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Cardinals Seek New Heights In 2016

Record-setting 2015 season not expected to be team's crescendo

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Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (left) speaks with coach Bruce Arians at training camp on Friday.



The Cardinals reached an unparalleled pinnacle in 2015, winning 13 regular season games for the first time in franchise history.

A lofty height, to be sure, but not one the team considers its Mount Everest summit.

With the core of last year's roster back and prominent new additions in the fold, the Cardinals are confident there is further to ascend in 2016. A duplicate of the regular season would put them in great position once again, but finishing the job in the playoffs is of utmost importance after falling short in last year's NFC Championship game to the Panthers.

"Win the Super Bowl," coach Bruce Arians said. "Nothing else will be acceptable."

Many teams that put together magical seasons subsequently lose key players because it's hard to hoard upper-tier talent with a hard salary cap. It happened to the Super Bowl champion Broncos this offseason, and could very well be the case for the Cardinals heading into 2017, but as the first padded practice awaits the team on Sunday, the roster is stacked and the expectations are sky-high.

"We know we've got a talented team," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "We know we've got a lot of people back from last year. We're ready to go. We know we're the favorite to win the Super Bowl, so it's time for us to show and prove (it)."

The Cardinals return every skill player on an offense that led the NFL in yards and was second in points. The offensive line has some question marks, but it does include the talented veteran trio of left tackle Jared Veldheer, left guard Mike Iupati and right guard Evan Mathis.

There are changes defensively, but ones General Manager Steve Keim initiated. He traded for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Chandler Jones and drafted defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche to improve the pass rush. He signed safety Tyvon Branch early in free agency to add more speed and athleticism to the secondary.

Veteran starters Rashad Johnson, Jerraud Powers and Dwight Freeney are gone, but none broke the bank in free agency, and the Cardinals could have retained them if so desired.

Defensive tackle Calais Campbell has felt the excitement build, and training camp is when it can all be put into action. The contenders on paper can finally prove themselves.

"We have the ability to do it," Campbell said. "OK, so let's go out there and do it. Every day, let's practice that way. Let's do it now. We can't win the championship in August or anything like that, but we can prepare like a championship team, play like a championship team, play in and play out. That's my mindset."

Although the Cardinals were dominant in many categories a season ago, it wasn't enough to make the Super Bowl. Quarterback Carson Palmer believes that's key, as the team will still be hungry to finish the job.

"That's what it takes – the realization that you need to get better, and the desire to get better," Palmer said. "We have that."

The Cardinals' full story will be written by February, with either confetti falling down on them at Super Bowl LI or a season that ends in disappointment. With a loaded roster and a star coach, the Cardinals have the necessary ingredients to eclipse 2015's record-setting pace.

Now it must sizzle to perfection.

"The expectations haven't changed, but when you have the type of season we had, you expect to do better," Arians said. "We've got to get back to where we were first, and then do better."

Images from the first practice of training camp



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