QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Leinart. Backups -- Kurt Warner, Tim Rattay, Tim Hasselbeck.
Leinart missed the final 11 games after suffering a broken collarbone, but he has been given the starting job in 2008. He needs to grow up and show the maturity needed to lead a team, and coaches are going to be hard on him in the offseason. Warner will be 38 in June but is coming off his finest year since his prime in St. Louis. He's too good a person to cause a rift in the team, but if Leinart falters, coach Ken Whisenhunt can't afford to be patient and keep the faith of the team.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Edgerrin James, FB Terrelle Smith. Backups -- RB Marcel Shipp, RB J.J. Arrington, RB Steve Baylark, FB Tim Castille.
James gained more yards (1,222) than any back in the team's Arizona history. Yet, there is a belief that he lacks the explosiveness and speed that coaches want. The club will look to bring in someone with those qualities. Shipp and Arrington are role players. Smith is a devastating blocker, just the kind of guy this offense needs. Baylark and Castille spent the year on the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald. Backups -- Bryant Johnson, Steve Breaston, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban, Ahmad Merritt, Jamaica Rector.
Boldin and Fitzgerald are elite players, and the offense is built around their skills. Fitzgerald is due to make $14.6 million in salary in 2008, and the Cardinals want to extend his deal and lower that figure. It's questionable if they'll be able to do it. If Fitzgerald gets more money, Boldin would want a new deal, too. Johnson, the No. 3 receiver, is expected to leave via free agency. A capable replacement probably isn't on the roster. Morey is a special teams guy. Urban drops too many passes, and Breaston is raw. Merritt has some skills but spent last year on injured reserve.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Al Johnson, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown. Backups -- C/G Lyle Sendlein, G Keydrick Vincent, G/T Elton Brown, T Elliot Vallejo, T Oliver Ross.
There aren't any elite players in this group, at least not yet, but it's solid. Gandy, a free agent acquisition, played better than anyone expected. Johnson, another free agent, was steady. Lutui has the skills to play at a Pro Bowl level, and coaches are hoping Levi Brown improves to reach that level, too. The starting group could use an infusion of talent, even if it's one elite veteran. G Alan Faneca from Pittsburgh would be a nice fit. Sendlein, a rookie free agent, could be the center of the future, and Elton Brown salvaged his career by losing weight and committing himself to the sport. Ross spent the year on injured reserve and won't return unless he takes a second pay cut in as many years. The club needs to start developing some young players. There aren't many prospects on the roster.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Darnell Dockett, NT Gabe Watson, RE Antonio Smith. Backups -- NT Alan Branch, E Joe Tafoya, T/E Ross Kolodziej, E Chris Cooper, T/E Rodney Bailey, E Bo Schobel.
Dockett was a demon through the first half of the season, with eight sacks in eight games. But he cooled off, finishing with only nine. Part of the reason for the decline was coaches moved him inside in nickel situations, and Dockett is at his best when he's rushing off the edge. Watson played just average and could lose his starting job to Branch, who is raw. Smith is a solid player but not spectacular. The Cardinals could use an elite addition this group. The backups are only average and aren't much threat to crack the lineup.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Chike Okeafor, WLB Calvin Pace, ILB Gerald Hayes, ILB Karlos Dansby. Backups -- OLB Bertrand Berry, OLB Darryl Blackstock, ILB/OLB Monty Beisel, ILB Brandon Johnson, OLB David Holloway.
Pace played well last year after becoming a starter when Okeafor was lost in the preseason. Okeafor should be good to return and is a decent player when healthy. Pace is an unrestricted free agent but wants to return to Arizona. The inside linebackers, Hayes and Dansby, are excellent. Hayes packs a punch, and Dansby is versatile enough to blitz, play the run and cover. He's also unrestricted, but the team is expected to use the franchise tag on him. Berry used to be an elite player but has finished the past three seasons on injured reserve. He's due to make $4 million in 2008 and probably won't return unless he takes a pay cut. Blackstock, a third-round pick in 2005, hasn't shown much when given opportunities. Neither has Johnson, a fifth-round pick in 2006. Beisel is a solid veteran and a good special teams player. Holloway spent last year on the practice squad. He's very athletic and could be ready to take a big step forward in 2008.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Rod Hood, RCB Eric Green, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Terrence Holt. Backups -- CB/FS Antrel Rolle, CB Ralph Brown, CB Michael Adams, S Aaron Francisco, S Oliver Celestin, S Matt Ware, S Bhawoh Jue.
The starters are no worse than average, with the exception of Holt. He struggled last year, and he could be replaced by Rolle or Francisco. Rolle could move from cornerback, where he played in the nickel packages. Francisco packs a big punch and won't shy away from contact. Holt missed several tackles in the open field and had trouble playing the ball in the pass. Wilson should return to health after missing the latter half of the season with an Achilles injury. He's a dynamic player, and much of the defensive scheme is built around his skills. There is little depth at corner, and certainly no young player threatening to crack the lineup. Finding a cornerback will be a major priority in the offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Neil Rackers, P Mitch Berger, LS Nathan Hodel, KR/PR Steve Breaston.
Rackers hasn't kicked well in the two seasons since he made the Pro Bowl. He's no longer a threat from beyond 50 yards, and he's missed too many clutch kicks. The club could bring in a youngster to challenge him. Berger was a stop-gap when Mike Barr failed miserably through the first half of the season. Berger didn't perform well enough to just be handed the job. Hodel, an unrestricted free agent, is one of the best in the business, while Breaston is the threat the team was missing for the past decade.
Unit-by-unit Off-season Analysis
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