The Cardinals’ breakup with former coach Ken Whisenhunt was messy.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett refused to back his coach in public comments after an infamous on-field incident against the Jets led to a $200,000 fine and benching. The team’s quarterback situation grew increasingly comical as the 2012 season progressed, and the team lost 11 of its final 12 games — highlighted by an eight-turnover, 58-0 drubbing in Seattle – to miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
In some ways, that was an easy act for new coach Bruce Arians to follow.
“The honeymoon is still going,” Arians said during OTAs recently. “We haven’t played a game yet.”
That will change shortly when the Cards open the preseason against the Packers on Aug. 9 at Lambeau Field, then open the regular season Sept. 8 in St. Louis. For now, there is optimism that a new regime can help the franchise recapture some short-lived magic that existed the last two years of quarterback Kurt Warner’s career. And it’s not just idle talk.
The Cardinals will sport 48 new faces (21 veteran free agents, nine draft picks and 18 rookie free agents) when they officially open training camp Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, including quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Rashard Mendenhall. A total of 25 players are gone from last season’s roster in Arians’ and GM Steve Keim’s attempt to revamp the club for reasons relating to age, performance, health, salary and scheme.
There is a different coaching approach apparent in the hands-on teaching afforded by 22 coaches and the game simulations the club was already seeing in offseason workouts.
“B.A. and the staff he brought in impacted us from Day One,” veteran center Lyle Sendlein said. “From the way we work on the field to how we study and learn more about situation football and become smart players, as well as the high demand for physicality and technique.”
Arians has vowed to maintain his player-friendly style despite his elevation from assistant to head coach. But he’s also made it clear that accountability matters, even installing an accountability board in the locker room that lists the mental errors each player commits each day.
“The thing that you love about him is that he doesn’t treat everybody the same but he treats everybody fairly,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “When I make my mistakes, he lets me have it. He holds guys accountable. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 10-year veteran or an unrestricted free agent. Everybody has to answer.”
Will it matter when the ball is put in play? We’ll soon find out.
There are still significant questions about the revamped offensive line, even with the return of left tackle Levi Brown from injury and the drafting of left guard Jonathan Cooper. There are still those who wonder if Mendendall and third-year back Ryan Williams can stay healthy.
There is legitimate concern over how the Cardinals will manage inside linebacker Daryl Washington’s four-game suspension and lingering legal issues. There are significant worries about the club’s revamped secondary, which no longer includes safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.
There are questions about Palmer’s ability to elevate a franchise at age 33. There are those who wonder how Arians will fare in his first official head coaching gig and Keim in his first GM gig.
Even if all those things go well, there is still the matter of playing in the NFC West, which boasts two legitimate Super Bowl contenders (the 49ers and Seahawks) and an improving Rams club.
“Last year’s results would be enough to drive anybody over the edge, and I just don’t ever want a repeat of what happened last year,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not about talk. It’s not about sound bites. It’s about coming out here and being productive.”