Cardinals Five to Watch: Third-year Players

After two years of experience, these players know what life is like in the NFL. Some members of the 2007 class can call themselves starters, while others are fighting to gain that privilege. Steve Breaston leads a list of five third-year players looking to improve their games and help Arizona repeat last year's success. Andy Bishop analyzes which ones will have the most impact.

WR Steve Breaston

Steve Breaston's performance in 2008 showed Arizona got away with robbery by taking Breaston in the fifth round of 2007. Breaston had 77 receptions and 1,006 receiving yards as the Cardinals' third receiver in 2008. He showed he is one of the top slot receivers in the league, and a very nice complement to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

With Kurt Warner returning at quarterback, expect Breaston to put up similar numbers. With several passes thrown his way each game, Breaston will have plenty of chances to make his mark again. One area he will look to improve is his touchdown total, where he saw only three trips to the endzone in 2008.

OT Levi Brown

The first-round draft pick in 2007 had a respectable campaign in 2008, as he started all 16 games. Brown improved as the season progressed, but the Cardinals want to see more improvement for the 2009 season. Arizona invested heavily in Brown, expecting him to be an eventual Pro Bowler. While Arizona is willing to be patient with the first-round pick, Brown can't get too complacent, because there are several capable backups itching to get playing time. If Brown can continue to stay healthy, and continue to progress, he will be the anchor of the right side of the O-Line for years to come.

TE Ben Patrick

The tight end position is the weak link in the Cardinal's potent offense. This unit had little impact in the passing game as injuries and inconsistency plagued them in 2008. Ben Patrick was one of those who battled injuries. He appeared in 10 games and totaled just 11 receptions for 104 yards. He grabbed his only touchdown of the year in the Super Bowl.

Patrick will compete against Leonard Pope, Anthony Becht, and Stephen Spach for the right to the starting job. He has an advantage over Spach, who is coming of ACL surgery; and the veteran Becht, who will be used mostly for blocking purposes. Patrick has the talent and potential to be a solid starter for Arizona, but he has to prove this season that he can get the job done.

C Lyle Sendlein

Lyle Sendlein was in the middle of an offensive line that gave up 28 sacks (top-11 in the NFL), yet helped produce the league's worst rushing attack. Even though the Cardinals thrive in a wide-open offense, the running game needs improvement. Sendlein does not excel at run blocking, and the Cardinals may need more muscle at center. As with Brown, Sendlein played better towards the end of the year. He will return as starter for the 2009 season, but expect newly acquired Donovan Raiola to challenge Sendlein during training camp.

CB Michael Adams

An undersized corner (5'8", 178), Michael Adams main contribution thus far as a Cardinal has been on special teams. Adams has yet to make much of an impact as a corner in two years, seeing limited playing time in nickel or dime situations. With starters Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Bryant McFadden set in place, Adams will challenge veteran Ralph Brown for more time as a nickel cornerback in 2009. The Cardinals relied more on the experience of Brown last season, but if Adams can put his athleticism to good use, he may unseat the Brown as the third corner.


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