Everyone who follows the Arizona Cardinals knows who isn't going to catch the ball. Their top three receivers from opening day in 2002 are at new addresses via free agency.
The Cardinals have two first-day draft picks, a second-tier veteran acquired in a draft-day trade, and a handful of speedy young players who have yet to make their mark on an NFL field.
To outsiders, that's trouble, but to new
offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan, who coached many of these guys the past
two years as the team's receivers coach, there's potential to build something
First-round pick Bryant Johnson, chosen 17th overall in the first round, and Anquan Boldin, chosen in the second, and veteran Larry Foster, acquired from Detroit for a seventh-round pick and who once was coached by Sullivan, appear to have the best chance to become 1-2-3 in a receiving corps that has to be taken just seriously enough to give Emmitt Smith and the ground game a chance.
With four year's experience, Foster is the
old-timer in the group.
But other receivers, some coming off injuries and others having gained experience late last season playing in place of injured players, could figure, as well.
Bryan Gilmore, coming off a fractured
ankle, and Jason McAddley, who caught 25 balls for a
14.5-yard average as a rookie, are the two fastest on the team. Kevin Kasper
filled in admirably as a possession receiver (15 catches, 12-yard average) and
kick returner. Nathan Poole caught 13 passes as an
undrafted rookie. Jake Soliday, another undrafted rookie
in 2002, caught four.
But because it is a largely inexperienced group, this is their quandary: Make believe, or make believers?
Sullivan particularly likes Gilmore and was
distraught when the ankle injury cut short Gilmore's second pro season just when
he was on the verge of blossoming. Gilmore is just now back running, taking part in the team's rookie/free agent
camp, to be followed by another full-team minicamp.
New quaterback Jeff Blake, who has a vested interest in the success of the receivers, showed up last week to work with the group during a rookie camp practice.
"Hopefully, it's a message that we want to
win here, it's not just a bunch of country clubbers trying to come in and be
here just to be here," Gilmore said. "The veterans really want to win, and
they're putting forth the effort even to know the rookies, which is unheard of
in this league. He wants to make sure everything is sharp. He demands
excellence, and he should. The only way to get it is to work at
Gilmore at least knows his way around the locker room. There will be heat on the rookies, Johnson and Boldin, to be effective right away.
During the receivers' meetings, Sullivan
talks about option routes and goes into his personal library of what Boldin calls "visuals" -- a tape of former
Sullivan tells Boldin that, depending on coverage, he has the option to run across the field or to break off the route.
"It's one thing to look at a notebook and
memorize it," Boldin said, "but once you have him go
over everything and break it all down it's much easier."
Sullivan promises to give the group a quiz.
"I want to see if you know what to do," he
said to them. "I don't want to look in your eyes and see the back of your
Among the returning receivers, Gilmore is
the one to watch.
"I trust it," Gilmore said of the ankle. "I'm healed and running. It's just a matter of forgetting about it now. You have to get to a point where you're not thinking about it. You have to release all fear to play this game. I'm testing it full-speed. I've come a long way, but I still have a ways to go."
Coach Dave McGinnis, heartened by what he's seen in the non-contact camp, said, "We need that speed out there, we really do."