NFL Season Preview: Arizona Cardinals Experience a Total Makeover
Following a depressing 5-11 season, which saw the Cards begin 4-0, then proceed to lose nine straight, and 10 of their final 11 games, the Bidwills knew that massive changes were necessary. The first of the changes was to fire head coach Ken Whisenhunt and replace him with Indianapolis Colts‘ offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians. The Cardinals’ defense, the lone bright spot on the team, nudged out its defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, following a dispute in the interviewing process. Horton was seeking the head coaching role. The Bidwills had other ideas. Even the Cards’ general manager Rod Graves was ousted. The only pieces that remained after the dust settled where recent draft picks and the team’s three star players: Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett and Patrick Peterson.
Arizona’s leading passer, Kevin Kolb (1,169 yards) spent most of the season nursing a variety of injuries. Arians immediately went out to work on acquiring former Raiders and Bengals QB Carson Palmer. Rashard Mendenhall was signed, as he had become a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team also drafted and signed a host of undrafted rookie wide receivers, in hopes of complimenting all-world Larry Fitzgerald and a new quarterback and running game. The Cards’ offensive line was one of the worst in recent NFL history, so bolstering the line was one of the main foci this offseason. Arizona drafted Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) 7th overall, and Earl Watford (Old Dominion)116th overall to help address the sieve that was the offensive line.
Protection issues were a major issue (and were the direct cause of many of Kolb’s injuries over the past two seasons), but also the inability to get a running game kick started. With these new pieces in place, the Cardinals hope to begin to exploit the talents of Fitzgerald, which have largely gone untapped since the retirement of Kurt Warner, mostly due to the extremely sub-par play of quarterbacks such as Ryan Lindley and John Skelton.
Defensively, the Cardinals have pieces with Darnell Dockett anchoring the defensive line, while studs like Daryl Washington and the re-acquired Karlos Dansby lead a host of freshly drafted potential such as Kevin Minter (LSU) 45th overall at the linebacker level. Tyrann Mathieu’s checkered past wasn’t enough to scare off the Cards from his ability, as they drafted him out of LSU 69th overall (with no guaranteed money) to pair him with his pseudo-mentor and former LSU teammate, Patrick Peterson. Arizona already featured a pretty healthy defense, and one that figures to only get better with an infusion of youth and a fresh philosophy with new defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles.
The hope is that with massive overhaul, fresh coaching and new players, the climate in Arizona will go from lukewarm, to the heat that Arizona is known for weather-wise – and have it translate to the field.