Wide receiver Steve Breaston (15) runs on the field with teammates Sunday instead of staying behind for a proper introduction as a starter in place of Anquan Boldin.
His name was bellowed over the University of Phoenix Stadium sound system, and Steve Breaston wasn't there.
So when offensive coordinator Todd Haley found the wide receiver a couple minutes later on the field just before kickoff of Sunday's Cardinals-Bills game, Haley wanted to know why.
"He didn't want to tell me," said Haley, noting it was Breaston's first career chance to be introduced in the starting lineup.
So Haley prodded, asking Breaston again "Why didn't you come out?" Breaston's
quiet response: "It is Q's spot."
Q, of course, is Anquan Boldin, the missing star receiver who was at home Sunday resting after surgery to fix a fractured facial bone. Boldin has also served as a mentor to Breaston, the receiver that almost wasn't.
Breaston didn't return a phone message Tuesday asking about the decision, no surprise if he had been reticent to tell Haley. Boldin couldn't shed much light on it either, saying "This is the first time I'm hearing about it," when asked about it after a workout at the Cards' complex, his face still swollen from the surgery.
To Haley, however, the gesture was the definition of Breaston.
"What makes him is character," Haley said.
Breaston, the 2007 fifth-round pick, had plenty of doubters coming out of Michigan. He had been inconsistent as a pass catcher in college and a non-factor as wideout as a rookie. This year, he was asked to replace Bryant Johnson as the Cards' third receiver.
He looked like a different player in offseason workouts and this season, Breaston already has 20 receptions for 271 yards – well ahead of the production pace of Johnson in 2007.
"I was the first one saying he's just a returner, and he's proven me 100 percent wrong," Haley said. "I'll never sell him short on anything. The character inside is what does it for him, I think."
Said Boldin, "I've been around him for two years and have seen what he is able to do. I'm not surprised at all."
Haley stresses team first over and over to the players. That's why the pregame move by Breaston Sunday made such an impression.
"Give me 11 Breastons," Haley said, "and we'll win games."
SHAQ TO MAKE EARLY APPEARANCE
Having fellow pro athletes show up at Cardinals' games isn't unique; last year Manny Ramirez came as a guest of Edgerrin James and Diamondbacks' Chris Young, Orlando Hudson and Augie Ojeda were at Sunday's Bills game.
Not surprisingly, the Cowboys' game Sunday is supposed to draw a big name: Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, who is coming to meet up with fellow Louisiana State University product Early Doucet.
"You know us LSU guys have to stick together, so he'll be there representing," said Doucet, who also has LSU teammate Ali Highsmith on the roster. "Hopefully I'll get a chance to make a few more plays and not have him see me sitting on the bench."
Doucet made his NFL debut against Buffalo and pulled in six receptions. He'll probably play again against Dallas, given that Boldin's return is unlikely.
Doucet said he doesn't know O'Neal well, but Shaq reached out to him about coming to a game – pledging to wear a Doucet No. 80 Cardinals jersey. Doucet admitted he is worried O'Neal won't be able to find one that fits.
Still, "that's a good thing to have a guy like Shaq reach out to you and support you," Doucet said.
With eight rushing touchdowns (three from Edge, five from Tim Hightower), the Cardinals lead the NFL.
Quarterback Kurt Warner has 31 touchdown passes in his last 13 regular-season games.
The last time the Cardinals were in sole possession of first place of the division at least five weeks into the season was 1988 -- when they were 4-2 in the NFC East during their first season in Arizona.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 10/7/08.
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