The Cardinals leave the practice field at training camp for the final time Thursday.
FLAGSTAFF – A weary Levi Brown sat outside the cafeteria after lunch Wednesday, knowing two practices remained in training camp, and began to daydream.
"It would be the greatest feeling if we went out at 2:45 (that afternoon) and coach brought us all up and said 'This has been the greatest camp I have seen in my life, take it on down the hill,' " Brown said with a small smile. "That would be the greatest feeling in the world."
It didn't happen, of course. The Cardinals didn't officially finish up until Thursday morning, taking part in a workout that didn't end early before Ken Whisenhunt excused his players from another training camp at Northern Arizona University.
"I said to the team, 'Please nobody trip and get hurt in the stampede leaving this
Whisenhunt, not surprisingly, called the camp productive. The Cardinals play in Oakland Saturday before having to trim four players from the current 80-man roster. They return to practice in Tempe next week and close out the preseason with a home game against Denver Aug. 29. Then the roster must be cut to 53 players.
"We have gotten a lot accomplished, and hopefully we'll have gotten all the information we need not only this weekend but the weekend we have to make final cuts," Whisenhunt said.
"It's been a long time here," quarterback Matt Leinart said. "It's been productive, but everyone is ready to go home, I think."
The necessary evil of camp had tangible positives. The rookie class showed itself to be impressive early and the Cardinals – unlike last year – suffered no significant injuries. The only true hiccup of camp was the drama around Anquan Boldin's contract complaints, which came up the first day of camp and resurfaced this week.
But mostly, camp was about the daily grind of meetings and practices while staying in a dorm, a grind with which the players are ready to be finished.
"Being able to go home changes your whole mindset," tackle Levi Brown said. "Everything here is mapped out. You eat here, our meetings are there, it's the same routine over and over.
"I'm not going to say practices are different (in Tempe), but you can leave the building and not see any of the coaches, know what I mean? If we come out of our dorm rooms over here, there's a possibility you might see (general manager) Rod Graves walking around. It's like, 'Man ...' You just get tired of seeing them all the time."
THE "OTHER" DRAFT PICK
The Cardinals' draft class has looked promising already. Running back Tim Hightower is already No. 2 on the depth chart, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema made an impact in the first preseason game, tackle Brandon Keith could see playing time this season, top pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looks to be the real deal at cornerback, and even injured receiver Early Doucet is expected to do well.
That leaves sixth-round pick Chris Harrington, a defensive end the Cards are trying to turn into a linebacker. He has been far under the radar in camp, but that may be more because of his high-profile draft mates rather than his own shortcomings.
"He is exactly where he should be," linebackers coach Bill Davis said. "He actually may be ahead of the curve. But it's at a deep position for us so unlike some of the other rookies that may be in there a little more often, he isn't getting as many reps. And the transition does take time, of playing and playing. He has all the skills. He just need reps, he needs game time."
Harrington said he is trying to stay positive. He knows to make the roster – he may be a more likely practice-squad candidate – he will have to shine on special teams. Davis said the move from end to linebacker takes at least six months to get down and could take a year.
"You have to just keep grinding," Harrington said. "I learn watching the other guys, what they do right and what they do wrong. I know it's a process. At the end of the day, I'll say it's all worth it."
Safety Antrel Rolle (ankle), who hasn't practiced since getting hurt in the preseason opener Aug. 7, returned to the field Thursday. Whisenhunt said Rolle will not play in Oakland, but will be back at practice Monday. The Cardinals are also hoping defensive tackle Gabe Watson (PUP-knee) can return to practice next week.
Offensive lineman Peter Clifford (calf), tight end Ben Patrick (ankle), offensive lineman Carlton Medder and center Al Johnson (knee) all will be out of Saturday's game.
The Cardinals were just heading out to the practice field when news began to break that NFL Players Association president and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw died from cancer.
"I saw him in Hawaii (at the NFLPA meetings) and he was vivacious as ever," said long snapper Nathan Hodel, the Cardinals union representative. "It caught us all by surprise. He's been a great leader for the union for a long, long time, and more than that, the same qualities that made him a great leader made him a great man."
Said Whisenhunt, "He's done a lot of things for the league, and it's always disappointing when you lose somebody like that."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 8/21/08.