Do you remember that last second comeback
victory in the final week of the season against Minnesota, which eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs? Well, that one play along with rookie
sensation Anquan Boldin were perhaps the only two highlights in the desert last year. New head coach Dennis Green will certainly have his work cut out
for him to turn around a franchise that has compiled just 25 wins over the last 5 years. The Cardinals finished last season as the worst offensive
unit in points scored - averaging just 14.4 per game. Arizona will head into 2004 with third-year (QB) Josh McCowan leading an offense with a ton of
potential, but little experience. McCowan (having just 3 NFL starts) will again lineup along side offensive rookie of the year (WR) Anquan Boldin,
second-year (WR) Bryant Johnson, first-round pick (WR) Larry Fitzgerald, & (RB) Marcel Shipp.
However, serious pre-season injuries to Boldin and Shipp have cost the Cardinals big time. If Dennis Green can pull this one off, his coaching legacy
will be secure. The 54-year-old head coach, who led the Minnesota Vikings to eight playoff appearances between 1992 and 2000, was hired in January to
resurrect the Arizona Cardinals, also known as the NFL's most dismal franchise.
Last Playoff Appearance:
January 10, 1999 - a 41-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Playoffs.
September 12 - at St. Louis, September 19 - at New England, October 10 - at San Francisco, October 24 - Seattle, November 21 -
at Carolina, December 12 - San Francisco, December 19 - St. Louis, December 26 - at Seattle.
Anquan Boldin (WR, 2nd year, 6'1", 218 lbs.), Freddie Jones (TE, 8th year, 6'4", 260 lbs.), Dexter Jackson (S, 6th year, 6'1", 205
lbs.), Freddie Jones (TE, 8th year, 6'4", 260 lbs.).
Bertrand Berry (DE, 7th year, 6'3", 250 lbs.), Shaun King (QB, 6th year, 6'1", 215 lbs.) Troy Hambrick (RB, 5th year, 6'1",
Jeff Blake (QB, 13th year, 6'1", 223 lbs.), Pete Kendall (G, 9th year, 6'5", 286 lbs.)
Emmitt Smith (RB, 15th year, 5'10", 221 lbs.), Josh McCown (QB, 3rd year, 6'4", 212 lbs.), Bryant Johnson (WR, 2nd year,
6'2", 214 lbs.).
What seemed like an obvious weakness going into the off-season, now appears to be a stronger part of the team thanks to the confidence Dennis Green
has instilled into starter Josh McCown. Known for his clutch performance eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs, McCown has proved to many that he
has the uncanny ability to carry a team by himself and win. But McCown didn't just have one good game before being announced the starter. During his
last 4 starts, Josh averaged a 86.6 QB rating, which ranked 10th among NFL starting Quarterbacks. Arizona really needs McCown and the passing game to
be successful with Marcel Shipp going down this season. Shaun King was signed in the off-season to provide depth and hold a clipboard, but King
believes that he has done enough of that during his five previous seasons at Tampa Bay and wants to compete for a starting job. John Navarre, drafted
in the seventh round, is a project out of the University of Michigan, which has yielded late-round quarterbacks that have gone on to be successful in
Due to the injury of Marcel Shipp, this position
looks to be potentially disastrous for the Cardinals this season. Emmitt Smith has become the definite starter on the team, no questions asked. The 35
year old Smith is well past his prime, as his yards-per-carry has consistently gone down the past five seasons from 4.2 in 1999, to 2.3 in 2003.
Battling injuries throughout the season, Smith missed plenty of action last year and never really got comfortable in the backfield. Green hopes that
he can get the most out of Emmitt, who may not have much left in the tank, if anything. With two first-round picks invested in this position the last
two years, this has to be one of the strongest positions on the team. Arizona used the third-overall pick in the draft to select former Vikings ball
boy (and Dennis Green favorite) Larry Fitzgerald, whom Green coveted draft day. Fitzgerald will immediately occupy a starting role and will form a
dangerous tandem with Offensive Rookie of the Year Anquan Boldin. Boldin put up extraordinary numbers in his rookie campaign, breaking the rookie
reception record and had the highest yardage total by a rookie in 43 years. His 101 receptions and 1377 yards ranked third among NFL wide receivers
and he gave the Cardinals a downfield target that is extremely dangerous after the catch. Last year's No. 1 pick Bryant Johnson will be lined up in
the slot this season and should see plenty of balls come his way as Green plans on using many three-receiver sets this year. This group of receivers
will need to mature quickly if Arizona wants to be competitive this season as their running game won't scare anyone, allowing defenders to sag back
into the secondary.
Green has talked about leading the Cardinals to the playoffs this year, which is not out of the question in the relatively weak NFC West but would
require career efforts from a large number of the team's many, many fringe players. The receiving and linebacking corps are the only known quantities,
and the backfield and secondary could be credits to the cause if everyone remains healthy. But the ever-important lines both appear slight, and even
with the parity of the present-day NFL, few teams make the playoffs without a wealth of standouts in the trenches. Green has proved the pundits wrong
before, but his rookie year in Arizona has the look of a six- or seven- win affair, at best.