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Looking At The Offensive Line

Brown only starter under contract


Brandon Keith (72) and Levi Brown (75) are still expected to be the Cardinals' starting offensive tackles for the 2011 season.

The Cardinals drafted Levi Brown to be the anchor of their offensive line.

As 2011 approaches, Brown hasn't been the dominant tackle everyone hoped he would be. But he is still the anchor, both in position -- over at left tackle – and in circumstance.

Other than quarterback, no position remains in greater flux because of the in-limbo offseason than the offensive line. Four of the five starters from 2010 don't yet have a contract for the upcoming season, with Brown the only one remaining. Left guard Alan Faneca retired. Right tackle Brandon Keith has only three seasons in the NFL, but center Lyle Sendlein has four and right guard Deuce Lutui five, so depending on whatever free-agent rules come out of any new labor agreement, the Cards have to find a way to put the pieces together for the unit.

That could include significant change, depending on how it plays out.

The only other two offensive linemen under contract are a pair of key veterans – tackle/guard Jeremy Bridges and guard/center Rex Hadnot. Both could end up starting (which Bridges did the final seven weeks last season after Keith was injured).

Free agency will determine the path of the line. Sendlein remains a favorite of the coaching staff and figures to stay in the spot he has had since 2008. Lutui is a much bigger wild card, given his disappointment in the past to not have his contract extended and his desire for a large payday. Keith is a work-in-progress, but the Cards think he can still develop into a solid tackle (and he spent the 2009 season as a backup guard, so he is able to play both positions if necessary). That flexibility could help depending on who the Cards sign and/or re-sign.

The Cards need to replace Faneca on the roster. They also could seek a different backup for Sendlein after Ben Claxton was inactive for all 16 games last season.

Then there is Brown, who will be going into his second season at left tackle after spending the first three seasons of his career at right tackle. Brown, who is stronger at run blocking than pass blocking, struggled in the transition in the eyes of many observers. But coach Ken Whisenhunt has said repeatedly that while Brown hasn't been consistent, he is improving and the scrutiny is increased because of Brown's first-round draft status. His issues were also magnified last season given the overall troubles of the offense.

Brown – whose contract expires after the 2012 season – may be headed into the point where his career in Arizona becomes make-or-break. A new quarterback will help, as will a second year on the left side. It all may be necessary, too, given all the potential changes elsewhere.

KEY PLAYER IN 2011: Brown, especially since there are so many unknowns. He plays the most important position on the line. If he could reach a level of play equal to his draft status, it would change so much – positively – for unit dynamics.

CONSIDER THIS: It's unlikely to happen, but in theory, the Cards could end up with no linemen left in the same spot from just two seasons ago when the team won 10 games and a playoff outing with the following group (from left tackle to right tackle) – Bridges/Gandy, Reggie Wells, Sendlein, Lutui and Brown.

ROSTER CHANGE CHANCES ON 1-10 SCALE:  About a 9. There will be moves. How it impacts the starting lineup, or depth, is TBD.

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