Back to Square One? Arizona Cardinals Must Address Key Issues
There has never been such anticipation for the beginning of an Arizona Cardinals football season as there is for this upcoming 2009-2010 NFL season.
By now everyone has heard of the remarkable run the Cardinals made last season with winning the NFC Championship and then finishing runner-up to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first Super Bowl since, well, basically ever.
What an amazing year it was for the Cardinals, and what an even sweeter treat it was to experience as an actual fan of this franchise. Kurt Warner resurrected himself once again as the sexiest available quarterback on the roster and somehow managed to hold on to the ball long enough to throw for 4,583 yards.
I don't know if that last sentence really makes sense, but man, did he fumble a lot—when it mattered most—for the Cardinals before last season. But I digress. Warner was unstoppable as he coasted through an MVP-caliber season and hooked up with his receivers for 30 touchdown passes.
However, before last season began, the biggest storm brewing within the Cards training camp was who was going to be taking the snaps for the team come September.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt went against the grain, naming Warner as his starter and leaving his trophy-boy quarterback, Matt Leinart, to grow old and more handsome on the bench.
This year, there is no controversy at quarterback. Well, maybe a little one, as in why has a party boy like Leinart not had any risqué photos released of him beer-bonging with some coeds this offseason? Please tell me he hasn't stopped partying?! I mean, even Reggie Bush has Kim Kardashian!
Side note to Matt (as I am sure he is an avid reader of Bleacher Report): Dude, you are a super attractive, vastly overpaid, backup quarterback in the valley of the sun and plastic surgery—not quite like where you're from, but still a bit of plastic surgery nonetheless—live it up a little! Again.
Hopefully the Cardinals will get through the season unscathed at quarterback as they did in 2008-2009. That is a big if, however, as it was just before last season that many scouts were questioning Warner's abilities, as well as his durability among other things.
He responded with a huge year. This year, the critics have been mainly silent—an eerie calm before the storm, if you ask me.
On second thought, Clooney, I mean Matt, put that beer bong down and pick up a playbook again. This may be your year! Again! But I promise this time there is no Dennis Green around to muss it up for you. You're not still dating that Hilton woman, are you? Good, here's a ball.
However, Warner could stuff a fat sock in my mouth and continue his otherwise brilliant career and have another jaw-dropping performance this season overall.
He always has been a big-time quarterback, and anyone that can successfully lead this franchise through the NFC Championship and into the Super Bowl is a HOF quarterback in my opinion. It could be worse; we could be the team awaiting Brett Favre's "test results."
Perhaps the biggest question mark pertaining to the 2009-2010 NFL season for the Cardinals lies within the team's running game.
Although there are high expectations and reason for optimism, the team rid itself of its only proven running back in the release of a future Hall of Famer, Edgerrin James, and enters the new year with essentially two unproven and untested backs.
Sure Tim Hightower, a former fifth round pick, had his opportunity to start as the featured back in seven NFL games last year for the Cards. However, he didn't exactly turn any heads.
He did have a breakout-quality game in his first start, rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries against St. Louis, but after that he pretty much was a dud. In his other six starts he managed to gain a paltry 134 yards on 64 carries.
This will absolutely be a make or break season for his career, and there is high optimism based on some of his showings last year that he will step up to the challenge.
If not Hightower, the Cardinals did somehow manage to land a pretty high-profile first round back in this year's draft in Chris "Beanie" Wells.
Wells was a premier back while at Ohio State and has himself publicly decried the questions regarding his toughness and durability related to scouts' questioning after a foot injury derailed him for three games last season while with the Buckeyes.
But Wells was absolutely the real deal in college, rushing for a combined 2,800-plus yards in his sophomore and junior seasons combined.
Questions still abound for Wells and this running game though, as it is still unsure as to exactly what type of role Wells will fill. There was talk during the draft that the Cardinals are interested in perhaps using Wells as a fullback and primarily handling the blocking duties for the sleeker, more nimble Hightower.
But if Hightower struggles, the Cardinals will be forced to turn to "Beanie" in the hopes of establishing a running presence to compliment their high-octane passing game.
That is a must if the Cardinals are hoping to repeat their success from last season because NFL teams will be sure to adjust to a Cardinals offense looking to pass in 70 percent of their offensive schemes, much like what catapulted them to their success last year.
On the receiving side of things—the Cardinals have some strong questions that could potentially threaten to plague the team with bigger problems in the near future, regarding offensive statistics to even team cohesion overall.
Luckily for the Cardinals, their receiving corps is anchored by the always solid Larry Fitzgerald. So that should help ease the concern a little at the very least.
Fitzgerald, as we all know, has been one of the top receivers in the league for a few seasons now and has made his impression upon the league. In three of the last four seasons, Fitzgerald has had over 1,400 yards receiving—including both of the last two seasons.
He shouldn't be much of a question mark there, unless an injury derails his season. Great, now I am a little worried—I mean, I don't want to start any Madden or SI type jinx here —so please let us all cross our fingers and hold a moment of silence before proceeding in the hopes of preventing any type of such injury.
One major issue that does threaten to derail the Cardinals' receiving success does lie in the Anquan Boldin contract situation
Now I must admit, I can see where both sides are coming from in regards to their contract dispute that seems to be far from concluded and has created quite a distraction in the media.
From the Cardinals' perspective, the franchise did already "reward" Boldin by restructuring his first contract and reworking it to provide him with a higher salary and a heftier signing bonus. They also have already given a huge contract to Fitzgerald and now cannot afford to keep both of them on the books for $10 million plus per year.
On Boldin's side of the negotiations, the guy is flat-out a freak. I mean, who gets their face broken on a hit and returns to the field three weeks later? Anquan Boldin does, that's who. And as far as statistics go, Boldin is a flat-out superstar.
Last season he still had over 1,000 yards receiving, despite only playing in 12 games! In his six-year career, he has topped the 1,000-yard mark four times and when healthy is up in the 1,300 or 1,400-yard range.
However, keeping him healthy has been a problem in the last two years, as various injuries have forced Boldin into only playing in 12 games in each of those two seasons.
It will be interesting to see how it all eventually plays out with the Boldin contract dispute. Hopefully somehow there will be a successful resolution that will allow him to remain a Cardinal for many more years to come.
As a fan, I have to admit it would be a devastating blow to see him go. Not only is Boldin a huge spark on offense and an extremely vital piece of the overall success of the offense, but he also is a positive player with his presence, even being elected Captain of the offense in 2007-2008.
Yes, Steve Breaston is a fine receiver who put up 1,000-yard numbers last season, and the early progress of rookie draft pick Early Doucet has been positive to say the least, so it would appear that the Cardinals could do without Boldin on first glance.
But Breaston and Doucet are not Anquan Boldin and don't pose anywhere near as big a threat as Boldin does in any type of offensive scheme. Breaston is a good receiver with good hands and good instincts. He is a great complementary third receiver for the two superstars ahead of him.
Doucet has a lot of upside as well, but with the guys in front of him, the Cardinals can afford to let him learn the NFL game and learn the system before fully implementing him into the offensive game plan.
Good idea in theory, but Boldin could ultimately decide his own fate and the fate of the franchise by continuing to press the issue and eventually forcing them to trade him to another team willing to pay a higher premium for his services.
The Cardinals offense will have a lot of work to do to achieve the type of success as they had last year in their run through the playoffs and ultimately to the Super Bowl.
For an offensive unit that dominated their success last season, the Cardinals appear to have even more questions to answer this season regarding the offensive unit as a whole.
If guys like Hightower, Wells, and Doucet can mature faster than expected, they might be even stronger this season, and that could really spell trouble for the other defenses around the league.
But if these guys fail to produce, and Boldin continues to complain while behind the locker room doors, you have all the makings of a one-hit wonder waiting to happen.
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