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Turning Foreign Into A Foundation

Posted May 16, 2013

Cardinals start from ground up after massive roster changes

OLD WITH THE NEW: Linebacker Sam Acho (94) is a 2012 holdover, but fellow linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (97), Jasper Brinkley (54) and Karlos Dansby (55) are all new this season.

The first day of offseason workouts had just begun when Darnell Dockett took a quick break from lifting weights and looked around the room at all his teammates – many of whom who had just become Cardinals.

“It’s foreign, man,” Dockett said. “Foreign as hell.”

That was seven weeks ago. The players, working out together almost daily, have created a chemistry you’d expect. Bonds have been formed by now. Yet that doesn’t change the overall vibe in a locker room that in many ways is starting from scratch.

“You can definitely tell the transition period that’s going on,” said cornerback Antoine Cason, who came from the Chargers on a one-year free agent contract.

There are the raw numbers: Of the 90 player currently on the roster, 27 are rookies, with another 21 veterans who weren’t with the Cardinals last season. The remaining 42 are holdovers, but that includes players who were on the practice squad – guys who never were fully integrated into the game day roster.

It comes with a new general manager and a brand-new – and bigger – coaching staff, making the learning curve crucial not only to new players but even those who were sticking around. And many of the players no longer around weren’t just end of the bench material, but contributors (Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Quentin Groves, Paris Lenon Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb/John Skelton, William Gay, Early Doucet) who helped formed the dynamic of the locker room.

“It’s the nature of the business,” said holdover tackle Levi Brown, chuckling when it was suggested it was if he had joined a new team himself.

“Any time there is a coaching change they are going to want to change the culture. That has to do with coaching style and ability and a lot of time that has to do with the players that are here. Coaches here before like certain players and (the new coaches) don’t necessarily like the same players. So they go out and find the players they like. Not as many guys left from the old regime.”

At one point during  11-on-11 drills in the midst of Thursday’s OTA, the Cardinals had Frostee Rucker on the defensive line, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander and Jasper Brinkley at linebacker and Javier Arenas, Jerraud Powers and Yeremiah Bell in the secondary – seven of the 11 on defense new this season.

During another snap moments later, Arenas and Rucker were joined by Cason, Curtis Taylor, Jonathan Amaya, Kevin Minter and Matt Shaughnessy – another seven-man influx of new players.

One of the new guys is actually a once-upon-a-time old guy. Dansby was a six-year Cardinal through 2009 before leaving to play three seasons with the Miami Dolphins.  

When he signed his one-year contract last week, he felt the blend of a homecoming and the locker room revolution. Upstairs, on the business side of the building, there were still plenty of faces he used to know.

“The faces in the locker room, yeah, they’ve changed a lot. Tremendously,” Dansby said.

Only eight players remain who played with Dansby during his first Cards’ tour: Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Rashad Johnson, Lyle Sendlein, Reggie Walker and Mike Leach.

It’s a unique way to come together when everyone starts from scratch.

“It feels kind of good when you are starting with everybody new,” said Bell, another one-year contract signee. “You are all starting to learn together, learn each other’s habits. You get to see everyone’s personalities. You get to see how everyone reacts to different things. You get to go through a whole new scheme with everyone.”

As with any recipe, however, it’ll be judged on the final product. The newness has to fade sooner rather than later. Foreign has to morph into foundation.

“We’ve got to build from the ground up,” Dansby said. “That’s what we did last time. Took four or five years to get it done, but we got it done. This time we don’t have that kind of grace period so we have to speed this thing along ASAP.”

 

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