- Doug Kretz, Scouts Inc.
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As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.
The Cardinals took a step forward last season thanks, in part, to an improved defense. However, they need to find more players who fit the 3-4 scheme. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt is working to instill a mental toughness that has been lacking the past few years. He's also trying to develop more of a ball-control offense. Some of the overpriced, high draft choices of the past few years who never panned out are gone. In their place, Arizona is adding overachiever types who have a big desire to win at all costs and are not afraid of hard work. QB Matt Leinart should be back and healthy when training camp starts, and the passing game will likely continue to be the most effective way for the Cardinals to move the ball. However, they have too many weak links at key positions, including cornerback, offensive line, pass-rusher and running back to be considered a playoff lock. But they are getting close and could surprise some people.
They were not major players in free agency. Perhaps the Cardinals' biggest move was not adding a new player, but franchising LB Karlos Dansby. He is part of a good, young linebacking corps. The signing of LB Clark Haggans, a former Steeler, gives Arizona an explosive pass-rusher when blitzing and brings the team one step closer to being able to use the 3-4 front effectively. DE Travis LaBoy, a former Titan, will also help the pass rush, but he can be a liability against the run.
The biggest loss was LB Calvin Pace (Jets), who is finally starting to show progress as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Losing inconsistent WR Bryant Johnson (49ers) won't hurt much as the Cardinals still have one of the league's more potent receiving tandems in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Safety Terrence Holt (Panthers), LB Darryl Blackstock (Bengals), DT Chris Cooper (Seahawks) and backup guard Keydrick Vincent (Panthers) are also gone, but they will not be missed much.
The Cardinals still have a lot of questions when it comes to getting to the next level. The move of Antrel Rolle from CB to FS leaves an already weak position even weaker. RB Edgerrin James is getting on in years and a young power back could help their ground game. They also need young talent on the offensive line because other than RT Levi Brown, they lack marquee players and are short on depth. The good news is that with the 16th pick in the draft there will be plenty of talent available and they can find a cornerback, offensive lineman (preferably left tackle) or a pass-rusher. Whisenhunt's second year will be key because opponents will have a better idea what to expect schemewise, and the Cardinals must raise their talent level to improve their 8-8 record.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Scouts Inc. puts the Cardinals on the clock, breaking down their offseason moves and looking at what questions still need answers.