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Cardinals cut TE Pope and S Francisco, keep seven wide receivers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former starting tight end Leonard Pope and four-year safety Aaron Francisco were among 21 players cut Friday by the Arizona Cardinals, who reached the NFL's 53-man roster limit.

Pope, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2006, played in 42 games and started 25 in three seasons with the Cardinals. He has 48 career catches but had just nine in 13 games last season.

Francisco, a standout on special teams, played in 53 games over four seasons after making the team in 2005 as an undrafted free agent out of BYU.

"Two in particular that have made significant contributions to our football squad," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Pope and Francisco. "It's tough to part ways with that, but, in any situation, you have to make those decisions. I thank both Leonard and Aaron for what they've done for me and for this program, and I wish them the best, but that's unfortunately is what this business is about."

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The Cardinals cut injured tackle Keilen Dykes (quadriceps), leaving them thin on the defensive line.

"That's where it was a tough decision because usually we carry an extra one there," Whisenhunt said. "That was something that we looked long and hard at."

Whisenhunt noted that nose tackle Alan Branch played some at end in Thursday night's 19-0 preseason loss at Denver "and did pretty well there."

"He gives us a little bit more flexibility of a guy that can play inside or outside," the coach said.

Tim Castille, who played in 13 games for Arizona last season, and Reagan Maui'a also were among those released, leaving nine-year NFL veteran Dan Kreider as the only fullback on the roster.

Undrafted rookie Reggie Walker, an inside linebacker out of Kansas State, made the team after impressing coaches in the preseason games.

Five-foot-7 LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh-round draft pick, is one of four running backs on the roster.

The pass-crazy Cardinals kept seven wide receivers, including Lance Long, a member of Arizona's 2008 practice squad who caught just 14 passes in his senior season at Mississippi State. Whisenhunt said the injury to Early Doucet, out with fractured ribs, figured in the decision.

"With Early in his situation and not being sure about when he'll be able to play," Whisenhunt said, "it made that decision critical."

The release of Pope left the Cardinals with three tight ends: Stephen Spach, Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd. A fourth tight end, Ben Patrick, is suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Other players cut include quarterback Tyler Palko, cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, linebacker Victor Hobson, wide receiver Onrea Jones, center Melvin Fowler and offensive tackle Oliver Ross.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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