The Cardinals have enjoyed a steady flow of breakout players in recent years and hope to continue that trend in 2010. Given the changes taking place on both sides of the ball, a handful of players are positioned to jump to elite status during the upcoming season.
RB Beanie Wells: Wells has the physical tools and vision to be an elite back in the NFL. Since arriving in the desert, Wells' work ethic has improved and his leaner build has increased his speed and agility. As the Cardinals progress into a more balanced offense, Wells will be at the forefront of the transition. Also helping his cause is what should be improved play from the offensive line. Now with the appropriate pieces in place and no Kurt Warner at the helm, coach Ken Whisenhunt can utilize both Wells and Tim Hightower to their full capacity. While Hightower has proven to be a dynamic back in his own right, Wells is a more balanced rusher that is poised to breakout as long as Arizona's passing game can do its part.
WR Steve Breaston: Following the departure of wideout Anquan Boldin, the importance of Breaston dramatically increased. Although Breaston already experienced somewhat of a breakout year in 2008 after surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark, he can establish himself as a top tier receiver in the league this season. Breaston is an ideal target for Matt Leinart due to his ability to work underneath coverage and run after the catch. In addition, Breaston's speed allows him to stretch the defense in the vertical passing game. Breaston will be a critical piece of the Cardinals' offense as opposing teams are expected to devote most of their attention across the field on Larry Fitzgerald. Breaston will benefit from that on the perimeter and could be in store for a career year if Leinart stays consistent.
CB Greg Toler: Toler has yet to establish himself with the first-team defense but is expected to make the jump at some point during the preseason. Assuming that scenario takes place, Toler will be an integral part of the Arizona defense going forward. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie patrolling the other side of the field, opposing quarterbacks will throw Toler's way early and often in 2010. Toler was a raw prospect as a fourth-round draft pick a year ago but the Cardinals' decision not to select another cornerback in this year's draft speaks volumes about their confidence in him. Toler's technique looks drastically improved and his growing confidence could put him over the edge.
DE Calais Campbell: Campbell has been an extremely steady player since arriving in Arizona and his skill set has been improving at a consistent rate. Campbell has benefited from playing alongside Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett and demonstrated his ability to be disruptive upfront. Given that Dockett has received much of the attention in the trenches and will continue to for years to come, Campbell should see plenty of one-on-one situations with opposing blockers. Campbell is disciplined in run defense and his pass-rushing skills are what will eventually set him apart. There were several times last season where Campbell managed to penetrate into the backfield but failed to bring down the quarterback. While he still racked up seven sacks, that number could skyrocket if he's able to fine tune that aspect of his game.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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