haggans). The only issue is if any of these guys gets hurt. Depth is most certainly an issue. Even if Orlando Huff was the starter by default last season, he's still better than Monty Biesel. The area of the defense that does concern me in the 3-4 - all things, especially injuries, being equal - is the defensive line. More on that in July.
DF: While Adrian Wilson is the best safety and one of the most underrated players in the game, there has been a lot of change in the rest of Arizona's secondary with the signings of veterans Terrence Holt and Roderick Hood. How will the depth chart shake out back there, and is cornerback Antrel Rolle ready to take the next step from talented but severely undisciplined player?
BK: I believe Roderick Hood's experience and expertise - Jim Johnson has produced a lot from a little in his time in Philadelphia - and the lack of real competition at the position will ultimately land him the starting job on opening day. Also, Hood has a physical presence and is not afraid of contact from his time spent working on special teams. That will be critical as 3-4 cornerbacks are expected to contribute heavily in run support. Regarding Holt, we haven't heard the last of Aaron Francisco. Since Holt also has a history in the kicking game (as does Francisco), the Cardinals are in a "no lose" situation. Whoever loses the starting job automatically starts making huge contributions on special teams. Whoever wins is the best man for the job. At least Adrian Wilson is a solid player and should flourish in the Troy Polamalu role in the new defense.
Your guess is as good as mine on Rolle. I thought he was ready to grow up after the Larry Johnson Face Mask last year. He has successfully teased us all for the past two seasons. But, with a new regime that has no ties and no first round pride tied to him, it's time for him to put up or shut up.
DF: Which Cardinals might we expect to surprise us in 2007 – and by "surprise", I mean both pleasant and unpleasant?
Pleasant: Matt Leinart (more TDs, fewer INTs, about the same number of yards), Edge (no more "32 carries, 55 yards" games, he's definitely going to be more involved as a receiver), Levi Brown (he's special, don't get me wrong, but just about anyone would look like an All-Star on this line), Gerald Hayes (might not end up with the stats, but I have a feeling he'll do very well as a Mack linebacker in the 3-4), Roderick Hood (if nothing else because he'll rise from third stringer and special teamer to valued starter).
Most Pleasant Surprise: Bryant Johnson (best deep receiver on the team and finally has a coach that likes to go vertical and spread the ball around - draft him in Round 8 or 9 and never look back).
Unpleasant: Everyone on the offensive line not named Levi Brown (then again Deuce Lutui and Al Johnson are probably going to be somewhere between pleasant and unpleasant - we'll say, "decent"), Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (unpleasant surprise to anyone that drafts them in the first three rounds for their fantasy team - Whisenhunt is going to spread the wealth), Okeafor and Berry (too old, too injury prone, too many ties to the old regime, and horrible for the new defense).
Most Unpleasant Surprise: Whoever Starts at Tight End: Whisenhunt, a former tight end, has a bad habit of ignoring this position. And the Cardinals are thin here, despite having two guys with tons of "upside."
DF: Over the last three years, no team has received more preseason warm fuzzies than the Cardinals – it's become almost a running joke that all those "This is their year" predictions will inevitably lead to another 5-11 season. What about the 2007 team should have us thinking differently?
BK: That... last year was last year and this year is their year? In all honesty, the only thing that I think could turn the Cardinals into a playoff team in 2007 is the Sean Payton/Eric Magini effect. Last season, those two guys were in an uncanny zone when it came to getting the most out of their players and timely playcalling (Payton on offense, Magini on defense). Whisenhunt can get into a zone like no one else (see: the 2005 playoffs). If he gets into a zone like he did then, or like Payton did last year, the Cardinals could have similar results. After all, the team situations are pretty close - suspect linebacking corps, tons of offensive talent, unknown QB with intelligence, upside, and a possible suspect arm coming back from a shoulder injury, aging defensive line, and a secondary in flux, as well as a good deal of turnover in the roster in general. Add in a weak division (that is, admittedly, getting stronger), a favorable schedule, and a fan base that's just dying for some kind of hope, and you could have it.
But, really, you've got the same group of guys that choked away "sleeper" status in 2005 and 2006. Once bitten, twice shy.