2006 NFL Preview: The Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback- The Cardinals had fortune on their side in the 2006 NFL Draft, as USC senior quarterback Matt Leinart dropped from a top three pick to Arizona’s lap at the tenth pick in the first round. Leinart, while lacking the potential of Vince Young or Jay Cutler, is polished and has a good head on his shoulders. Dennis Green has a veteran in Kurt Warner who will start out the season as starter and mentor Leinart over the course of the 2006 and 2007 NFL seasons. Leinart does not have to rush, but Cardinals fans and football observers will be clamoring to see if the tenth pick was too high or too low for someone like Leinart. At the third quarterback spot, John Navarre will beat out Rohan Davey and continue his development as a solid backup quarterback.
2006 NFL Grade: B+

Running Back/Full Back- Edgerrin James was the first coup of the Cardinals’ off-season, with the drafting of Leinart the second coup. James was pried away from the Indianapolis Colts with the promise of great stability and lots of money and the versatile back will provide some flash to the Cardinals’ backfield. The Cardinals have had talent at the running back position for a few years, but in 2006 it looks like its going to come together for Dennis Green. James will be supported by veteran fullback James Hodgins and young third down back J.J. Arrington and solid grinder Marcel Shipp. Instead of relying on their corps of solid receivers, they can now work from a position of advantage in 2006 from the backfield. Look for Arrington to be used more as a receiving back to relieve James.
2006 NFL Grade: A-

Wide Receiver/Tight End- After drafting Matt Leinart in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals went after another big target for Kurt Warner and Leinart by taking tight end Leonard Pope. Pope has an impressive body and will develop his receiving game enough in this offseason to become a viable threat in the middle of the field. Pope may benefit from a healthy trio of outstanding receivers, including Larry Fitzgerald, Bryant Johnson, and Anquan Boldin. If these three receivers stay healthy for the entire season, they will give the Cardinals a great chance of getting into the playoffs and will help make plays for whoever is at quarterback.
2006 NFL Grade: A-

Offensive Line- The Cardinals have some concerns at the offensive line, though it has nothing to do with a dearth of talent. Center Alex Stepanovich is looking to prove himself a consistent centerpiece of the Cardinals offensive line for 2006 and beyond, but he is only as good as the pieces around him and he is still young. Leonard Davis is holding down the left tackle spot and should be great as long as he stays on the field. Oliver Ross will start at the other tackle spot in 2006 but the Cardinals are hoping he proves himself adequate at that spot or may look elsewhere.At the guard spots, the Cardinals will put out Reggie Wells and Elton Brown to start in the middle of the line in 2006, but they are still relatively unproven talents heading into the 2006 NFL season. The Cardinals need the offensive line to gel in 2006 but count on at least one injury throwing a wrench in the machine.
2006 NFL Grade: C+

Defensive Line- Much like the receivers, the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive line has a lot of talent but hasn’t been healthy or performing well enough to all stay in the lineup at the same time. While veteran Bertrand Berry performed well last season, the Cardinals need Calvin Pace to step up in 2006 as a book end to Berry. Berry is getting older and slower, which means Pace has to carry his weight or give way to another player. Look for Pace to have a solid year and make enough headway to solidify his position for 2007. In the middle, the Cardinals are pretty well set with Darnell Dockett and Kendrick Clancy in 2006. Running up the middle will be tough with James Darling behind Dockett and Clancy, but look for teams to run outside and hope to get to the second level on the Cardinals in 2006.
2006 NFL Grade: B-

Linebacker- Middle linebacker James Darling will provide an veteran interior presence for the Cardinals in 2006, with outside linebacker Karlos Dansby still developing as a starting linebacker and Orlando Huff trying to step up his game from contributor to full time starter. While the Cardinals linebacker group is not overwhelming, they will be good enough to keep the Cardinals in the middle of the pack in run yards allowed and make a few big plays during the 2006 NFL season.
2006 NFL Grade: B-

Defensive Back- Antrel Rolle and David Macklin will start at cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 NFL season, with Rolle attempting to prove that he has developed from a potential star to a solid player and Macklin hoping to hold down the number two receiver on the opposing team and perhaps benefit from Rolle’s improved coverage. At safety, veterans Adrian Wilson and Robert Griffith will hold down the fort in 2006, giving support to a young defense and attempting to prevent the big plays that kill young teams.
2006 NFL grade- B

Kicker/Punter- The Cardinals are set in the 2006 NFL season at kicker and punter, with outstanding kicker Neil Rackers and veteran punter Scott Player holding down the fort at the specialist positions. Coach Dennis Green has to be thrilled that his team is coming together and unlike a lot of teams with at least one competitive specialist position, he can work on developing his young talent instead of delving too deeply into special teams problems in the 2006 NFL season.
2006 NFL Grade- B+

2006 NFL Projection- The Arizona Cardinals are going to push towards the wild card in the NFC, with a 9-7 record giving Arizona fans something to look forward to after the 2006 NFL seaosn.

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