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Saturday, July 26, 2008
Cardinals position battles

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Tight end: Leonard Pope vs. Ben Patrick

Patrick opened the Cardinals' first practice as the starter, but the Cardinals haven't made a decision. Pope is the incumbent. He caught five touchdown passes last season before suffering a dislocated ankle during a late-season defeat at Seattle. Pope's 6-foot-8 frame works for him and against him. He's tall enough to present matchup problems in the passing game, but the height doesn't seem to help him as a blocker. Patrick has the potential to provide more versatility, but he hasn't played as much.

The Cardinals' offensive identity evolved last season as circumstances dictated a more wide-open attack. The tight ends became red-zone outlets more frequently. How the offense evolves this season could determine which tight end proves more useful. Pope was a third-round choice in 2006, a year before Ken Whisenhunt arrived as head coach. Patrick was the Cardinals' seventh-round choice in Whisenhunt's inaugural year. Veteran Jereme Tuman might be best suited as a blocking tight end in two-tight sets. In a best-case scenario, Patrick evolves as the starter, providing flexibility across personnel groups.

Intensity index: Hot


Cornerback: Rod Hood vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Rodgers-Cromartie figures to emerge as the starter at some point this season, but when? Hood played more defensive snaps than any cornerback on the roster last season. He returned one interception for a touchdown during a three-point victory at St. Louis and another during a six-point victory over Cleveland. There's no reason to rush a rookie into the lineup ahead of schedule.

And yet the Cardinals didn't use a first-round choice on Rodgers-Cromartie to sit him on the bench. The former Tennessee State appears unusually skinny by NFL standards at 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds. The tall, angular frame and long reach helps him get his hands on the football. That was evident during minicamps. Rodgers-Cromartie also had little trouble keeping pace with receivers on deep routes. The job becomes tougher when teams put on the pads and start hitting. Like most rookies, Rodgers-Cromartie might need time to adjust.

Intensity index: Hot