Coach Ken Whisenhunt (left) peppers quarterback Kurt Warner with questions during Warner's press conference Wednesday.
FLAGSTAFF -- The signs alone made it different for Ken Whisenhunt, driving into this mountain town as seeing the greetings by the side of the road welcoming the "NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals."
"It kind of makes you understand what you did last season and what's ahead of us this season, hopefully," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals arrived at Northern Arizona University for training camp Wednesday, a first day like any other year but unlike any other.
Some news is routine. First-round draft pick Beanie Wells remained unsigned and hasn't arrived yet. General manager Rod Graves said Wednesday evening a
deal wasn't imminent but that progress had been made during the day. With the first practice still more than a day away, Wells still has time to get a deal and not miss any time.
But, as expected, everyone showed up. Everyone is healthy heading into practice. And now – unlike many other seasons – success for this particular group will be rated not on wins and losses only but reaching the postseason.
"Guys are going to have to focus on what this means, because very few of us have been in this position where the expectations are to win a Super Bowl," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Now that we set the bar where we set it, that is the expectation and everything else is a failure and that's a different position to be in."
The Cardinals don't have a practice until Friday morning. Meetings and the infamous conditioning run test come first on Thursday. Realistically, it's impossible to know how the Cards are approaching their defense of the NFC title until they go through some practices.
"Camp is where you put the pieces together," running back Tim Hightower said. "Camp gives everyone a chance to brush off the cobwebs. You have been training by yourself for four months. Now you have to get back to that team mindset."
That doesn't necessarily mean reliving 2008 either.
"I don't even think about last year," Warner said. "But I am always excited to come back and play. I don't really feel like it's unfinished business because last year is last year."
There isn't much time before games start. The Cards' preseason opener is Aug. 13 in Pittsburgh, a game, while ultimately unimportant in the standings, will certainly bring with it many storylines given the two teams' last game was against each other in the Super Bowl.
What team the Steelers see that night – what team the Cards evolve into for 2009 – starts now.
"We are a team that has really found something to build on," defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "I wouldn't say overconfident, but we are a team that knows we can, if we put it together and focus on the task at hand … we can do something special."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 7/29/09.