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Starting Anew

Posted Sep 10, 2011

Cards open against Panthers ready to forget last season

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals are anxious to start the 2011 season Sunday after struggling most of the 2010 season.

The Cardinals underwent significant change in the offseason, with more than a third of the 53-man roster new to the team in 2011.

That still leaves plenty of players behind that were around in 2010, a miserable season that no one wants to repeat when the new season begins Sunday in the opener against Carolina.

“We know what 5-and-11 felt like,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “Look at the game film last year and look at how much we didn’t play together, how many mistakes we made. That sucks. To have an opportunity to redeem yourself, a lot of games will be personal.”

The game against the Panthers features plenty of storylines, from the debut of No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton as Carolina’s quarterback (and the way the Cards will defend him), the debut of the Cards’ own new players like quarterback Kevin Kolb, to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Emotion will be plentiful.

More than anything, though, the Cardinals want to begin the season the right way. They can’t accomplish everything in one afternoon – the Cards won their season opener last season, and were 3-2 at one point before things fell apart – but they wouldn’t mind some tangible proof they have changed what ailed them.

“It was mentioned in training camp, because we wanted people to know what we went through last year,” running back Beanie Wells said. “We wanted to let (the new players) know we never want to go through it again. After a preseason game, it got erased. This is a new moment. We can’t take the past with us to the future.”

Dockett clings to the motivation. Others want to move past it. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said whatever works a player is fine with him.

“Last year was last year,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “Different circumstances, different team, everything is different. Different attitude. Last year we didn’t have a margin for error and that weighed heavily on a lot of defenders.”

The margin for error in large part was about an inconsistent offense. The Cards hope that has been fixed with the addition of Kolb, who was acquired in trade and then given a large contract extension to provide stability – and performance – that was absent last year with former starter Derek Anderson.

The Cards have already come into the season with a comfort level that they never achieved at any point in 2010. Kolb provides a confidence that, for instance, allowed Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to sign his long-term contract extension.

“The long offseason of thinking where I was going to be and how it was all going to turn out, all that comes into focus now,” Kolb said.

In many ways, the opening opponent would have been immaterial, although the chance to see the much-hyped Newton adds a different element. The Panthers, who went 2-14 a year ago, are themselves seeking a fresh start, something easier with not only a new quarterback but a new coaching staff.

The Cards’ coaching staff seeks the fresh start too, even if they had to live through 2010.

“I think about it. I don’t like it,” Whisenhunt said. “We have worked hard to get a team that could get to the playoffs and then to have a year like last year, it hurts. I think about it a lot. But you can’t get so wrapped up in what happened last year that you don’t focus on what you need to do this year.”

With so many new players, Whisenhunt said, “you talk about last year and they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? We sucked?’ Yeah, we sucked. So OK. Let’s move on.”

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