Convenience trumps accuracy when it comes to NFL head coaches finding ways to motivate their players. There's been a general feeling this offseason that the San Francisco 49ers are in position to overtake the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, with long-retired 49ers running back Roger Craig even saying his old team might "annihilate" the rest of the division.
Craig hasn't played for the 49ers since 1990, but the term "annihilate" came up this week when XTRA910 radio in Phoenix asked Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt about those pro-49ers perceptions. What does Whisenhunt think about that type of talk?
"It's really hard for me to say a lot because they beat us twice last year," Whisenhunt told XTRA. "It's a very frustrating thing because, you know, we didn't play well in either of those games -- not well enough. That is great. They can talk. I welcome the challenge. This is our fourth year together as a group and nobody has given us a chance, to be perfectly honest, in any one of those years. There has been a lot of talk about maybe this is the Cardinals' year when we first got here, but nobody really said they are ever going to win the division. That is not any different. I am OK with that because I like the way our team reacts to that situation."
The Cardinals were the most popular choice to win the division last season, for sure. No one associated with the current 49ers team has, to my knowledge, said the 49ers would "annihilate" the Cardinals in 2010. There's been some chatter between Darnell Dockett and Vernon Davis, but few bold proclamations from others. None of that matters, of course. The underdog angle is there and it's convenient. Any good coach would seize it.
Also in this interview, Whisenhunt expressed respect for Dockett, reiterated his confidence in Matt Leinart and said he wants Deuce Lutui to be in the "lower 340s" weight-wise, same as he was last season. Lutui recently reported to the team at 396 pounds and Whisenhunt was not happy.
"When Deuce came in and signed his contract, that was one of the things we talked about," Whisenhunt told XTRA910. "You guys know me pretty well and I have very little tolerance for that. Because, listen, this offseason, we had our guys in there working about as hard as I have ever been around. They are focused because everybody said we don't have a chance, we lost all these players and we can't do it. Our guys have really taken that challenge and worked hard. And it's difficult when you have guys in there busting their tails and one of the players isn't in there and then when he comes in and signs his contract, he's pretty heavy. That is frustrating. The onus is on Deuce."