INDIANAPOLIS -- The theme was laid down from the moment Bruce Arians was hired as head coach.
Arians repeated it often as the questions came. So too did offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, the de facto offensive line coach. The Cardinals had pieces for an offensive line that could work.
In a draft most considered heavy with offensive line prospects -- and in a draft in which many of the players considered top 10 are offensive linemen -- conventional wisdom says the Cards will heavily consider taking one early. After quarterback, there is no part of the Cardinals that struggled more last season than the offensive line.
But again, Arians, before and after evaluating the current players the Cards have at their disposal, chooses patience over panic.
“It's not as near the dire straits everyone wants to make it out to be,” Arians said.
How that sentiment will play out when the Cards are on the draft clock is one of the biggest questions of the new regime of Arians and general manager Steve Keim. Arians insists the return of tackle Levi Brown, who missed all of 2012 with a torn triceps muscle, will alone will have a significant impact on improvement. Last year's rookie tackles
But if a tackle like Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel or, more likely, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, is available at No. 7, or a guard like Alabama's Chance Warmack can be had, upgrades are not only possible but immediate.
“If we see a chance to improve, whether it is a starter or a backup spot, we will try to make those changes,” Keim said. “(But) when you are picking at a certain spot, you never want to take a position because you feel it is a need and pass on someone you think can be special.”
Most of the linemen who played key roles last season are still under contract. The anticipated starting lineup to begin the season – Brown at left tackle,
For all the talk about Brown possibly playing guard, Arians said he thinks Brown is a tackle. The too-many sacks the Cards surrendered last season weren’t all on the offensive line, Arians said. Optimism the current group can work, Goodwin said, is natural.
“You have to be confident in your ability as a coach,” Goodwin said. “I’m sure (former offensive line coach) Russ (Grimm) was as well. I think sometimes a fresh face or fresh message helps. I do think there is talent.
“I just came from a team (in Indianapolis) where we won 11 ballgames with guys who I think would be backups on other teams. As long as you have guys who will buy into the system and you find out the things they can do, there might be some things we can’t do because these linemen can’t do it. You just have to execute what you can do.”
That is another of Arians’ reoccurring themes. Some linemen can pull in the running game, for instance. But others can’t. That has to be factored in, both in the playbook and in the playcalling – which Arians will do.
“I get criticized sometimes, ‘Hey, you don’t run that to the left.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s the best way to do it and it’s pretty successful,’ ” Arians said. “Or, ‘You ran it 95 times to the left and only 22 times to the right.’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, what’s your point?’ ”
Even if the Cardinals go in a different direction with their first-round pick, the depth on the offensive line in the draft will make each round a potential possibility to take someone new. Keim said his top priority is less about who is playing on the unit but how they play. He wants to see a much more physical offensive line, and one that performs in unison much better than in the past.
That, in theory, can be done with many of the pieces already in place. It’s hard to believe the group won’t be tweaked in some shape or form, though. The Cardinals don’t want to go through what they did a season ago.
“We are a lot better than what we showed last year,” Arians said.