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Cardinals camp review: Downer or success?

8/31/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The close of NFL training camps provides an opportunity to revisit NFC West camp previews. The previews set criteria by which each team's training camp would qualify as a "downer" or a "success" -- although the criteria wasn't necessarily exclusive. I'll republish the criteria and follow with a verdict, beginning with the Cardinals.

Camp will be a downer if ... Beanie Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way (coach Ken) Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL? The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.

Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season. Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach. Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more. Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?

The verdict: Camp was a downer by the first criteria. Wells signed after camp opened, then suffered a sprained ankle during his first practice. He missed considerable time and did not make a serious run for the starting job during camp.

The later-than-usual start to the NFL season created a scheduling conflict with Northern Arizona University, forcing the Cardinals to shorten camp by one week. That gave Wells even less time to establish himself as the best option heading into the season. Wells subsequently made a positive impression during the Cardinals' third exhibition game, but injury concerns persist until Wells proves he can hold up.

The second criteria might be easier to evaluate as more time passes.