The 2009 version of the Arizona Cardinals will begin the year riding the momentum of their Cinderella trip to the '09 Super Bowl. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt will have his hands full, right from the beginning, trying to find the keys to duplicate last season's NFC championship. Here are a few of the hurdles:
First off, the Cardinals will have to address the ever present quarterbacking issue.
Can Kurt Warner's thirty-eight-year-old body hold up to another year of pounding? Can celebrity back-up quarterback Matt Leinart continue to be satisfied watching from the sidelines? Will the departure of Edgerrin James be tougher to replace than originally thought? Can the Ohio State rookie, Chris "Beanie" Wells, progress fast enough to be a contributor?
When these issues are combined with a few question marks on the defensive side, Cardinals season ticket holders have every right to be concerned. Seventeen year season ticket holder, Dick Foote, speaks for many when he says Warner's health will be the key issue:
"Without experienced leadership from Warner, the Cardinals could have difficulty repeating as Western Division champions".
Foote is also concerned about team motivation. "Traditionally the losing team in the Super Bowl has had an extremely difficult job of getting back the following season".
Kurt Warner underwent off-season hip surgery. All reports indicate he will have a full and complete recovery. Until he is tested under regular season game conditions, Matt Leinart better be prepared. Warner's history of shoulder, arm and knee problems provide no guarantee he can be counted on for a complete sixteen game season.
Leinart has yet to distinguish himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Astute observers still cringe when he throws his lazy sideline passes that seem prone to interceptions. He seems to lack the zip on the ball that's necessary to hit Larry Fitzgerald in full stride on a post pattern.
Leinart's arm strength to complete a crucial down field pass to Anquan Boldin hasn't been tested over any significant length of time. It remains to be seen whether Leinart has fully regained his form after suffering a painful season ending fracture of his collarbone two seasons ago.
The Cardinals decision to jettison Edgerrin James has opened the door to top draft pick Chris Wells and second year player Tim Hightower. Wells could make Cardinals fans forget James in a heartbeat.
Hightower had a promising rookie season that still has Cardinals fans buzzing. Both of these players possess the NFL speed required of top flight running backs. They could take the pressure off the passing game and add explosive speed from anywhere on the field.
The Cardinals defensive team will start the year basking in their post season success from a year ago. The loss of lineman Antonio Smith and Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast could bring them back to reality in short order. The new coordinator will have to institute his defensive scheme with no time to waste.
Many observers predict the Cardinals will have a stronger defensive unit in 2009 simply from having had the experience of playing together last year. The defensive backs have been strengthened by the draft and the linebacking corps is motivated to improve it's overall efficiency.
The Arizona Cardinals have announced another sellout of all home games for the 2009 season. Their enthusiastic fan base can't wait for the opening game against the 49ers on September 10th at University of Phoenix Stadium.