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SteelCrazy
05-30-2010, 10:17 AM
Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt made clear their desire to model the franchise after the Steelers and replicate the long-term stability Pittsburgh has vividly established.

Their arrival at Super Bowl XLIII, to face those very Steelers, was trumpeted as success in that quest.

But now is the time when they will really be put to the test.

Since Bill Cowher took the reins in 1992 and free agency was instituted the next year, the hallmark of Pittsburgh’s consistency was its ability to adapt as veterans bolted for big contracts elsewhere. And so it is now in the desert that Graves, Whisenhunt & Co. will lean on the program they’ve incorporated to ride things out after an offseason of serious attrition.

“That’s the most critical aspect to where we are. I mean, we didn’t let Kurt [Warner] go — I’m still looking for some pictures of him to try and blackmail him into coming back to the team,’’ Whisenhunt joked. “But we did make some tough decisions with [Anquan] Boldin, [Karlos] Dansby, and [Antrel] Rolle.

“It really is about trusting what you’re doing and drafting well, and making good decisions. That’s the key, and that’s what Pittsburgh did all those years. Yeah, they let guys like Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson and Joey Porter and Levon Kirkland go, but the important thing was they had other guys there that had learned from those guys.’’

It’s impossible to start here without mentioning how remarkable the transformation in Arizona has been.

Last year, the Cardinals became just the second Super Bowl runner-up in a decade to return to the playoffs the following year. They also became just the third repeat division champion in franchise history, the first since the mid-1970s.

Clearly, something has gone right since Whisenhunt was hired to flip the fortunes of a sad-sack operation in 2007. But a lot more will have to break in the Cardinals’ favor to keep the good feeling going in 2010.

And it starts, as do so many things in the NFL, at quarterback. While Matt Leinart was criticized roundly — and rightfully so — for his approach after losing his job in 2008, the Cardinals saw the 2006 first-round pick turn corners with his work ethic prior to last season. It wasn’t so evident, of course, with Warner starting, and the Cardinals did bring in Derek Anderson to compete with him, but Arizona at least sees growth in Leinart.

“I’m excited to see Matt Leinart play,’’ Whisenhunt said. “During one of our practices, he was speaking with me on a read, and came back after he missed it and was upset with himself. He said, ‘I know I should’ve gone there.’ He said how he talked to Kurt, and that in press coverage, he had to go to the other side. To me, that was a sign of tremendous growth.

“I think the 2008 season was a wakeup call for him. He had to compete with Kurt, and Kurt beat him out and we went to the Super Bowl. I think now, having watched that, he understands the level to which he has to work, not just in the weight room, but in the classroom and film room.’’

Warner’s void will also be felt in leadership and that, in part, is why Alan Faneca, who was with Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh for six years, was brought in, even if he’s not the guard he once was.

“The way he goes about his business,’’ the coach says, “solidifies what we’re doing in our program.’’

Meanwhile, the hope is that young leaders like Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Reggie Wells become more vocal on the offensive side. On the defensive side, replacing Dansby and Rolle was done in pieces, with the Cardinals trading up to draft Daryl Washington in the second round and dealing for veteran Kerry Rhodes earlier in the offseason, and they brought in Porter to spread the message.

Porter isn’t perceived by most to be a leader type, but having been with the Steelers, he’s well aware of the foundation on which Whisenhunt has built his program, just as Faneca is.

“You talk about chemistry here,’’ said Whisenhunt. “Those guys will be team-first and work hard, and that goes a long way to make everyone understand what we’re about.’’

While the goals remain similar, the route the Cardinals choose to take could be different in 2010.

Arizona has thrown the ball a league-high 1,224 times over the last two years, and with Warner and Boldin gone, and 2009 first-round pick Beanie Wells entrenched at tailback, that figures to change.

“We did have the intent to be run-first when we got here, but we had tremendous talent at quarterback and receiver, so give the staff credit for adjusting,’’ Whisenhunt said. “But right now, we’re in much better position to run the ball than we ever have been.’’

Defensively, the team added Porter, Rhodes, Washington, and first-rounder Dan Williams, and has rising young stars (like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and established vets (like Adrian Wilson) returning, but will have to replace the playmaking of Dansby and Rolle.

Overall, the hope is that Arizona has built something sturdy enough to sustain all the comings and goings. That quality is what Whisenhunt most admired in Pittsburgh.

“People ask, ‘Are you worried because you lost these players?’ Well, of course you’re concerned, losing guys like Kurt and Anquan and the defensive guys,’’ Whisenhunt said. “But we’re at that point with this program, and you’re going to face it at some point, where young guys have to step up and take bigger roles. And that, to me, is exciting.’’

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slashsteel
05-30-2010, 10:46 AM
Losing Bolden and Warner will cause them to miss the playoffs this year. I think their D has a chance to be better, but that wont make up for not having a franchise QB. They can try copying our teams way of doing things. But there is only one Pittsburgh Steelers ! :tt1 So keep bringing in those ex Steelers, Arizona. At the end of the day 6 to your none. Carry on.

SteelCrazy
05-30-2010, 11:14 AM
Losing Bolden and Warner will cause them to miss the playoffs this year. I think their D has a chance to be better, but that wont make up for not having a franchise QB. They can try copying our teams way of doing things. But there is only one Pittsburgh Steelers ! :tt1 So keep bringing in those ex Steelers, Arizona. At the end of the day 6 to your none. Carry on.

Yea, losing Warner is a big hit. Leinart will never be a post season QB if he can get them to the playoffs. They need to go after someone with ability, if such a QB is out there. Bulger, maybe...They go 7-9 or worse with Leinart