Cards under new leadership with Arians as coach
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals underwent a massive overhaul during the offseason.
After falling apart in 2012, they needed one.
Coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, the Cardinals replaced their general manager, coach, quarterback and brought in a slew of new players.
Arizona opened the 2012 season 4-0, then lost 11 of its final 12 games, leading to the firing of coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves.
With former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians calling the plays and Steve Keim calling the front-office shots, the Cardinals are hoping for a quick turnaround.
As the Cardinals head into their first training camp under Arians and Keim, here’s five things to look for:
1. NEW LEADERSHIP: Whisenhunt was popular with the players and the fans, and led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance in 2009. But after consecutive 5-11 seasons and last year’s epic collapse, he, along with Graves, took the fall. Arians and Keim have added a level of excitement around the team that’s been missing. A longtime assistant, the 60-year-old Arians went 9-3 at the Colts’ interim coach while Chuck Pagano underwent leukemia treatment. Keim, who had been with the Cardinals since 1999, was Arizona’s vice president for player personnel and orchestrated the revamping of the roster.
2. PALMER UNDER CENTER: The Cardinals have been searching for a top-level quarterback since Kurt Warner retired and hope Carson Palmer is the answer. Appearing to be headed toward retirement, he was instead traded from Cincinnati to Oakland two years ago. Palmer became the second Oakland quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards last season and was traded to the Cardinals. He immediately was named the starter and should be an upgrade from the revolving door of four quarterbacks who struggled for the Cardinals last season.
3. HONEY BADGER: After taking safe picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, the Cardinals took a gamble by using their third-round pick on LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. Known as the Honey Badger, he was one of college football’s most dynamic players in 2011, when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Mathieu nearly spoiled his chance at playing in the NFL last year, when he was kicked off the team by LSU coach Les Miles for failing repeated drug tests and later was arrested on marijuana charges. He worked hard on his image, with help of former LSU teammate and Arizona Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, and could be the steal of the draft if he keeps out of trouble.
4. ON THE LINE: One reason Arizona’s quarterbacks struggled so much last season was because they spent a great deal of their time running for their lives. Arizona’s offensive line gave up a league-high 58 sacks and struggled with run blocking as well, leaving the Cardinals with the NFL’s worst offense in total yards. Arizona should be better this season with the return of left tackle Levi Brown, who missed last season with a torn right triceps, and the addition of guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall draft pick out of North Carolina. Cooper will start on the left side and Daryn Colledge will move to the right.
5. FITZ IS THE MAN: Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the NFL’s best and hardest-working receivers during his 10-year career, but labored last season as teams zeroed in on him and Arizona’s quarterbacks struggled. Under Arians’ pass-first offense, Fitzgerald will play all three receiver positions, which should make it harder for teams to double team him. A tireless worker, he also dedicated himself to being better after what he called the worst season of his career and has spent the offseason working on his timing with Palmer.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org