NFC West: Arizona Cardinals
Date: Feb. 1, 2009 Site: Raymond James Stadium
We have a winner and, in fitting fashion, it ran away from the pack.
The voters picked Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown reception from Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII as the Arizona Cardinals' most memorable play, and I applaud their selection. Fitzgerald's sprint down the middle of the field to the end zone is the play I consider the most memorable.
First, it's certainly the most exciting play in team history.
Super Bowl. Fourth quarter. Go-ahead touchdown. Less than three minutes left. It was the stuff legends, dreams and fairy tales are made of. Even though Arizona lost the game on another breathtaking play, Fitzgerald's run to glory -- his second touchdown of the game -- was picturesque. And for 2:05, it was going down in Cardinals, NFL and Super Bowl lore. Which leads us to the second reason it deserved to be named the Cards' most memorable play: It gave Arizona's fans a Super Bowl moment.
Every Super Bowl team has one. There's one play -- offensive, defensive, special teams, it doesn't matter -- that will be seared in the memory of that team's fans for life. For Cardinals fans, it's Fitzgerald's touchdown. All Cardinals fans remember where they were when Fitz caught the pass from Warner, how they slid to the edge of their seats as Fitz broke through the secondary and how they hit the ceiling with exhilaration as Fitzgerald's legs swallowed yards en route to pay dirt. Even though Arizona lost the Super Bowl less than three minutes later, Cards fans will forever eternalize that play.
And thirdly, Fitzgerald's catch deserved to be Arizona's most memorable play because of what it meant for the franchise.
For years -- even generations -- the Cardinals have been synonymous with losing. They've been mired in mediocrity. But when the Cards made their incredible run to the Super Bowl, all that was forgotten -- at least temporarily. And when Fitzgerald sprinted for that go-ahead touchdown, it looked like Arizona would join the echelon of Super Bowl champs. But being that close cast the team in a new light around the NFL. The Cardinals weren't just a team that lucked out and got to the Super Bowl, as other teams have been labeled in the past. They made a legitimate run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy, one that was highlighted by Fitzgerald's touchdown.
How the Cardinals can adapt and adjust on the offensive side of the ball will determine whether they continue to build on the foundation that coach Bruce Arians laid in 2013 or whether they regress back to the state of mediocrity.
The first step to being successful over the next three seasons is finding a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starter Carson Palmer is entering the final year of his contract because his third season voids if he remains on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. A young, steady, productive quarterback is needed to take over this team, and the question then becomes is Logan Thomas that guy? The Cardinals also need to solidify the right side of the offensive line, like they did the left side by signing tackle Jared Veldheer and drafting guard Jonathan Cooper.
Stability up front can make the offense run despite rough conditions behind it. In three years, the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd might not be wearing Cardinal red anymore. Fitzgerald is coming up on the end of his career in the next few years, and Floyd might be a free agent in the next two. The Cardinals will need to make Floyd their next No. 1 receiver and build around him to remain successful.
Running back and tight end are the two positions that are young and feature players poised to be around for the next few seasons, but, in order for the Cards to be successful through 2016, the rest of the offense needs to be stabilized and shored up.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the previous two days we featured Kurt Warner's 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald during a loss in Super Bowl XLIII and Karlos Dansby's fumble return for a touchdown in overtime of a wild-card game against Green Bay in the 2009 season. Please vote for your choice as the Cardinals' most memorable play.
Score: Cardinals 32, Eagles 25
Date: Jan. 18, 2009 Site: University of Phoenix Stadium
When Tim Hightower took a handoff from Kurt Warner on fourth-and-1 on the Philadelphia 49 with 7 minutes, 57 seconds left in the NFC Championship Game of the 2008 season, there wasn't a back flush against a seat.
Everyone knew if the Eagles regained possession they could milk the clock, making it incredibly tough for the Cardinals to reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Everyone knew there could be bigger plays, but at that moment this was the play that could define the season. When Hightower ran right and was pushed out of bounds after gaining 6 yards -- and one of the most important first downs in franchise history -- everyone exhaled. There were still 43 yards to go to overtake the Eagles, but at least there was hope.
That drive wasn't over. There was still a third down to be converted. But that fourth-down run by Hightower kept the hopes and dreams of an entire organization alive, and it eventually paid off when Arizona overtook the Eagles with a touchdown pass from Warner to Hightower with just under three minutes left. That pass was memorable as well, but it wouldn't have been possible without Hightower getting those 6 yards.
@joshweinfuss 4th and 1 is burned into my memory— Randy H (@KansasCardinal) June 17, 2014
It was the first “Celebs and Steaks” event for Peterson’s Foundation for Success, and Peterson looked like a seasoned vet. These events have become common for players with foundations. They, along with their teammates, serve dinner to a packed house of fans, supporters and socialites who donate to their respective foundation.
But what struck me was how Peterson looked as comfortable wearing a corporate uniform -- suit and tie -- as he does in his Arizona Cardinals No. 21. He covered as much ground that night as he does protecting the Cardinals’ secondary at University of Phoenix Stadium, smiling and keeping eye contact with everyone who wanted a moment with the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.
This is the norm for the 23-year-old Peterson.
While Peterson is a few weeks away from starting his fourth season in the NFL, he already has endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi, Eastbay, Tide, T-Mobile, Express, GoPro, Mars candy company and GMC. He has long-term deals with Nike and Eastbay and some one-time agreements or social media hits. Regardless of the length of the deals, Peterson is becoming a face of national companies, whether it's wearing their shoes or appearing on billboards or in commercials. It's something he's always wanted to do.
“Watching Allen Iverson -- he’s even a Reebok guy -- watching Kobe Bryant when he was with adidas, watching those guys, I was like that’s something I want to do if I was able and fortunate enough to make it to the next level to have a strong company like one of those companies backing me up and saying this guy reps our company and he wears it with great pride and dignity,” Peterson said. “And once I actually figured out how the sponsorships work and how endorsements actually work, I said this is definitely something I can get acquainted with pretty quick.”
And he’s been able to do it from one of the smallest NFL markets, playing a position that isn’t highly marketed.
So how has Peterson been able to push his way into the national spotlight?
“That’s easy,” said Denise White, the CEO of EAG Sports Management, which handles some of Peterson’s public relations and marketing. “It’s his personality. He’s like a mom and apple pie guy. He doesn’t come with any drama. He’s a good-looking kid. Very intelligent. Very down to earth. Very old soul. So that’s attractive to advertisers. You want a good-looking guy who can speak well [to] hawk your product and whatever it may be, and he’s a good person.
“He’s a good guy. He knows what to do. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s not the guy that’s going to ever get in trouble or have any issues to where we have to be careful of that. And people generally enjoy him. He’s fun to be around. He’s nice. And more importantly, he’s a great athlete.”
Being a great athlete will only get Peterson so far. Had Arizona sneaked into the playoffs at 10-6 last season, Peterson likely would have had more eyes on him in the wild-card game than any of his previous NFL games, with the possible exception of “Monday Night Football” and a Thursday night game in 2012. More eyes means more exposure, which leads to increased popularity.
On the field, Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, if not the best. He is well-known to NFL insiders and fanatics. But when it comes to the general fan base, Peterson isn't yet a household name.
Part of that is Peterson plays for the Cardinals. Another part is his quiet personality. He's the opposite of Seattle’s Richard Sherman, who has landed national deals with Campbell’s and Microsoft, according to Forbes Magazine. Peterson isn’t drawing attention to himself -- a la Sherman -- which could be good and bad when it comes to landing endorsements.
According to Forbes’ most recent list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, six of them were defensive football players. Of those, none made more than $800,000 (Darrelle Revis) in endorsements last year.
“At the end of the day, people are trying to get impressions,” said Alex Guerrero, president of Elite Sports Society, which handles some of Peterson’s marketing. “So how many times is the quarterback on TV? Every single play there’s a quarterback on TV, except for punts and kicks.”
For the Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has become not just the face of the franchise but one of the faces of the NFL, earning endorsements along the way. He has been a spokesman for the University of Phoenix and has been plastered all over Nike’s football advertising, among others.
When a potential endorser looks at the Cardinals, it’s easy to see why Fitzgerald is their first choice. Peterson has used the opportunity to learn from Fitzgerald about how to land major deals and how to handle himself in the spotlight, White said.
While they’re both stars in their own right, Peterson and Fitzgerald attract different audiences because of their age, position and interests. Peterson is in his early 20s, while Fitzgerald is in his early 30s. Peterson loves cars, while Fitzgerald loves photography.
“I think people are just enamored as to what he is,” Guerrero said of Peterson. “His ceiling is huge. At the end of the day, his ceiling is so high because he can touch on every demographic. That hungry kid that wants to be a baller. That educated guy that’s going to go to Cal Berkeley or Penn State or Boston College, they’ll like him. Or the guy that wants to be able to say, ‘I made it from Florida and I left as a junior.’ That’s really what people are starting to notice, and that’s why his marketing is starting to explode.”
Said Peterson: “I think it’s cool. Just being a clean-cut guy. Just being me. Just being me every day. Chilling. Playing golf. Working out. Hanging out with my wife. That’s basically me. I’m just being Patrick Peterson, laid-back.”
This is one of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Previously, we featured Kurt Warner’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald during a loss in Super Bowl XLIII, and we will feature Tim Hightower’s fourth-down run in the NFC Championship Game of the 2008 season against Philadelphia. Please vote for your choice as the Cardinals’ most memorable play.
Score: Cardinals 51, Packers 45 OT
Date: Jan. 10, 2010 Site: University of Phoenix Stadium
It was Arizona’s first playoff game since Super Bowl XLIII, and the expectations were high.
But standing in their way in the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs were the Green Bay Packers, who were gearing up for a Super Bowl run of their own. In what was a memorable game that included overtime and nearly 100 points, the best play -- and one of the most memorable in franchise history -- was the final one of the game.
When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by defensive back Michael Adams on third-and-6 from the Green Bay 24, the ball took a fortunate bounce right into linebacker Karlos Dansby's waiting hands. With nothing but green grass in front of him, Dansby returned the fumble 17 yards for the winning touchdown.
The play sent the Cardinals into the divisional round of the playoffs, where they eventually lost, but it showed the franchise wasn't just a one-hit wonder. This was a team that could win a big playoff game. Teams -- look at the Packers, for example -- win close playoff games and then fall later. But at least the Cardinals were able to get out of the first round after their Super Bowl season.
Arizona fans still remember where they were for Dansby’s fumble return because it was a moment that solidified the future of the franchise -- even if the franchise took a few steps back in future years.
@joshweinfuss Dansby's fumble recovery. Play off win beats reg season. Dansby also capped off great playoff game btwn good teams— von Ridd (@von_ridd) June 13, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we'll feature Karlos Dansby's fumble return for a touchdown in overtime of the wild-card game against Green Bay in the 2009 season and Tim Hightower's fourth-down run in the NFC Championship Game against Philadelphia in the 2008 season. Please vote for your choice as the Cardinals' most memorable play.
Score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Date: Feb. 1, 2009 Site: Raymond James Stadium
For just about two minutes late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII, it looked like the Cardinals had written the type of fairy tale every quarterback and wide receiver dream about. On second-and-10 from the Cardinals 36, Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald in stride down just before midfield. Fitz took care of the rest, outrunning the Steelers' defense for a touchdown with 2:47 left in the fourth quarter. That score gave Arizona a 23-20 lead and went down in NFL history.
Even though the Steelers stole Super Bowl glory from Arizona with less than a minute to go, that pass from Warner to Fitzgerald is one of the most memorable in team history because not only was it exciting, but it put the Cardinals on the cusp of entering an elite tier of teams. It gave a franchise hope for its first Super Bowl title in dramatic fashion. It solidified their place as a team that could compete for a world championship. For 2:02 the Cardinals were in position to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
While the pass didn't lead Arizona to a victory, it was still a defining moment in the franchise's history because of how close it brought the Cardinals to that win.
@joshweinfuss Team came so close to the Ultimate goal on Fitz SB TD. Closest they have every been so that has to be #1— Andrew Maples (@Dmaples03114) June 12, 2014
One priority for the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason was to improve their tight end room. Coach Bruce Arians wanted tight ends that fit his mold -- guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and love to block. Midway through last season, Arizona began to transition its tight end unit by signing 6-foot-6, 275-pound Jake Ballard. John Carlson, who's 6-5, 248, was added during the early part of this year's free agency and Troy Niklas -- 6-6, 270 -- was drafted in May.
"That's always been my philosophy," Arians said. "I don't want a guy that's really a wide receiver and you're only hope to run the football is if they put a nickel in there and he can block him and in base defense, not going to block anybody. My experience (is) it's always been a detriment rather than guys who can do both."
Arians has one of those tight ends that's more of a wide receiver than a bruising blocker off the line.
Rob Housler, who's entering his fourth season with the Cards, has a basketball player's body. He can be quick in the open field and looks as comfortable as most wideouts running a route off the line. But that's not what Arians wants.
He wants to see his tight ends be a combination of the old school definition of the position combined with a sprinkle of new school. And that's why Ballard and Niklas have coaches giddy with excitement. They're both big men who enjoy contact at the line of scrimmage yet they're both athletic enough to run routes, catch tough passes and turn up field to make plays. Ballard showed what he's capable of in eight games last season, but Niklas was sidelined for most of the offseason while recovering from sports hernia surgery before suffering a broken hand.
"John has done a really, really good job," Arians said. "First off, he's extremely bright. He picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past ... he's not an overwhelming blocker but he's more than adequate."
Each new addition to the tight end room brought more competition. While some players wilt at the first sign of having to play for their job, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said that hasn't happened yet with the Cards.
"It's been phenomenal to have John here for a number of (reasons)," Palmer said. "Mainly, he's really pushed that tight end group. He's really brought the best out of Robby. Bringing competition to that spot has really helped Robby improve."
While Carlson, Ballard and Niklas look similar in stature, Palmer said each brings a different asset to the field.
"We have three different guys with three different strengths -- four guys really (including Housler)," Palmer said. "We all kinda feed off of each other. There's one guy that's fast. There's one guy that's big and powerful. There's one guy that kinda does it all. I think that's what Coach Arians kinda envisioned in that position -- not a bunch of the same guys but a bunch of different guys."
He plays offense, defense and special teams.
Seemingly, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson can do it all.
So, what -- if anything -- can Peterson do better? Apparently, more than you think.
Coach Bruce Arians was posed with the question during Cardinals' minicamp last month.
"Play off-coverage a little bit better, some of those things where [he] leans on athleticism; study the game, which he does a pretty good job of -- when you're as good as him, sometimes it's easy to rely on your athletic ability; and get your hands on more balls," Arians said.
That was that. Arians answered a question many who watch Peterson from the gray and red seats of University of Phoenix Stadium never thought there was a sufficient answer to. But there's always something a player can improve on, especially when a coach is asked.
One of the few criticisms of Peterson is that he relies on his athleticism more than his fundamentals, something Arians has obviously taken note. Peterson is quick, fast and strong, and can make up for mistakes in fundamentals with all of the above. Even when Arians mentioned Peterson can always get better at studying the game -- an area Peterson has improved in throughout his career -- Arians still refers to Peterson's reliance on his athleticism. And the final improvement Arians would like to see is a result of that athleticism, getting his hands on more footballs. Peterson had three interceptions and no fumble recoveries last season.
The question was a product of the discussion about what Peterson can -- and can't -- do on the field compared to other cornerbacks. So-called experts and pundits have judged Peterson and Arians doesn't agree with them.
"Those people [don't] know a damn thing about our defense and what we're asking him to do," Arians said. "I have to laugh when I see all these comparisons. Guys in defenses [are] doing different things and they have no clue what the coach is asking, whether he's doing the right thing or wrong thing and all of a sudden I see a grade. I don't know what that plus-three or plus-four s--- means."
Regardless of his stature and his resume, Peterson has room to grow and Arians won't let him forget about it.
Everyone knows Seattle’s defensive backfield as the "Legion of Boom." And if you don’t know, Richard Sherman will be happy to tell you all about it. But there’s another secondary in the West that’s garnering some attention this offseason and has already been given a nickname by its faithful fans.
Seattle's "Legion of Boom" meet Arizona's "No Fly Zone."
In what’s becoming one of the NFL’s most intriguing rivalries -- Arizona’s defensive backs vs. Seattle’s -- there’s a distinct difference between the two teams. Seattle’s secondary is established, having been together for a few years. They're more successful, having won a Super Bowl together. Arizona’s secondary is younger and newer, the majority having been added to the team in the last two seasons.
But how good is Arizona’s secondary after adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency and drafting safety Deone Bucannon to a defensive backfield that already featured cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu?
"I think there is no ceiling," Peterson said. "I think the sky’s the limit for us. By adding Cromartie, I thought that was a huge pickup. But now adding Bucannon I think is a much better pickup because I think it now puts the secondary, as a whole, in a much better position than we have been in the years since I’ve been here.
"I think it definitely well-rounds us because now that you have two shutdown corners on the outside, a free safety in Tyrann that can roam the field and make plays like a Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed and things like that, and now you got a hard-hitting safety that will come down and kinda be that ninth guy in the box and stop the run and make teams pretty much have a fear of running those drag routes like (Kam) Chancellor out in Seattle."
Peterson said that is what made Seattle so good: They have a talented player at every position in the secondary. With Seattle parting ways with cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, despite keeping Byron Maxwell, the Cardinals may be inching closer to having as talented of a secondary as the defending champs.
Drafting Bucannon was a large part of that, Peterson said, but so is the depth built by adding a couple of starters.
"It definitely closes the gap," he said. "It closed the gap tremendously now that we can do a variety of different things because at the end of the day we still have (cornerback) Jerraud Powers, who we know can cover real well. Obviously, he had some tough breaks last year but we still have him on the roster to go inside while Tyrann is out. He’s a huge asset to this defense, as well. He’s a guy that can play outside, inside, he’ll probably be in a couple safety packages.
"There’s going to be a couple different things that we can do with the guys on the roster."
Housler said this offseason -- Arians' second -- felt different than 2013.
There may not be another player who had as much to prove during the offseason and has as much to lose during training camp. He underachieved last season, partly because Housler was hampered by a high ankle sprain for the first month of the season and partly because he's not a blocking tight end, the kind Arians prefers.
During the offseason, the Cardinals showed their dissatisfaction with Housler, signing John Carlson and drafting Troy Niklas. Including Jake Ballard, who was signed midway through last season, the Cardinals have three tight ends who weren't on the roster in Week 1 of 2013.
Housler, who caught 39 passes for 454 yards and his first career touchdown, said he doesn't feel any pressure. But, he added, it's clear he has turn his game up a notch.
"It's definitely one of those things where the reps go down. The reps are shared and so you kinda see the fact that you have to be precise in everything you do," Housler said. "And it's actually easier this year to be precise in what I'm doing because I'm familiar with it. You can kinda see both ends of the spectrum and for me it provided a good perspective on everything."
Housler was drafted by the previous regime in Arizona, which saw him as a tight end in the mold of San Francisco's Vernon Davis, St. Louis' Jared Cook and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham -- the basketball-player body who can run routes like a receiver. There'll be a small role for that type of player in Arians' roster, but it's not the kind of tight end Arians covets.
At 26, Housler is the veteran of the group when it comes to playing under Arians. And he has competition for the first time in a few years. Housler's place on the roster isn't guaranteed, especially with a month of training camp and four preseason games looming. The three other tight ends -- Calrson, Ballard and Niklas -- were all hand-picked by Arians and cut from the cloth he likes.
But Housler won't let that intimidate him. He's grown physically and mentally every year since he was drafted in 2011 and that won't stop. This year, he just has to fight a little harder for his job.
"There's always competition in a room," Housler said. "I mean that in the sense of, you're competing against every tight end in the league. You always want to compete. You always want to be the best. We are in a very competitive division as far as tight ends go. For me, we brought in some really good guys.
"But, so far I like the competition. It's also a chance to be in their shoes where I was last year -- where they were learning the system for the first time. I was able to help them out as much as I could."
Cooper, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg suffered in the Arizona Cardinals' third preseason game, doesn't want the label.
"I don't care what anybody says, I don't feel like a rookie," Cooper said. "I know I missed the season or whatever. They say everybody's a rookie until three games into the season, so from that standpoint I feel like I'm a rookie but beyond that, no sir."
The seventh overall pick a year ago couldn't quantitatively say how close he is to being 100 percent, but Cooper believes he'll be at full strength come July 26 when Arizona holds its first training camp practice.
"I think I have progressed quite a bit but not quite game ready," Cooper said. "I've come out here and I've done everything they've asked me to do rehab wise and lifting wise and on the field to the best of my ability.
"But my performance isn't quite where it needs to be for Game 1."
There's still room for improvement physically, Cooper said. There's still a lot of rust to knock off his 6-foot-2, 312-pound frame. But the majority of his rehab has come above the shoulders. He's had to grow comfortable again leaning on defensive linemen and has tried to keep the notion that he won't re-injure the leg at the forefront of his thoughts.
"I remember when I wasn't able to walk," Cooper said. "Just being able to run around and I remember being nervous about leaning on these defensive linemen. I've been able to do it, day-by-day proving to myself that I'll be fine."
Cooper's progress has been noticed by the Cardinals, but they are still aware of the road ahead of him.
"Coop's still got a ways to go," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "His recovery is not total yet and it's obvious. He's not the athlete that he was last year at this time. I wouldn't expect him to be. He still has plenty of time to get there. When you really look back, he had 15 practices and two games as a Cardinal. He is a first-round draft choice but he's far from a finished product."
For the next five weeks, Cooper will try to become that finished product. He'll balance resting his body for the long haul of the season with rehabbing his leg back to 100 percent.
Off the field and in the classroom, Cooper's not a rookie. On the field, however, he's a year behind but he's working as hard as any first-year player in the league to get back to where he was and where he should be.
"Rehabbing -- that's pretty much what I got on my agenda," Cooper said. "(I'll) be studying all that but just give my body a little bit of a break, otherwise just lifting and rehabbing."
It's bound to happen at some point during the 2014 season if Minter evolves into the type of inside linebacker Arizona has faith he will become. It's bound to happen in the heat of battle, when the game is on the line and Minter will need to relay a critical play to the 10 other Cardinals in the huddle. It's bound to be a Pro Bowler at the other end of the direction.
“It's a little tough,” Abraham said.
If it happens, it will be a defining moment for Minter, who is slated to fill the void left by Karlos Dansby's departure to Cleveland. In his second year in the NFL, Minter will be charged with being the quarterback of the defense, the man who relays plays and instructions from defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to the rest of the defense.
It's a daunting task for a 23-year-old to look Patrick Peterson, Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell in the eye and be the authority. But Minter is looking forward to it.
“It's like being in college all over again,” he said. “Doing all the adjustments, making all the calls and stuff like that, and being the guy that they depend on to run the show. It's cool. It's pretty humbling. It's nice.”
Minter's professional career has started eerily similar to his collegiate one.
He was lost his first year at LSU, trying to grasp the changes from high school football to college -- similar to his rookie NFL season. As a sophomore, Minter was given responsibility on defense and he blossomed.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he talked to coaches at LSU and hopes Minter's second year in the NFL ends up like his sophomore year at LSU.
“You're the signal-caller. You're the leader of the defense,” Arians said. “Big shoes to fill. Karlos was very dynamic in what he did last year. Todd schemed very well for him, like he will for Kevin and whoever else who's in there.”
Dansby's leadership is what the Cardinals will miss most, Abraham said.
“Not even his physical attributes to the games, not even his numbers,” he said. “Just his leadership. How he talks. How he keeps a team together … starting in Arizona, leaving and coming back.
Minter, who played just one defensive snap last season, was one of those younger guys whom Dansby mentored. He watched Dansby daily and learned how to work hard, make himself better and put the team first.
“That's a great quality for me to take from him,” Minter said. “If I'm able to do that same thing for this team, we can be just as good or even better than last year.
“I took [last] year as a learning year. The guy in front of me was amazing. He had the best year a damn linebacker can have. I had to pay attention. A guy like that, he came every day ready to work. I just hope I can bring that to the table as well.”
Minter will need to rely on those lessons early and often when Arizona reports to training camp. The team lost Daryl Washington, whom Minter would have leaned on for support in 2014, when he was suspended for a year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, leaving Minter as the only stable piece of Arizona's inside linebacker corps.
But Abraham, who is entering his 15th season, was quick to say Minter won't be the next Dansby.
He's too young.
“He ain't gonna be Karlos at all,” Abraham said. “You can't even compare the two. He's going to be a good leader, but also he's young and all the other guys are kinda older than him. Not saying he's scared, but he's got to get used to being that guy 'cause you're the middle guy. You got to get used to telling people what to do, and I don't think he's ready for that just yet. I can see him getting into it. I can definitely see him being one of those kind of pros.
“Right now, he just got to work into it, just get comfortable, like telling guys, 'Get your ass over there. Go over there.' But right now, I don't think he's comfortable with that yet. Like Karlos came in and he was already 30-something. Everybody knew him here. He had the clout already.”
Minter doesn't have the clout of a 10-year vet, but he does have the support from the coaching staff -- for now at least. It's not easy for guys to develop into the voice of a defense, especially one that's as talented and stout as the Cardinals'. But Minter doesn't have time to let it happen naturally. He needs to step in this season and have his voice ready.
“Sometimes it's easy for some guys to; sometimes it's not,” Abraham said. “For me, when I first got here, I was real quiet, but now I'm comfortable. I can pretty much go anywhere and talk to anyone.
“I stepped back and observe before I start to talk to some people. When I say something, I want you to know, ‘Yeah, he backed it up.'”
Minter spent a year observing. Now it's his time to back it up.
There are plenty of arguments one way or the other, but the consensus is far from clear. Warner's Hall worthiness regained the spotlight on barstools around the country this week when the Arizona Cardinals announced Warner would be added to the team's Ring of Honor -- an accomplishment in the vein of which hasn't been bestowed by the St. Louis Rams, the team Warner won a Super Bowl with.
The first question was obvious -- Is Warner a Hall of Famer? And if so, does he deserve to be inducted on his first ballot?
Wagoner: Yes, I have little doubt in my mind that he is a Hall of Famer. I'm not sure he'll go on the first ballot, but I certainly wouldn't disagree if he did. There seems to be a certain mystique that goes with getting in on the first try. Not that it's reserved only for the elite of the elite, but there are still a lot of good players waiting their turn, and for someone to surpass them, they need to have extensive resumes, perhaps one that exceeds Warner's. On top of that, Warner will have plenty of other strong first-time nominees who will also be trying to push their way into the mix. I definitely think he'll get in. I'm less certain it's on the first try, but either way it's just a matter of time, in my opinion.
Weinfuss: I feel very similarly. Yes, I think he's a Hall of Famer and I don't think he'll wait long to don that yellow blazer, but it may not be in 2015. I think the mystique of a first-ballot Hall of Famer is an interesting topic. In Warner's case, he took two teams to three Super Bowls. That alone is an accomplishment, but to start doing it at 28 years old with the kind of backstory Warner had makes it even more mystical. Obviously that doesn't determine whether Warner will make the Hall of Fame, but it makes his success all the more impressive and adds to his Hall of Fame-worthy resume.
What would get Kurt in the Hall? Subsequently, what would keep him out?
Wagoner: There are a few really strong arguments to get him in. First, he led two franchises to the Super Bowl. That just doesn't happen, especially so far apart. To add to that, the Cardinals and Rams were in pretty bad shape when he took over and got them to the promised land. It's important he won Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams, so he has that on the resume, too. Second, in terms of numbers, Warner led some of the most prolific and dynamic offenses in league history. The group in St. Louis was record-breaking, and he won two MVPs in that time. Third, and this isn't as tangible as the others, but I'm a big believer in how a player fits in the narrative of the game's history. In other words, can you tell the best possible story of the NFL without Warner playing a fairly prominent role? I don't think you can. And the fact that you can tell his grocery store stock-shelver to Super Bowl MVP story and then add to it that he took the Cardinals to within an eyelash of a world championship, well, that's stuff you just can't leave out in the story of the league.
As for what would keep him out, the only thing that really works against him is sample size. While his per-year numbers are on par with or better than most Hall of Fame quarterbacks, he didn't do it as long as guys such as Joe Montana, John Elway or Dan Marino did. That probably hurts him the most. I suppose you could argue he also benefited greatly from playing with a lot of superior talent, but I'd argue that Warner helped those players as much as they helped him. The only other thing that could potentially hold him back is he's going to be up for it for the first time with some of his other Greatest Show on Turf teammates. Some voters may place more value on what someone such as Orlando Pace or Isaac Bruce did, and it could steal some votes from Warner.
What will keep him out is the total body of work. When you break down Warner's career, he only played four full or nearly full seasons. Granted, he went to three Super Bowls in those years, but he had too many off seasons in which he started 10 or fewer games. Can a player get in by having only a few great seasons and almost twice as many not-so-great years? I think if he doesn't make it, that's why.
How much do you think his stint with the Cardinals helps his case?
Wagoner: Honestly, I think it sealed the deal for him getting in. Without it, he'd be viewed an awful lot like former Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who had a few really outstanding, record-breaking years, but it appears a lack of longevity is going to keep him from being inducted. But Warner's resurgence in Arizona added to a story that had already reached mythical proportions and also allowed him to elevate his numbers to something more in line with other great quarterbacks. That he then darn near took them to a world championship on top of it only is the icing on the cake.
Weinfuss: If he gets in, his final three seasons, or more specifically the final two with the Cardinals, will be looked at as the turning point. He came back after a string of off years, after thoughts of retirement, after being passed over for an inexperienced rookie to become the fourth-oldest quarterback -- at the time the third-oldest -- quarterback to start a Super Bowl. It was the storybook ending to a career that was made for Hollywood, but the fact he took a franchise that had never gotten to the Super Bowl and became the missing part could end up being the deciding factor in voters' decisions.
It'd be nice but I'm not thinking about that. I'm just focused on the next game. The stats and accomplishments will take care of themselves.
But once a player retires, the Hall is either a distinct possibility or it's not. For those who think they have a realistic chance of getting in -- and players know -- it's not easy to revert to player-speak.
"It's hard not to think about it because people ask you about it and obviously when you come up for the first time," said Kurt Warner at the announcement of his inclusion in the Arizona Cardinals' Ring of Honor in September.
"I'm so proud of what I accomplished in my career (but) you can look back and you can second guess a lot of things," Warner said. "What if I started before I was 28? What if I didn't have in between going from St. Louis to here.
"But to me, I've got a story that's unparalleled due to all those things."
That story -- the one where a grocery store clerk who couldn't catch on with an NFL team starts his career in the Arena Football League and then goes to NFL Europe before getting a chance on Sundays -- was tailor-made for Hollywood and made him an NFL sensation. It would've been a good enough story to recite at bedtime to a young, aspiring quarterback even if Warner hadn't gone to three Super Bowls and won two league MVPs. The fact that he was able to experience a level of success that many quarterbacks who were given a chance straight out of college never reached made it all the more remarkable.
But his road to the NFL also humbled him.
"I know the one argument [against] me getting into the Hall of Fame -- or a big argument -- will be, 'He didn't play enough, he didn't have enough years or he didn't have enough time,'" Warner said of his 12-year career in which he started 15 or 16 games only four times. "But I'd gladly trade all of that for how it played out. With two organizations to accomplish some of the things I did in a short period of time and then, more importantly, to have a story to inspire people. It's not just about me. There's something bigger here at work.
"I thought about it. I'm fully content either way. I'm fully content with my career and what I was able to accomplish."
That's not to be misinterpreted as indifference. The competitor in Warner wants to make the Hall.
"As any player you want to be one of the best of the best," Warner said. "When you grow up and you compete, that's always a goal. I want to be the best at what I do so it'd be a tremendous honor.
"But at the same time, my career will not be defined by that. I've accomplished so much and I can walk away and those things are just icing on the cake for everything that I've had an opportunity to do."
All we knew was that a news conference was scheduled with Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and former quarterback Kurt Warner. Guesses as to the topic were pretty unanimous: Warner was going to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. A few even thought Arizona may retire his No. 13. The Ring of Honor guess seemed like a safe bet that turned out to be true.
But there were a few stray tweets that caught my eye. Some people -- fans, I think -- didn't believe Warner deserved the distinction. There were other Cardinals more deserving than him, some said. He didn't accomplish anything but go to a Super Bowl, others added.
That got me thinking. Does Warner truly deserve enshrinement in University of Phoenix Stadium?
He answered my question Wednesday afternoon, sitting next to Bidwill with his red tie with navy stripes tucked into his navy vest. The irony of him wearing the primary colors of the two teams he led to a Super Bowl wasn't lost on me.
"Part of my enjoyment was watching everybody else 'cause I honestly think there were so many people in this organization that didn't know if they'd ever get there," Warner said. "[To] watch players who've been in the league for a number of years, to watch people in the organization that hadn't been close to that before ... that to me was fun."
It was then that I knew why he was worthy of the honor.
To this franchise, he's a hero. No other quarterback in team history has led them to a Super Bowl. No other quarterback got close. He deserved being named to the Ring of Honor based on that alone. The Cardinals were mired in mediocrity for so long that when they finally had a player change the fortunes of the franchise in just a few years it was a reason to celebrate him. He didn't do it alone. Warner will be the first to say that -- and he did Wednesday-- but coupled with Ken Whisenhunt's coaching and Larry Fitzgerald's ability, he helped brew the perfect storm.
Whisenhunt won't end up in the Ring of Honor but Fitzgerald will because he had the type of impact -- maybe even larger in a different way -- than Warner.
I won't say Warner changed the trajectory of this franchise, but his worth was evident after he left. In the three seasons following Warner's last in 2009, Arizona 's records were 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11. The magic was gone because Warner was gone.
I had a hunch his No. 13 wasn't going to be retired Wednesday. That type of honor is usually saved for something greater. Had Warner led the Cards to a Super Bowl win over the Steelers then, yes, I think there's a good chance No. 13 wouldn't be worn again.
But what Warner did for this franchise was still worthwhile, especially if you consider how bad the Cardinals were historically. In the 20 years before he signed with the Cardinals in 2005, Arizona had just one winning season. Make that one in 22 years if you're counting Warner's first two seasons in the desert.
Being inducted in the Cardinals' Ring of Honor isn't a testimony to what Warner did throughout his career, it's just a statement on what he did with the Cardinals. And that statement made on Feb. 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida, was loud and clear, and can still be heard echoing through the halls in south Tempe.