- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' exhibition game Thursday night against the Broncos:
Fitzgerald cares. The Cardinals' first-team offense made little apparent progress following an "embarrassing" effort a week earlier, but receiver Larry Fitzgerald showed the unwavering focus and professionalism that help maximize his talents. He ran after the catch the way he would have in a Super Bowl. Receiver Steve Breaston, meanwhile, couldn't even get lined up properly, drawing two penalties for illegal formations. This is a recurring issue for Breaston and one that gets annoying if you watch enough Cardinals games. He committed three such penalties during the 2008 regular season. Details matter.
Action for Toler. I was a little surprised to read coach Ken Whisenhunt's comments about how the Cardinals' rookie defensive backs, including cornerback Greg Toler, have a long ways to go. Toler competes. He battled hard against Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd, closing hard on the ball to break up a sideline pass. Lloyd did beat Toler for a long completion to the Arizona 1-yard line, but Lloyd used his left arm to push Toler past the play. It was a veteran move and one that worked, but Toler was there all the way. Officials flagged him for illegal contact on a deep pass in the third quarter. The contact was came early in the route as an act of aggressiveness, not panic. Toler was there all the way and nearly picked off the pass.
Updating Long. Receiver Lance Long didn't seem to make an emphatic statement in his quest to earn one of the final spots at receiver. Only Jerheme Urban played more than Long among Arizona receivers in the first half. Long finished the game with one reception for 9 yards. Officials flagged him for holding deep in Cardinals territory and it was a good call.
Playing time. First-half snap counts for the Cardinals' skill players broke down this way: Urban 20, Long 14, Warner 12, Stephen Spach 10, Breaston 10, Fitzgerald 10, Jason Wright 9, Beanie Wells 9, Sean Morey 8, Anthony Becht 7, Dan Kreider 6, Tim Hightower 6, Matt Leinart 6, Tyler Palko 6, Ben Patrick 4, Onrea Jones 4, Reagan Maui'a 2 and Tim Castille 1.
Wells catches naturally. The Cardinals' first-round choice made a reception out of the backfield for 12 yards, gathering the ball naturally and gaining several yards after the catch. It wasn't much to go on, but nothing about Wells seems to stand out as negative or limiting. We haven't seen enough to know for sure how he'll hold up in pass protection, a key variable for playing time.
Losing Pope. Tight end Leonard Pope's long-term future with the team appears shaky. The team could keep an extra player at the position while Ben Patrick serves a four-game suspension to open the season. Even that might not be enough for Pope, who did not play in the first half. When Pope finally got a chance, he showed zero tenacity while missing a block against Broncos defensive end Jarvis Moss. The early third-quarter play allowed Moss to tackle running back Chris Vincent for a loss.
Hobson shows. Cardinals linebacker Victor Hobson made a positive impression on a few plays. He was aggressive and put a big hit on the quarterback in the third quarter.