Green hopes to turn Cards into winners

Dennis Green brings a winning attitude to the Arizona desert.

Updated: September 3, 2004, 10:47 AM ET
By Darren Urban | Pro Football Weekly

Editor's note: These previews were last updated Sept. 2 and don't reflect any moves made by the team after that.

Cardinals first-year head coach Dennis Green spent the offseason talking about playoff contention and 10-win seasons. He insisted the talent level on the league's perennial loser wasn't bad. He said he'd make things different.

While Green has already put his stamp on the team, it doesn't look like it will show up in victories, at least not at first. Injuries torpedoed Green's first training camp, and besides, it was clear that the players weren't yet equipped to pull off what Green wanted them to do.

"When you turn a program around," Green said, "this isn't that unusual, what we are going through."

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the 2004 season will be that unusual for the Cardinals, either -- another season fighting to stay out out of the divisional basement.

Quarterbacks: Josh McCown is improving in the preseason, but he still has far to go because of his lack of experience. He must learn to trust his teammates and not use his athletic ability to simply pull the ball down and run. That said, he spent the exhibition schedule careful not to force passes - a good sign. If the Cards get their receivers going, McCown may be able to fulfill at least some of the promise Green believes he has. He needs to, because Shaun King was signed to strictly be a backup, and rookie John Navarre, who Green thinks has some potential on this level, is extremely raw. Grade: C-minus.

Running backs: The Cards might have been OK had Marcel Shipp been around, but a broken leg and dislocated ankle landed him on injured reserve. Now 35-year-old Emmitt Smith is the full-time starter and the man upon whom the running game is based. After his career-low 256 yards in 2003, Smith was surprisingly promoted in the offseason over Shipp, and he has looked better than expected in the preseason. But Smith isn't a 20-carry back, either. The problem is that without Shipp, the Cards have only question marks. Green liked Josh Scobey, except Scobey has shown very little when he has played in games. That would have left undersized Damien Anderson as Smith's backup, but Green acquired Troy Hambrick from Oakland for a draft pick, and the one-time Cowboy will likely be handed the backup job. The fullback is Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who got into the league with Green's Vikings. He's a better fit than holdover James Hodgins, who was put on I.R. along with Shipp (shoulder injury). Grade: D.

Receivers: The plan was good and held promise -- Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson all on the field at the same time, stretching the defense, forcing the defense to choose whom to double-cover and creating big plays. Then Johnson came into training camp with a fractured foot, keeping him out of practice almost all of the preseason. Then came the crippling blow to Boldin, with a torn meniscus and resulting surgery keeping him out until at least mid-October and perhaps longer. Even Fitzgerald missed time in camp with a bad ankle sprain. When they are all healthy, they should be a good trio. Instead, the Cards open the season looking for reserves like Karl Williams, Nate Poole and Kevin Kasper to step up -- except they hadn't through most of camp. Green keeps insisting Freddie Jones, with his talent, is a Pro Bowl tight end in this offense, but Jones has never quite lived up to expectations since signing as a free agent in 2002. Still, Jones' numbers should be good since McCown doesn't have Boldin to throw to, and defenses should focus on Fitzgerald. Grade: B.

Offensive linemen: Green has completely transformed this unit, making bold moves and shoving veterans either to the bench (OT L.J. Shelton) or off the roster altogether (C Pete Kendall). Leonard Davis has been moved from right guard to left tackle - where he played in college - and Green thinks Davis can finally become the dominant player he was thought to be when he was drafted No. 2 overall. Green installed former sixth-round pick Reggie Wells at left guard and rookie Alex Stepanovich at center after Kendall was cut. ORG Cameron Spikes and ORT Anthony Clement are the other starters, guys who struggled a lot of the 2003 season but who are apparently good enough for Green. The unit has been finding more consistency, but, shuffled as it has been, it is still looking for chemistry. There has been talk that Shelton, the former left tackle, might be tried at guard. If Green won't do that -- and Shelton, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to impress Green -- depth is sketchy. Grade: C.

Defensive linemen: The Cardinals have a host of first-day draft picks playing on the line: DT Wendell Bryant, DE Calvin Pace, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Russell Davis and DE Dennis Johnson. Unfortunately, only one  Davis  is a starter (at nose tackle), and he isn't considered above average. At least he has worked his way into the lineup. Bryant and Pace are former first-rounders trying to avoid the label of bust. The Cards signed DRE Bertrand Berry, who had 11.5 sacks last season in Denver, as a free agent in an effort to boost their lousy sack total. Peppi Zellner, obtained in a trade with Oakland along with Hambrick, will start at left end, with rookie Darnell Dockett moving back from left end to the starting "under" tackle position, replacing Kenny King, who is likely out for the season following wrist surgery. The line was further weakened when backup DE Fred Wakefield suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and was placed on injured reserve. Grade: D-minus.

Linebackers: There is some raw talent for Green to work with, especially on the outside. Raynoch Thompson has been a steady performer, and Green now is trying to use him in more of an attacking mode to take advantage of his speed. The same goes for rookie Karlos Dansby, who will start on the strong side after being drafted in the second round. The middle linebacker is undersized veteran Ron McKinnon, but Gerald Hayes, a third-round pick last year who was limited by a shoulder injury, could challenge McKinnon. Grade: C.

Defensive backs: The group is OK, but only if LCB Duane Starks is completely healthy after missing last year with a knee injury. David Macklin replaces David Barrett at the other corner, which seems to be about an even swap, while Renaldo Hill is the nickel corner. SS Adrian Wilson goes into his contract year playing well in the preseason and with strong backing from Green as a potential major talent -- the same label Wilson has had since he was drafted. With Dexter Jackson's lingering back injury, Green is looking hard at Quentin Harris or Ifeanyi Ohalete as the starter at free safety. Grade: C.

Special teams: This group might improve. PK Neil Rackers isn't bad and is great at onside kicks. Green tried to replace P Scott Player until he realized he could find no one better. Scobey is good at kickoff returns, while Williams will have to do as the punt returner. Grade: C.

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