"I think the biggest area of depth we need is offensive line," Whisenhunt said.
Enter Levi Brown, the 6'5", 323-pound monster of a tackle who started in each of the 45 games he appeared in for Penn State. Brown is a smart, instinctive player who earned two degrees before the Cardinals brought him in to help protect Matt Leinart.
The protection plan fell off track, as Leinart went down with a season-ending injury in Week 5. However, Brown held up his end of the bargain.
He helped lead the Cardinals to a pair of top-10 accolades. Not only did the offensive line allow just 24 sacks, good for ninth-best in the league, the big guys up front also allowed their signal-callers to tally 254.1 passing yards per game, the fifth-best total in the NFL.
The Cardinals still struggled with the ground game, finishing 29th in the league at 90 yards per game. As it turns out, Brown's presence in the lineup didn't do Edgerrin James any good.
OT Levi Brown (left)
The schedule might have had something to do with the discrepancy. The Cardinals played the Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers without Brown. The Rams and Panthers both ranked in the bottom half of the league in run defense, allowing more than 110 yards per game.
Either way, the lopsided numbers don't reflect what Brown thinks he does best.
"I definitely love run blocking more than pass blocking," Brown said. "I like to run into a guy, knock him on his back, talk a little mess on the way down and help him up, make it look good. Pass blocking you keep the guy away from the quarterback, just try to dominate all game."
Whisenhunt was less concerned with how the team played in Brown's absence and more worried about how Brown played upon his return.
"Obviously, the injury early in the season hurt him," Whisenhunt said. "He was making significant progress. Any time, as a young player, you get injured and miss time during the season, it's a steep learning curve. It's hard to make that ground up. The biggest thing I noticed with Levi is he continued to improve."
"He had a tough game against Seattle late in the season when he gave up a couple of sacks against a pretty good player (Patrick Kerney), and a lot of times when that happens with a young player, they will be shell-shocked and not play confidence the next week. It actually went the other way with Levi. He stood up and played maybe his best two games after that. I know he's committed."
Brown puts in the extra effort because he prides himself on his athletic ability. He boasts the confidence that he can go out there and man up against the best defensive ends in the league.
So, what keeps Brown so motivated to improve?
"Just being able to dominate a guy who people say you're not supposed to beat," Brown said. "You go against a premier defensive end and you take his will away and at the end of the game he shakes your hand and says 'You got me today.' That's the type of thing I look forward to."
While drafting for need rarely works out well, the Cardinals appear to have lucked out by doing exactly that with Brown. Arizona looks forward to a promising sophomore campaign from Brown, who has lived up to his top-five price tag.
Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications. Her analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.