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NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - INSIDE SLANT
Cardinals need to get better on offensive line
The Arizona Cardinals had the best record (10-6) of any team not in the playoffs and face the challenge of playing in the NFL's toughest division: the NFC West.
But they are not spending the offseason whining about their division, or the alleged unfairness of watching lesser teams play in the post-season.
What they are concentrating on, and rightly so, is finding a way to win one or two more games in 2014. One way to do that, coach Bruce Arians said, is to improve at the line of scrimmage.
"I think we made strides in the right direction to lay a foundation to play in the NFC West," he said. "That's to be physical on both lines of scrimmage. Hopefully, we'll get better in both lines of scrimmage nest year."
Defensively, the Cardinals already are good on the line. With starters Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams and backups Alameda Ta'amu and Frostee Rucker, the Cardinals are formidable on that side of the ball.
The real work needs to be done on the offensive line. That's been a continuing theme for the team over the last decade.
The Cardinals have to improve at left tackle. Bradley Sowell started the final 12 games there and did all he could. But the Cardinals need someone more athletic. They are expected to take a run at Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who likely will be a free agent.
If they don't address the position in free agency, they likely will take a left tackle in the first two rounds of the draft.
The return of guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall pick in last year's draft, should help, too. He missed the entire season with a fractured fibula.
Center Lyle Sendlein returns, and Daryn Colledge, who played left guard this year, could move to right guard next year.
Right tackle Eric Winston is an unrestricted free agent, so it's questionable if he will return.
So there could easily be three new starters on the offensive line next year, possibly four. Playing against tough defensive fronts such as those of Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis, that group needs to come together quickly.
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - NOTES, QUOTES
--When Denver coach John Fox and former Texans coach Gary Kubiak suffered medical problems last season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the stress of the job can take a toll on coaches. One way to help, he said, was to exercise.
Turns out, that's easier said than done. Over the last two seasons, Arians has gained 33 pounds, he told The Arizona Republic's Dan Bickley.
"Those 30 minutes? I kept finding a way to use them on the job," he said.
One of Arians' goals this offseason is to shed the weight.
--Arians anticipates keeping his staff intact, although that is dependent upon coordinator Todd Bowles. Bowles interviewed for the Vikings and Browns head coaching jobs.
--Defensive end Darnell Dockett likes what the Cardinals established in 2013: a work ethic that should serve them well in the future.
"I have been in this organization for 10 years and this is a great group of guys," he said. "I can't speak on a lot of the other years. Everybody wants to win and everybody is willing to do whatever they have to do to win. Guys come in the locker room on time. We meet late. Guys play hurt. Like BA (Arians) says, this is the beginning, this is the first year."
--Arians thinks there will be considerable development by the Cardinals in the second year.
"Year two, you are watching yourself do it on tape instead of watching the Colts or the Steelers," he said. "It's a whole lot easier to transform that onto the practice field."
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:
--CB Javier Arenas.
--SS Yeremiah Bell.
--CB Antoine Cason.
--ILB Karlos Dansby.
--TE Jim Dray.
--K Jay Feely.
--C/G Mike Gibson.
--TE Jeff King.
--CB Bryan McCann.
--RB Rashard Mendenhall.
--WR Andre Roberts.
--DE Frostee Rucker.
--OLB Matt Shaughnessy.
--TE Kory Sperry.
--RT Eric Winston.
--P Dave Zastudil.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Carson Palmer. Backups -- Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley.
Palmer was much better in the second half of the season than the first. He struggled in the offensive system early, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in the first eight games. Needs to improve that ratio (24-22) next year. Stanton and Lindley did not play. Stanton should return and Lindley's future will depend upon what the team does in free agency.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Rashard Mendenhall. Backups -- Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Alfonso Smith, Ryan Williams.
Mendenhall struggled through knee and toe injuries and was inconsistent. Ellington was a revelation. He is more than a third-down back. Although small, (5-foot-9, 199), he's tough and knows how to avoid taking big hits. Taylor should continue to improve. Smith is a journeyman who might not be back. Williams was healthy all year, but inactive for every game. He has a year left on his contract, but it's doubtful he will return.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Rob Housler, Jim Dray. Backups -- Jake Ballard, Kory Sperry. Injured reserve -- Jeff King.
Dray's a smart, reliable player but doesn't have great athletic skill. Housler does but he dropped too many passes and isn't a good blocker. Ballard was picked up at mid-season and should contribute in 2014. Sperry is a journeyman. King might not return this year.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd. Backups -- Andre Roberts, Jaron Brown, Brittan Golden. Injured reserve -- LaRon Byrd, Javone Lawson, Teddy Williams.
Fitzgerald finished with fewer than 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year but he scored 10 touchdowns, six more than in 2012. He hasn't lost anything. Floyd had a breakout season and improved greatly. Palmer began to trust him on deep passes, and Floyd came through. He played through a painful shoulder injury over the last month. As the Cardinals went to more two- and three-tight end sets, Roberts' playing time dropped. He's a free agent and likely gone. A rookie free agent, Brown showed some ability in limited time. Golden, Lawson and Williams are very fast and will be given a chance to fill the role of a deep threat.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Bradley Sowell LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Paul Fanaika, RT Eric Winston. Backups -- C/G Mike Gibson, T Bobby Massie, G/T Nate Potter, G Earl Watford. Injured reserve -- G Jonathan Cooper.
The unit played much better over the second half of the season as they grew comfortable with each other and as coaches found out what the players could and couldn't do. Sowell is scrappy at left tackle, but coaches often had to give him help. Fanaika started after the injury to Cooper and likely will be a backup in 2013. Sendlein had another solid season. Winston was average and the team might try a cheaper alternative there in 2014. Colledge was decent but he might be asked to take a pay cut this offseason. Massie was a disappointment because he couldn't beat out Winston. He has all the tools to be a good right tackle. Potter didn't improve much this season, and Watford appears to be a ways away from contributing. Cooper will start at left guard next year with Colledge perhaps flipping to the right side.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams, DRE Calais Campbell. Backups -- NT Alameda Ta'amu, DE Frostee Rucker, DE Ronald Talley. Injured reserve -- Everrette Thompson.
The entire front played well in 2013. Campbell enjoyed another elite season. His run defense has improved and he's a menace in passing situations. Dockett had his best season in several years. He started slowly, but blossomed in coordinator Todd Bowles' one-gap scheme. Ta'amu, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh, was so good that he took time away from Williams. Ta'amu is very powerful and a big reason the team ranked first against the run. Rucker is a solid backup and Talley hardly played, partly because of a wrist injury.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB John Abraham, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Daryl Washington, SLB Matt Shaughnessy. Backups -- OLB Marcus Benard, ILB Jasper Brinkley, ILB Kevin Minter, OLB Dontay Moch. Injured reserve -- OLB Sam Acho, OLB Lorenzo Alexander, OLB Alex Okafor.
Dansby and Washington were among the better tandems in the NFL. Dansby deserved defensive player of the year consideration. Shaughnessy is steady and tough, while Abraham (11.5 sacks) proved he has plenty left at age 35. Acho and Alexander started the first three games before going down with injuries. Minter couldn't get on the field, playing behind Dansby and Washington. Overall, this is a very smart group, with Dansby and Washington having rare skills.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Patrick Peterson, CB Jerraud Powers, FS Rashad Johnson, SS Yeremiah Bell. Backups -- S Curtis Taylor, S Tony Jefferson, CB Javier Arenas, CB Antoine Cason, CB Justin Bethel, CB Bryann McCann. Injured reserve -- S Tyrann Mathieu.
Peterson covered the best receiver every week. He's an elite player, but he can improve. Powers is smart and physical, but teams tended to pick on him. Johnson lost his job to Mathieu midway through the season. Mathieu is instinctive and makes a lot of plays. Johnson is smart and does a nice job of getting teammates lined up correctly. Cason didn't get to play much. Neither did Arenas and both could depart via free agency.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil, KOR Javier Arenas, PR Patrick Peterson, LS Mike Leach
Feely made 30 of 36 field goals but he missed some crucial ones. His kickoffs are neither high nor deep. He's a free agent so the team might look elsewhere. Zastudil was reliable and adept at downing punts inside the 20. Arenas averaged only 21.4 yards a return and often made bad decisions in returning kicks from in the end zone. Peterson's punt return average (six yards) fell for the second consecutive season. Leach is as reliable as they come.