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Passing In Sync

Cards looking to steady air attack

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Quarterback Kurt Warner and the Cardinals hope the passing game returns to 2008 levels when the regular season begins.
 
 
They've been practicing the passing game since May, for countless hours at the team's training facility and in training camp.

Last year, it was such a fearsome part of the Cardinals it nearly won them a Super Bowl despite a statistically below-average running game. All the major players return.

The final two preseason performances by the starting offense wasn't as crisp through the air as the Cardinals or quarterback Kurt Warner would have wanted. But passing game coordinator Mike Miller said the coaching staff hasn't been "displeased" with the passing game, and there's been too much preparation time put in to think it won't work when the regular season begins Sunday.

"We are disappointed how we executed what we had in the game, (but) what we had in the game wasn't always maybe the best package to carry," Miller said. "Yes, we do need to still execute."

But, Miller added, "Out there," -- pointing to the practice field -- "I think we have been in sync. There have been things that are working that we haven't used yet."

The practice time of late has been intermittent for some of the key passing cogs. While Larry Fitzgerald hasn't missed a day, fellow Pro Bowl wideout Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced since Aug. 25. Steve Breaston is just working back into things full-time after missing two weeks with a knee injury, and he acknowledges he is still sore.

Warner, who couldn't stop talking about how good he felt after the first two preseason games, remains somewhat less confident these days.

"It's still going to take some time," Warner said. "We still haven't gotten a lot of reps with certain guys, and getting a feel. The biggest thing, a lot of things come up in games that we haven't had in practice. That's the true tale of how well we do, if something comes up … can we be successful doing that even though we don't have a lot of reps?

"I can't panic, (receivers) have to do what they are supposed to do, and then it all seems to mesh. But if one of those sides gets off, like I start second-guessing myself and miss a throw or they second-guess themselves and come out (of a route) quick, any of those things, that's where it gets crucial."

The Cardinals got off to a slow start in the passing game against the 49ers last season, but some of that had to do with the idea the team would make more of an effort to grind out a running game (in the opener last season, a 23-13 Cards' win in San Francisco, Edgerrin James gained 100 yards on 26 carries).

Yet this was a team that threw for nearly 5,000 yards in the regular season and had three 1,000-yard receivers. That doesn't just disappear.

"Hey, everyone is looking for something," Miller said. "If we are sitting six weeks in (with issues), well … but you can't make those judgments until we get into the regular season."

Miller said Warner wasn't always throwing to his top guys in the preseason while the coaches evaluated the roster. Miller also said Warner, like his offensive teammates, made his share of mistakes.

Still, Fitzgerald figures to be on the top of his game. Breaston said getting back into the Denver game, even for just 15 plays, helped him get a better feel going into the season. Besides, Breaston said, that's what this week of practice is for, to hone the passing game specifically for the 49ers.

Teams will also be preparing for Warner and his throws. But, receiver Jerheme Urban said, that won't be new.

"We were so proficient at passing last year that defenses are going to be doing crazy things," Urban said. "In the NFC Championship game last year, Philly was doing things that were really unsound … just because of our proficiency. Teams have to do things to surprise us, so I wouldn't be shocked that, early on, we might get caught once or twice.

"But we do a good job on the sideline and Kurt has seen it all, we talk and we're ready for it the next time."

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

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