FLAGSTAFF – The crowd was the biggest it had ever been for a Cardinals' training camp practice, and by the time it was over, they got a show.
The fans, estimated to be in excess of 10,000, were treated to an emotional offense-versus-defense sequence in a live goal-line session, which included the first real tussle of camp.
After 10 days at camp, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "that's what you'd expect."
"The intensity was good, the focus was good," Whisenhunt added. "The past two years on (Red and White day), we've had to start practice over because guys were focused on getting the break and getting out of here. We didn't have that this year."
The tussle emerged between tight end
Stephen Spach and rookie linebacker Will Davis. The two began scrapping after a run play, and in a moment, most of the team was in a group as the brief fracas broke out.
"Tempers flare," Spach said. "It's just football. It's over. It's practice, it is hot, it's camp, it's goal line, it's competing. We leave it all on the field."
Davis echoed the sentiments, saying it was just both sides being competitive.
"We are talking back and forth, and the more competitive you get the more emotional you get," Davis said. "We are trying to keep them out of the end zone, and that's how you've got to feel when you are on the goal line. You have to feel you're the best and you have to tell whoever is on the other side of the line you are the best."
The roots may have come a few plays earlier, when Spach caught a three-yard play-action touchdown pass from Matt Leinart on the first play of the goal line situation and raised his hands in celebration and emphatically spiked the ball. On the next play from the 2-yard line, safety Adrian Wilson buried running back Tim Hightower for a loss and then chucked the ball 30 yards the other way in what turned out to be anger.
"That's not celebration," Wilson calmly said afterward. "It's just, some guys don't know how to handle success when they catch the ball. Stephen Spach, this one's for you."
But then the offense got a chance to score from the defense's 25-yard line, and made the most of it. Warner led the starters to four touchdown passes in four series, one each to Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Ben Patrick and Jerheme Urban. Eventually, both sides were ready to take part in the goal line plays, especially after the defense dominated a similar drill Wednesday night.
Whisenhunt simply said there was good work, and with the preseason opener Thursday in Pittsburgh, it will be "good to have something to focus on."
"We are just working on being consistent," Wilson said. "That is the most important thing. Guys are excited to get back on the field and prove last year wasn't a joke."
VALLEJO GOES DOWN
The Cardinals suffered an injury early in practice when reserve left tackle Elliot Vallejo went down with what turned out to be a dislocated left kneecap during one-on-one drills with his fellow offensive linemen. Whisenhunt said while the MRI was pending, the team didn't expect there to be ligament damage and there had been minimal swelling. Vallejo was down for a few minutes before being carted off the field.
Rookie Herman Johnson moved from third-string to second-string at right tackle, with backup right tackle Oliver Ross moving to the left side. Brandon Keith, who had been playing guard, also saw some right tackle reps after Vallejo went down.
THE EVALUATION PROCESS
Whisenhunt often avoids making over generalizations about players, reiterating the point that he has to see players in games before an evaluation.
In the end, though, Whisenhunt acknowledged a coach finds out more about a player on the practice field because a coach sees the player there every day, and that the overall evaluation process is complicated.
"There is so much more thrown out at him on the practice field than the game," Whisenhunt said. "The biggest thing is how they carry over what they have done on the practice field to the preseason game. That is what you are looking for. Now, obviously there are going to be guys that don't practice well who play well in the preseason games. Those are the guys who get your attention.
"There are a lot of factors and I can't say what the exact formula is because the circumstances are different for each player. Of course, if they don't do well in the games it's hard to justify a spot for them."
WARNER SEEKS PERFECTION
Quarterback Kurt Warner said he's never played a perfect game. Statistically, that's not true, at least in the NFL's eyes, since he has posted three perfect passing rating in his career – including last year's game against the Dolphins.
But Warner just smiles at such a notion.
"I know I didn't complete all my passes," Warner said of the Miami game. "I know that. You just have to set the standard high."
Adding that there is always room for improvement, "every game, there are four of five throws, four or five decisions, and those are things you could have done to win a game," Warner said. "Every practice I want to be perfect. I don't want to miss a throw, I don't want to make a bad read. That's what keeps me going."
Besides Vallejo, the same group of players remained sidelined: receiver Early Doucet (shoulder), tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring), running back Beanie Wells (ankle) and defensive end Keilen Dykes (quad). …
The players are now off until Monday morning's practice.