Leinart looked extremely sharp in his first action since last October, silencing his critics for the time being. However, the true barometer of his success won't be apparent until he sustains a high level of play throughout the regular season. If he is unable to do so, Warner is a more than capable backup and proved last year that he still has the ability to start in the NFL.
The release of RB Marcel Shipp initially raised some eyebrows, but the performance of rookie RB Tim Hightower quickly eased the loss of Shipp. In limited action, Hightower demonstrated the explosiveness and strength he's exhibited throughout offseason workouts. With RB J.J. Arrington continuing to struggle, Hightower seems destined to be the Cardinals second running back heading into the regular season opener.
WR Steve Breaston
Questions still remain on the offensive line, especially in the depth department. There is little experience behind the current starting unit, which has already been without center Al Johnson for most of training camp. Undrafted free agent Carlton Medder is also out for an extended period of time after suffering a broken elbow.
Although there was plenty of attention given to improving the defense this offseason, the Cardinals did not reap the benefits in the preseason opener. The Saints moved the ball with ease on their first possession of the game, ending with QB Drew Brees finding WR David Patten for a 7-yard touchdown strike. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast must improve the defense's pass rush and more importantly their tackling ability.
Many think this year's draft class could be something special and Thursday night confirmed those beliefs. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema will soon become a force to be recognized with. Both defenders boast tremendous athleticism and possess non-stop motors. Furthermore, undrafted free agent LB Ali Highsmith was all over the field. He led the Cardinals with 6 tackles and contributed in several key situations.
First-round draft pick CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie answered questions about his strength and physicality. Although he features below average upper-body strength, he managed to make his presence known in the secondary. Given the lack-luster performance of backup SS Aaron Francisco, Rodgers-Cromartie could find himself in the Cardinals nickel package sooner rather than later.
DT Alan Branch
Branch was praised by the Cardinals coaching staff following last season and was expected to compete with Watson even before he went down with an injury. Branch, whose desire and work-ethic have previously been questioned, must regain last year's form if he hopes to crack the starting lineup.
Cleary the most frustrating aspect of the Cardinals performance on Thursday were the repeated mental errors. Penalties on both sides of the ball severely derailed the team's momentum. If this trend continues into the regular system, look for numerous changes to be made on the depth chart.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org