Don't underestimate Cardinals, even without Warner

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- When you look at the volatility on the Cardinals' roster it almost looks like a rebuilding project. When a team has won two consecutive division titles (with a near-victory in Super Bowl XLIII), however, it should be reloading -- not rebuilding.

There will be at least seven new starters this year, and one could make the case that this team has gone backwards, not forwards, since the end of last season.

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The Cardinals gave up 90 points in two postseason games, and changes on defense -- especially in the pass rush department -- had to take place. The retirement of QB Kurt Warner was inevitable, and the Cardinals started emphasizing the run over the pass a year ago with the emergence of Beanie Wells. They look ready to continue the transition.

Do not underestimate coach Ken Whisenhunt as a guy with a vision of how to make this transformation work in 2010.

OBSERVATION DECK

» The Cardinals have more position battles than most teams, which means the preseason isn't just a time to rehearse, but a time to decide upwards of nine head-to-head competitions for a starting job.

» Arizona made too many mental errors to count in its first preseason game, although veteran safety Adrian Wilson thought it was about 40. Whisenhunt called the performance a joke. The players I talked with were cool with the criticism and plan on fixing the issues this week.

After watching the coach's tape of the game, many of the problems appeared to be up front with the offensive line. Keep your eye on the front five if you want to see if the Cardinals are improving.

ROOKIE REPORT

» First-round DT Dan Williams really gets some push up front and, according to Whisenhunt, can pursue plays from sideline to sideline. He may earn the opportunity to play the nose on run downs so Bryan Robinson is fresh for the pass rush.

» Daryl Washington, a second-round LB, kicked off his NFL career with 13 tackles in his first preseason game. Whisenhunt is pleased with him, but cautions that his tackling has to be better.

» Andre Roberts, a third-round wide receiver, is struggling right now and probably has been passed by undrafted rookie Stephen Williams.

» John Skelton, a fifth-round quarterback, has a long way to go, but according to general manager Rod Graves, he has shined in practice and during the first preseason game. He's a guy worth developing over the next few years.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

» The Cardinals aren't handing anything to Wells. Tim Hightower is still the No. 1 running back, and Whisenhunt said that while Wells is working hard to earn starting status, he isn't there yet.

» The Cardinals will not change their game plans or play-calling with Kurt Warner retired. Whisenhunt said Leinart has been here for four years, and he will do all the same things.

» Speaking of Leinart, the defense is showing no mercy on him in practice, blitzing just about every play in the team period. Leinart says it makes him sharp, and I agree.

» A number of people thought Ben Patrick would be the starting tight end, but right now Stephen Spach looks like he may win the starting job.

» Perhaps the best two candidates for right guard and right tackle are on the sideline because of weight issues. Hopefully Deuce Lutui and Herman Johnson get their weight under control and strengthen this Cardinals line.

"If they get in shape, they get a chance to play," Whisenhunt said.

SAY WHAT?

"I am very comfortable with this offense, and I expect to run all the things Kurt ran last year."
-- Leinart

"We have all moved on from Kurt Warner and really only think about how we can help Matt Leinart win games this year."
-- Steve Breaston

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EXTRA POINTS

» Don't be surprised if the Cardinals' front three on defense (Calais Campbell, Bryan Robinson and Darnell Dockett) produce close to 20 sacks this year.

» The Cardinals looked pretty good in "22 personnel" (two running backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver). Larry Fitzgerald will still draw double coverage, and that leaves the Cardinals running game in very good shape. With Alan Faneca at left guard, we could see a lot of power runs to the right side as Faneca pulls to that side as a lead blocker.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Cardinals haven't forgotten their two loses to the 49ers last year, and they've heard all the offseason talk about San Francisco being the team to beat in the NFC West this year. Arizona is motivated, and many players were quick to remind me that it won the division last year. Don't count out the Cardinals under Whisenhunt's direction. I leave camp thinking this is a mentally tough team that will battle until the final week of the season. Right now I would think they're a 9-7 team, but they must win the critical division games because I don't believe two playoff teams are coming out of the NFC West.