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Inevitable Change

Posted Jan 3, 2011

After a 5-11 season, Cardinals begin process of fixing what's wrong

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (left) signs a jersey for free-agent-to-be tight end Ben Patrick during the Cards' locker-room cleanout Monday.


Maybe it was because players had already known for a while the inevitable was coming Monday, but the locker-room cleanout to close the chapter on the 2010 season wasn’t as crowded as it usually seemed.

Players came in sparsely – if at all -- during the 45-minute availability prior to their final meeting of the year. Those that spoke did so in terms every athlete understands: A losing season means the next time they would be together, the team will be significantly different.

“Anytime you go through this there will be changes,” veteran guard Alan Faneca said. “You don’t sit pat and hope things turn around on their own.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t cluing in to what those changes will be Monday, at least not specifically. He declined to say if he will make any moves on his coaching staff, only saying that coaches will be part of the overall evaluation of the season.

Whisenhunt wouldn’t get into much about individual players either. But there was a greater message delivered.

“When you lose some of the players we lost (in free agency last year) then you really have to candidly assess where you are as a team and what expectations you have for certain players,” Whisenhunt said. “If they are not getting it done, you have to be willing to sever the ties or sit them down or whatever that may be, and that’s not always easy.”

Whisenhunt said he had gotten “emotionally attached” to some players, judging them on what they had done in the past instead of the present. That was something he learned over the course of the season, something he plans to correct going forward.

Some of that honesty was being conveyed Monday during one-on-one player interviews, something that will last into Tuesday as Whisenhunt gives each one an idea where he stands in the organization as of now.

Overall organization meetings to make offseason plans will run through the week. The task is to reevaluate a roster that came nowhere close to meeting expectations, all the while doing it with the threat of a lockout in March – and the reality all player movement will be frozen until that is resolved.

“We still need more talent,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “You can never have enough talent … Some guys are happy, some guys are mad, some guys are just ready to get out of here. That’s the way every NFL locker room is – you have guys that care and guys that don’t.”

Wilson said it wasn’t always easy to see guys not caring, saying it was “hidden.” But he acknowledged he could see it.

“I’ve been here for 10 years,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of (expletive).”

That’s one of the things Whisenhunt wants to alleviate.

“Our players have to understand if they’re not getting it done, I don’t really care what their status is, they’re not going to play,” Whisenhunt said.

Among some of the issues Whisenhunt did directly talk about:

-- Quarterback is an obvious area of need. “If that means a veteran, if that means draft, I don’t know,” Whisenhunt said.

-- Playcalling could be given to passing-game coordinator Mike Miller, although Whisenhunt said he believes he is a “good play-caller” and that the role doesn’t distract him from other duties. “I don’t feel like it does, but when you don’t have success, there are a lot of things to point to as to why you’re not. That’s part of the process … of evaluating it.”

-- Overhauling the structure of the offensive staff is unlikely. “We’ve done that (this way) since we’ve been here and we’ve been very successful offensively up until this year,” Whisenhunt said.

Whisenhunt talked about the personal toll the losing took this season, and the learning curve created by being a head coach for a losing team for the first time.

“I know we will be better next year because everyone knows coach Whiz is not going to have another season like this,” Wilson said. “For guys who just came to this team, they will understand that. Quickly.”

There was a melancholy vibe to the final get-together Monday. As bad as the record turned out, there were still those willing to talk about what they saw as positive things that happened.

“We had a lot of reasons to pull apart this year, reasons to get frustrated and go separate ways,” running back Tim Hightower said, “but we all stayed together.”

It sounded good, but in reality, meant little. The judgment comes through the wins and the losses, and the Cardinals had too many of the latter. Some sort of upheaval always comes next.

“When are 5-11, there are going to be changes that are made,” Whisenhunt said. “It has to be that way.”
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