Aug 10, 2010
This weekend on Sirius XM Fantasy Football, fellow senior writer Matt Camp and I were inundated with calls (which we love), so we really did not have much time for the guests that have populated the show in recent weeks. Still, we had space for our pal Kent Somers, who joined us to talk some Cardinals, and how the 2008 NFC Champs are moving on without future HOF QB Kurt Warner.
Kent covers the Cards for the Arizona Republic (@kentsomers on Twitter):
Of course, we knew that the Cardinals would be suffering a downgrade at QB without Warner, no matter who took the job. Right now, it’s apparent that Matt Leinart has done nothing to lose the job that was assumed his in the first place. Leinart has had some shaky practices according to Somers, but Somers admits Leinart may just look “bad” because Warner has been the model of consistency over the last few years. While up and down, Leinart has had some good days recently, and that’s more than can be said for veteran Derek Anderson, who was brought in to back up (and maybe push) Leinart. Anderson has more pure physical ability than Leinart, but his inaccuracy has to be maddening to a team that has watched Warner for a few seasons.
Though Leinart and Anderson are entrenched as the #1 and #2 RBs on this squad, their relatively unimpressive resumes mean that the QB job could be open in the near future. We loved the addition of Fordham QB John Skelton in the NFL Draft, but while Skelton’s pure physical attributes have shone through, he’s definitely looked like a rookie and needs a lot of work. In fact, Somers contended that undrafted free agent Max Hall of BYU has actually looked better than Skelton; Hall is more polished, but he’s not as talented, so it’s certainly possible the Cards keep all four QBs on their roster this year. Given Skelton’s awesome potential and Hall’s impressive camp showing, there’s good reason to doubt either player would last a while on the practice squad, so the Cardinals may have no choice but to keep both.
That brings us to the running game, where Somers believes Tim Hightower will be the starter once again, though he expects Beanie Wells to get the majority of the touches (Somers contended 18 of 25 touches would go to Wells, or 72%). Though Wells has elite ability, it’s obvious Hightower is going nowhere. The team loves his versatility and his “dirty work” (blocking, catching), and he should remain a strong presence. But Wells gives them a powerful home run threat they’ve lacked since Ottis Anderson was in town decades ago. Additionally, Somers assured us that the Cards believe Wells can be a completely adequate pass catcher. Somers believes the division will be much like coach Ken Whisenhunt employed with Willie Parker (Wells) and Jerome Bettis (Hightower) in Pittsburgh in 2006, which was effective enough to carry the Steelers to a championship.
The wildcard here could be second-year back LaRod Stephens-Howling, whom the team envisions filling the “3rd-and-long” role, much like JJ Arrington played in the Cards’ Super Bowl season. Hightower figures to see the 3rd-and-short touches, on which the Cards can run or pass, but in obvious passing downs, don’t be shocked to see them go with the shifty and elusive Stephens-Howling, who also figures to contribute in the return game.
In the passing game, the Cards have to replace veteran Anquan Boldin, who has been Larry Fitzgerald’s right-hand man for the entirely of Fitz’s career. Still, Somers implores us to remember that Steve Breaston filled in more than adequately when the injury-prone Boldin has missed games in the past, and the Cards truly believe in Breaston. In single coverage, which Breaston saw a lot with Fitzgerald on the other side of the field, he had a lot of success, and Warner trusted him. The Cards are also thrilled in the development of slot receiver Early Doucet, who had a big postseason and has continued his momentum throughout the off-season. Where Somers contends the loss of Boldin is felt the most is in the overall depth of the receiving corps, which has rookie Andre Roberts and a handful of no-names and camp bodies behind the top three guys. An injury could really limit the explosiveness of this offense, which may lack burst anyway.
Still, despite the loss of Boldin, don’t expect the Cards to involve the TE any more in their pass game. Even this off-season, with Leinart checking down more than Warner ever did, no TE has separated himself according to Somers. Ben Patrick is definitely the best all-around TE on the team, but he’s been inconsistent, and he’s dealing with a kneecap injury in camp. He figures to have most of his value near the goal line. Stephen Spach has never asserted himself, and while Anthony Becht will play, he’s almost exclusively a blocker. Whisenhunt has used TEs like Heath Miller effectively in the past, so the lack of involvement is probably more a function of the players than the scheme.