Mini Camp: Second-Year Stars Steal the Show

The Cardinals opened mini camp this weekend with high hopes for 2008. With an excellent stable of young players returning and some exciting new rookies, the Cardinals have positioned themselves to fight for the NFC West title. AZRedReport.com's Brad Wilbricht was one the scene and chimes in with his analysis and observations.

Mini camp is generally a tool utilized to evaluate rookies and younger prospects. It also commences the team's offseason workouts and allows players to make an immediate impact on the coaching staff. Two players who have already stood out are TE Ben Patrick and WR Steve Breaston. Both players enjoyed success in limited roles on the offense last year but could see increased time this season.

Patrick enters his second year in the NFL with a legitimate shot at being the team's starting tight end. With TE Leonard Pope out until training camp with an ankle injury, Patrick has an opportunity to distance himself from Pope and the rest of the Cardinals tight ends. Patrick finished 2007 with only seven catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Expect those numbers to balloon in 2008.

While Breaston excelled on special teams last year, his time at wide receiver was sparse, as he caught eight passes for 92 yards. While many expect third-round pick Early Doucet to replace Bryant Johnson as the third receiver, Breaston might be the answer. If he fails to lock down the slot receiver spot, he'll be an outstanding fourth or fifth option.

Breaston's strong showing should not discount the performance of Doucet, who has impressed Cardinals coaches and players with his performance thus far.


QB Matt Leinart
Chris McGrath/Getty

At the quarterback position, Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner both looked solid. Although Leinart has been named the starter heading into the season, he'll need to perform on the field to keep Warner on the sidelines.

The third spot on the depth chart is still up for grabs. QB Brian St. Pierre has the inside track, as he understands Whisenhunt's offensive philosophy from their time together in Pittsburgh. Undrafted free agent QB Anthony Morelli struggled at times during practice and looks to be a long-shot to make the roster.

Fifth-round pick Tim Hightower demonstrated his explosiveness and versatility throughout mini camp. Although he lacks top-end speed, he shows an excellent burst and solid hands out of the backfield.

Second-year fullback Tim Castille spent time with the first-team offense. Incumbent starter Terrelle Smith also received reps, but the battle at the fullback position should last through training camp.

On the defensive side of the ball, first-round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie flashed his ability but looked green at times. After CB Roderick Hood suffered a groin injury, Rodgers-Cromartie worked with the first-team defense. The coaching staff will focus on adding bulk to Rodgers-Cromartie's thin frame. He currently weighs 184 pounds but hopes to maintain a playing weight around 195.

Former starting cornerback Antrel Rolle looked comfortable at free safety. He thrived on inside coverage last season and is a natural fit at the safety position. Although he was drafted as a cornerback with the eighth overall pick in 2005, many experts projected him as a safety in the NFL.

At strong safety, Aaron Francisco filled in for Adrian Wilson on the first-team defense. Francisco will return to reserve duty upon Wilson's recovery from an Achilles injury. Nonetheless, Francisco has proved his worth in the secondary and should receive plenty of playing time this season.

Cardinals coaches are excited about the depth they've built along the defensive line. Free agents additions DE/OLB Travis LaBoy and DE Bryan Robinson supply depth and veteran leadership. Rookies Calais Campbell, Kenny Iwebema and Chris Harrington are all expected to contribute in situational packages.

While Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett has been caught up in contract negotiations, he declined to comment on the situation. Dockett instead focused on building relationships with his new teammates during mini camp.


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