Amberly Dressler: Overall, the Cardinals offensive line is more developed and more consistent. But the reason behind the low sack count and high passing yards is the three-step drops that don't have Warner frolicking around in the backfield. With Larry Fitzgerald down the stretch, he can throw to him whether he is covered or not. If Fitzgerald doesn't get the ball, neither does the opposition's secondary. Grimm got a high pass production out of his offensive line but there needs to be changes concerning run protection.
DF: On defense, the biggest loss is unquestionably Clancy Pendergast, the mad scientist coordinator who will be plying his trade in Kansas City with Todd Haley. Why was Pendergast allowed to leave, and what do you know about replacement Bill Davis? Will the team continue to run that 3-4/4-3 hybrid?
AD: Pendergast had one foot out the door since Whisenhunt took over. Whisenhunt wanted to be surrounded by his people and Pendergast wasn't one of them. Pendergast's defense was one of the most inconsistent in the league, only lighting a fire in the postseason. Bill Davis boasts the coaching pedigree for the job, but he's had a long journey to reach his new role. Davis is better suited for the 3-4 than Pendergast was but Whisenhunt says Arizona won't be a pure 3-4 team. The Cardinals won't be a pure 4-3 team either. The Cardinals will make it as difficult to prepare for their team as they can.
DF: Losing Antonio Smith to the Texans in free agency was a big hit to that defense. How will the team replace him, and who else needs to step up in the front seven. Also, what's up with Karlos Dansby?
AD: Smith will be replaced by Calais Campbell. Fellow second-year player Kenny Iwebema will also see more playing time. Both of these young guys need to step up in a big way. The Cardinals used the franchise tag on Karlos Dansby for the second straight season. Last year he thought the move was flattering, this year he wants a lucrative long-term deal. He fired his agent amidst negotiations. Dansby is a higher priority than Boldin at this point.
DF: It seems as if the Cards' secondary is on the verge of being pretty special, if they can keep Adrian Wilson happy. Do they expect DRC to break out this year? Does Antrell Rolle have a future in that defense? And is there any way Wilson could ever be a free agent?
AD: The Cardinals will lock down Wilson to the best of their ability. He doesn't want to leave, and the Cardinals don't want to see him go. He, along with Karlos Dansby, is the Cardinals top priorities. Wilson is a franchise player. Rodgers-Cromartie should have a break out year. He's still learning the ropes of the big league, but there isn't a receiver in the league that he can't close in on. Here and there were a few coverage mistakes but chalk those up to the rookie learning curve. DRC did everything asked of him as a rookie, including taking Eric Green's starting role. Rolle isn't one of the Cardinals premier players. But he will make a name for himself, as he develops in the safety role.
DF: Besides Beanie Wells, who else should impress among the team's 2009 draft class? Any first-year difference-makers?
AD: The loss of Antonio Smith, gives second-round pick DE Cody Brown out of Connecticut a chance to make an immediate impact. Although Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema have a year under their cleats, Brown will make it a tough training camp. Brown could transition to linebacker as well. OG Herman Johnson could also make some noise in camp. The guard position is one of the less steady spots on the offensive line.
DF: The common denominators among those teams afflicted with the Super Bowl Losers' Curse seem to be departing assistant coaches and players who want more money. The Cards are batting 2-for-2 there. Does the franchise have enough in place to make another run, or are there too many danger signs?
AD: The Cardinals offense is ready to go, with or without Anquan Boldin or Todd Haley. Kurt Warner wants to leave the league in style and nothing short of bringing home more hardware will do it. His favorite target Larry Fitzgerald can carry the receivers unit. Regardless of how Tim Hightower and Chris Wells do or do not compliment each other, they are both solid running backs who can haul in the touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the secondary is shaping up to be a solid unit, while the defensive front-seven mixes young players who are ready to pin their ear backs and veterans like Bertrand Berry who can teach the young pups a think or two while still doing their jobs.
Overall, there is much to be optimistic about within the Cardinals. Boldin was unhappy last year too, but he shut up when it was time to play. Karlos Dansby is too good of a guy to let his contract issues play out on the field. Besides, he's making almost $10 million this season and will have to play his way to a lucrative deal in the free agency market, if the Cardinals can't sign him to a long-term deal. Despite the offseason warnings, Arizona shouldn't fall victim to the curse.