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Finding Themselves

Cardinals await to see own identity in season opener at St. Louis


The new-look Cardinals open the season in St. Louis Sunday.

ST. LOUIS – The Cardinals begin their season Sunday against the Rams.

Beyond that, even the head coach isn't sure what is in store.

"It's hard," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "So many new faces on this team, different players in different positions, understanding how they are going to react or handle this situation, I don't know. I don't have anything to base it off of.

"I get the sense they are confident, that if they do what they are supposed to do, they limit their mistakes, then we will have a chance to make some plays. That's what you like."

It's hard not to notice the roster turnover for the Cardinals. Starting with the quarterback – Kurt Warner became Derek Anderson, via Matt Leinart – the flips and switches in the lineup have left questions lingering. Even the Cards themselves have said repeatedly it's impossible to know how the team will mesh in games that count.

The doubt outside the team is large enough that, suddenly, the Rams are the chic pick to upset the Cards. Yet the Cardinals are facing a team that won just once in 2009 and are starting a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford. The Rams have 14 rookies on the roster.

Plus, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo noted, "these are the NFC West champs we are playing."

"It's still the same coaching staff and there is still a lot of talent on that roster," Spagnuolo added. "I'm sure there are certain guys they will miss initially that they had last year, but I have too much respect for the staff and the players. There is still plenty of talent."

Anderson will have Pro Bowl Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, now that Fitzgerald has returned from his knee injury. Running back Beanie Wells (knee) probably will end up sitting out after missing a week of practice, but starter Tim Hightower has had 100-yard performances in each of his two career trips to St. Louis.

Defensively, the Cards are ready to unveil some new looks on Bradford, as well. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that doesn't necessarily mean a blitz every play, but the Cards did nothing but show base looks in the preseason. Bradford can guess what is coming, but he won't know for sure, not off anything he has seen on video.

The Cards, in fact, point to the control of Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson as the more important part of the game plan. Bradford insisted his status and the youth of his receiving corps won't factor in to the Rams' plans – "To say we're going to lean on (Jackson) more because of the inexperience at other positions, I don't think that's necessarily true," Bradford said – but it is hard to believe otherwise.

More than anything, though, the Cardinals want to see what they are about, and the season opener gives them the chance to do that. Training camp and the preseason always tends to drag over the last couple of weeks. By then, there is little to prove by the guys who will be playing often.

Sunday is when the Cards reach the real proving ground.

"I am tired of getting hit for no reason," Hightower said. "You come back, you're getting treatment for this and that and you think, 'This game doesn't even count.'

"You train all offseason for those 16 opportunities and hoping you get 17 or 18 or 20. This is the time when you put all the offseason work, all those dreams you check off on your board at home, this is the time to see it come to fruition."

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