Returning From Injury: Offense

With numerous players sidelined due to injury last year, the Cardinals welcome back many key contributors this season. Among the returnees on offense are two starters and one valuable reserve. Brad Wilbricht analyzes which offensive players coming off injuries will have the biggest impact in 2008.

While the Cardinals most significant injuries occurred on defense, the offense was also hit by the injury bug. QB Matt Leinart is coming off a broken collarbone and will look to rebound from a dismal 2007 season. Leinart, entering his third season in NFL, played in only five games and struggled to a 61.9 QB rating. Furthermore, he completed only 54 percent of his passes and threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (4 INT's, 2 TD's).

2008 is a make-or-break year for Leinart, as the jury is still out on his abilities. On the field, Leinart has shown flashes of brilliance but regressed badly last season. However, head coach Ken Whisenhunt has been encouraged by Leinart's offseason performance and fully expects him to take a firm grip on the starting quarterback position.

Third-year TE Leonard Pope also found himself on the shelf last season. Pope suffered an ankle injury in Week 14 and missed the Cardinals remaining three games. Pope was developing into a tremendous red-zone target, with five of his 23 receptions resulting in touchdowns. Pope will be involved in a heated competition with second-year TE Ben Patrick for the starting position. The battle is expected to last throughout the preseason.

Pope (6'8", 258 pounds) is a physical specimen who demands attention from opposing defenses. He features outstanding athleticism and strength while maintaining adequate speed. Pope's successful return from injury will be crucial to the development of Leinart. He is an excellent downfield target and can also be utilized on underneath routes.

Levi Brown and Elton Brown
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Although RG Elton Brown has yet to crack the starting lineup, he supplies the Cardinals with great depth and versatility along the offensive line. Brown missed seven games last season and has played in only 18 games during his three-year career. Brown is currently the Cardinals top reserve offensive lineman and could push starters Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui if he remains healthy. Brown's health will play a vital role in the team's growth in the trenches.

Much like Leinart, 2008 is extremely important for Brown. He must prove to the Cardinals organization that he can remain healthy and contribute for an entire season. While the Cardinals have loaded up on young and talented offensive lineman, they haven't given up on Brown. Offensive line coach Russ Grimm will continue to refine Brown's skill-set with hopes that he can grow into a full-time starter.

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