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Making a Mark In The Offseason

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 Steve Breaston takes part in Thursday's OTA workout.

A year ago, with Bryant Johnson departing in free agency and the Cardinals seeking a new No. 3 wide receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston wasn?t the obvious choice.

Then came Breaston?s on-field work in minicamp and the organized team activities. While Breaston didn?t capture Johnson?s role until he had performed in training camp, his impressive showings in the pads-less OTAs gave him momentum he never seemed to lose.

The voluntary summer practices are relatively low-key and long forgotten once the season begins, yet they can have an impact how the depth chart eventually evolves.

?It?s about taking advantage of opportunity,? Breaston said. ?The biggest thing in this league is being consistent, like catching a pass and dropping the next one. That?s what I showed over the course of OTAs.?

This is the time of year for learning. Mistakes are a given. Coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged however a player might look right now, ?I really kind of reserve judgment until we put the pads on.? Whisenhunt remembered how much buzz Breaston created as a pass catcher last season, but even Breaston had more to show once training camp begun.

Jobs cannot be won. They might be able to be lost, however.

?You can hurt yourself more than help yourself,? quarterback Kurt Warner said. ?Eventually you?re going to have to be out there with pads and get hit and run when it is live and be able to handle it. But the biggest thing is knowing what to do. If you go out and try to take a rep and have no clue where you are going, it?s more of a black mark against you.?

Warner pointed out that, for example, a receiver might not be able to rise from the sixth wideout on the depth chart to third in OTAs, but he might get to No. 5, which brings a few more reps both in training camp practices and a couple more plays in preseason games.

Then again, maybe a guy can jump that many spots. Breaston seemingly did. Part of a handful of players ? along with 2007 No. 4 Jerheme Urban and third-round draft pick Early Doucet ? fighting for Johnson?s old job, Breaston jumped ahead of them all heading into camp.

Breaston admits he benefitted with Boldin?s decision to skip all of the offseason work. In 2008, Boldin didn?t practice in minicamp after reporting a sore hamstring and then didn?t come to any of the voluntary OTAs because he was upset with his contract.

That left lots of room for Breaston to grow.

?Who knows, if Q was here, I don?t get those reps and maybe I don?t make those plays,? Breaston said. ?I had more opportunities to go out there and make plays, more reps. It just progressed me. If you are forced into a situation, you either go forward or go backward.?

The opportunities in these OTAs, especially for players stepping in for absent players, remain. Boldin isn?t here again this offseason, giving Doucet more reps that he can certainly use. Newcomer tight end Dominique Byrd has probably gotten a few more plays than he would have with Leonard Pope gone for the birth of his child.

Second-year defensive lineman Keilen Dykes may be in the best spot of all. Dykes is fighting just to make the team and suddenly finds himself running with the first-string. Starting defensive end Darnell Dockett isn?t here because of contract issues, and backup Kenny Iwebema is out until training camp after surgery to remove a tumor.

As a lineman, Dykes can?t make the same kind of splashy OTA showing that Breaston did, not without pads. But he may be able to put himself in a good spot once the team gets to Flagstaff.

?When you do that, you gain confidence, you gain momentum,? Breaston said. ?When the season comes, you are ready.?


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 5/21/09.

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