Cardinals have line they like with early return of Ross

Updated: September 21, 2006, 4:41 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

With quarterback Kurt Warner having already been sacked eight times, and tailback Edgerrin James averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, things can probably only get better for an Arizona Cardinals offense that ranks 16th in the league after two outings. And they should this week as the Cardinals will welcome back starting right offensive tackle Oliver Ross for Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Coach Dennis Green will field his third different offensive line in as many games, but with Ross back, it will mark the first time since the spring that the five projected starters will have worked together. Ross underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in early August and missed much of training camp and all of the preseason.

In the season opener, the Cardinals used Chris Liwienski, who has mostly played guard during his eight-year career and who was signed by Arizona just before the start of the season, at right tackle. In last week's loss at Seattle, left guard Reggie Wells moved to right tackle and Liwienski played left guard.

The lineup for Sunday, said Green on Thursday, will feature Leonard Davis at left tackle, Wells at left guard, center Alex Stepanovich, left guard Milford Brown and Ross at right tackle. It is the lineup with which Arizona hopes to play for the balance of this season.

Since Green arrived in 2004, the Cardinals have employed seven different starting right tackles. The lack of continuity on the Cardinals' line, not surprisingly, has been a persistent shortcoming.

Ross, 31, should be a stabilizing influence and is returning earlier than expected. The original timetable for his return was eight to 10 weeks when he underwent the surgery to repair cartilage damage. The fear was that Ross might be sidelined for at least the first month of the campaign. His return also means that the Cardinals will be able to align all of their starters at their most natural positions. And being able to have Liwienski return to his role as a top reserve upgrades the unit's depth.

An eight-year veteran, Ross was signed by the Cardinals as an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2005 after he had emerged with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a solid strongside tackle the previous two seasons. He missed four games last season with a broken hand. For his career, Ross has appeared in 78 games and been a starter in 48 of them.

It's been slow going on the ground. James rushed for 73 yards in 26 carries in a season-opening victory over San Francisco, then 64 yards in 18 attempts in last Sunday's 21-10 loss at Seattle.

"I'm through talking about the 100-yard thing," James said. "I'm just going to go out and play. That may be the problem, so many people want to see it happen so badly. I'm just going to go out and play and what happens, happens. It's just a matter of us going out and actually doing it and getting the opportunity. I know if I get the carries, it's going to happen."

Continuity on the offensive line is crucial, James said, so he's pleased to have everyone finally healthy in front of him.

"We're lining up with our right unit and just going with it," James said, "rather than moving people here and there. That's the difference in the system I was in. Everybody was in synch, everybody was playing better."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.