Kolb's arrival boosts Arizona in weak NFL West
What a difference a quarterback can make.
The arrival of Kevin Kolb has the Arizona Cardinals talking NFC West title one year after a miserable 5-11 season left them in the basement of the NFL's weakest division. The mood shift has been palpable throughout the team.
''If we had somebody else last year who could run that offense a little better and get some first downs here and there, maybe the defense is better,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said. ''Everything ties in with that trigger man, when you get a man that can come in - when you have a bad game or the team has a bad game - he can make a play for you and win a game for you. He's that type of guy.''
The Cardinals sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick to Philadelphia to acquire Kolb, then signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed. The pressure to turn around the franchise that won two NFC West titles and made it to the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner at the controls rests on the shoulders of a quarterback with just seven career starts.
''That comes with that position,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ''Like it or not, that's what that position is all about. He comes in here with a lot of speculation about that position and where he is and he's handled it beautifully. That's one of the things I like about him.''
Kolb wanted Arizona as badly as Arizona wanted him.
''I told my wife this. I don't want to be anywhere else. I want to retire here,'' he said. ''This is the place I want to be for a long time, so I want to make sure I do all I can to make those hopes and dreams come true.''
Kolb has quickly learned that throwing to Larry Fitzgerald is a good idea, whether he's open or not.
Fitzgerald, with a new contract that could pay him $120 million over eight seasons, with nearly $50 million guaranteed, has been spectacular in the few weeks he's had to work with his new quarterback.
''I'm just going to try to build his confidence up,'' Fitzgerald said, ''let him know that I'm going to try to make every play.''
With the departure of Steve Breaston to Kansas City via free agency, youngsters Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are the other wide receivers, but the Cardinals landed tight end Todd Heap, along with Jeff King, to greatly bolster that position.
''I don't know about the favorite thing,'' Whisenhunt said. ''I think that we're a 5-11 team that was last in our division. We're trying to improve and get better. It was important to address the quarterback position and we feel like we did. That's an important position, but we've got a lot of things on this team that have got to come together.''
The offensive line remains a question mark, with the lone change the arrival of Daryn Colledge from Green Bay to replace the retired Alan Fanaca at left guard.
Guard Deuce Lutui, who lost millions of dollars when he failed a physical with Cincinnati, returns and once he gets into shape probably will get his job back at right guard. Lyle Sendlein returns at center, with Levi Brown at left tackle and Brandon Keith at right tackle.
Their performance will determine whether Beanie Wells, slowed by a knee injury last year, will finally have that breakthrough seasons so many have expected. The Cardinals will try to use slippery but small LaRod Stephens-Howling more in the offense but had counted on rookie Ryan Williams to back up Wells in the traditional running back role. Williams, though, is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee.
Then there's the defense, which ranked 29th overall a year ago. There were a few personnel changes, the addition inside linebacker Stewart Bradley and defensive end Vonnie Holliday, and first-round draft pick Patrick Peterson eventually could fill the void left by Rodgers-Cromartie's departure at cornerback.
But mostly it's the same personnel, with a pair of 34-year-olds - Joey Porter and Clark Haggans - holding down the outside linebacker positions while the Cardinals try to develop second-year pro O'Brien Schofield and rookie Sam Acho at the position.
Expect more and unpredictable blitzes from Ray Horton, the third defensive coordinator in Whisenhunt's five seasons, who has installed the Pittsburgh Steelers' scheme. He believes the front three of Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams and Calais Campbell is the defense's strength.
Safety Adrian Wilson, trying to avoid surgery, has sat out the entire training camp with a torn right biceps tendon.
Whisenhunt had a humbling experience in 2010. He thought the franchise had moved past those days of ineptitude.
''It was very difficult, just because of the standards that we set,'' he said. ''I felt like we let our fans down.''