Coach Ken Whisenhunt walks away from the team as they huddle up following the first practice of minicamp Friday in Tempe. For a photo gallery from the first day, click here.
At one point during the Cardinals' first practice of the offseason Friday, Larry Fitzgerald yelled to Steve Breaston that Breaston was now the team's oldest receiver.
Breaston smiled as he recalled the moment. "I thought, 'It's true,' " Breaston said. "It's like instantly I feel old now."
Change is a constant in the NFL, but the Cardinals evolved this offseason more drastically than previous years. Guys like Breaston (11 days older than Fitzgerald, who has been in the NFL three seasons longer) suddenly are the "old men" at some positions. Other positions have added veterans of stature like offensive line (with Alan Faneca) and linebacker (Joey Porter).
Time will help shape and show off the team's personality. But the changes seem to point the Cardinals toward a bit more of a gritty roster, lending an extra edge to a team that has already proven it can win.
"We have the personnel to do it, to play that way," Porter said. "(The Cardinals) are the two-time NFC West champions, so at the end of the day … we lost a couple players from a year ago and (pundits) already put us under the radar not to win it. At the same time, until you take it from the champs, that's what you are."
The Cardinals' first day of minicamp carried with it a naturally different vibe. Kurt Warner wasn't among the quarterbacks for the first time since 2005. Anquan Boldin wasn't part of it for the first time since 2003. Karlos Dansby missed for the first time since 2004, as did Bertrand Berry.
But there was Porter reunited with former Steelers running mate Clark Haggans among the linebackers. Faneca slid easily into the left guard spot on the offensive line, once again taking direction from offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Kerry Rhodes looked natural next to Adrian Wilson at safety.
Normally, the story of the initial workout would have been the quarterback, except that Matt Leinart has been in this position before and as the obvious heir apparent to Warner that Leinart's day faded to the background.
He's been here. So many other players had not.
"This is probably the biggest turnover we've had since I have been here, but that's the NFL," Leinart said. "Guys have to step up and step in. You reload and keep moving forward.
"I think the guys we brought in, they know what it takes to win. Two have won the Super Bowl. We did pick up a lot of veterans, which helps. I don't think (our personality) is going to change much."
Whatever the Cardinals will be, it's already being cultivated. The only player AWOL is guard Deuce Lutui, who has yet to sign his tender offer. Coach Ken Whisenhunt praised the "95 percent" of the roster showing up to work out, saying he was excited for the "feel our team has."
"So they have, it's a short history, but they have a history," Whisenhunt said. "When you see them on the field and you know they are, to a degree, comfortable with each other, that's a good sign."
Leinart insisted the Cardinals aren't going to be changing the offense because he and not Warner is behind center. But adding a mauler like Faneca – who is better in run blocking than pass blocking – and the emerging running game with Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower points to more smashmouth. Porter brings an intensity to the defense that may have not always been there with Karlos Dansby.
Breaston isn't sure the team will have a tougher makeup – "People thought we were finesse because we threw the ball a lot, but when we had the ball in our hands … we have been gritty," he said – but he echoed Whisenhunt's thoughts that the Cards will be different.
With so many new players, it's a given.
"I know how hungry this team is," Haggans said. "Losing a Super Bowl and then losing to the World Champs in the playoffs the following year and having the talent we have, a lot of players in this locker room are going to be a little bit salty. We're a team on a mission."
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