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Rookies Much Longer?

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 Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell hits Giants quarterback Eli Manning earlier in this, Campbell's rookie season.

Calais Campbell remembers making a rookie mistake.

It came in the Cardinals' season-opener in San Francisco, and the defensive end saw the running back – it was either Frank Gore or DeShaun Foster, Campbell isn't sure which -- coming toward the line of scrimmage. Anxious to make a play, Campbell jumped out of his gap to go after the runner.

Except the back bounced away from Campbell and proceeded to go right through Campbell's vacated area.

"I was like, 'Dang, I've got to stay in my gap,' " Campbell recalled. " 'Guys in this league are a little better. Got to stay more fundamentally sound.' "

Such rookie mistakes are going to happen. That is part of the learning curve, and a concession teams must make if they are going to play first-year players, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

That's why judging rookies and a rookie class takes a little time.

The Cardinals are happy with their 2008 draft class. Top pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has emerged as a starting cornerback and has shown the potential of being a star. Campbell has been solid. Fifth-round pick Tim Hightower has been starting at running back. Middle-rounders like wide receiver Early Doucet and Kenny Iwebema have made contributions.

It won't be until this time next season, however, until the Cardinals are willing to say what they really have.

"Rookies could be starting by default or not starting for certain reasons," general manager Rod Graves said. "You need a couple years. Now, you'd like a strong impact from any of your young players the first year. But that's not always the case."

Whisenhunt gave the same time line, adding it sometimes takes until a player's third year to get a proper sense. But a player after two years has had some continuity in a team's system and a full offseason program.

That line of thinking has two extreme examples from the Cards' 2007 draft class – wide receiver Steve Breaston, who blossomed in his second year after an offseason of work, and defensive tackle Alan Branch, who seems to have regressed and may have a difficult time making the 2009 roster.

When a player is still a rookie, however, the prism through which to view them is slightly different.

"You have to be able to live with more mistakes in their first year, live with things they haven't seen," Whisenhunt said. "But you can't treat them any differently. They have to be held accountable like a veteran, especially if you are expecting them to play for you."

Hightower acknowledged the "ups and downs" he has gone through this season, from his splashy 109-yard starting debut to his struggles of late. When he is judged as a rookie or how the draft class is judged doesn't matter because "it's what have you done for me lately," he said.

"What have you done this season, what have you done this week, what have you done yesterday?" Hightower said.

Campbell just wants to keep getting better. He has a shot next season to start – Antonio Smith is scheduled to become a free agent and could leave – so he wants to get the leaving-his-gap moments out of his system.

His rookie season hasn't all been about mistakes, though.

Against Dallas, Campbell had a play where he couldn't generate a pass rush, but he didn't give up on the play when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw a checkdown pass to Marion Barber.

"He started to break out and tried to shake someone and he didn't see me coming," Campbell said. "I read an article in ESPN magazine two days before (the game) saying he was the hardest running back to tackle. That got me hyped up. I tried to hit him with everything I had. The next thing I knew, the ball was on the ground."

Campbell didn't recover the fumble, but he felt he was finally contributing.

"The rookie thing," Campbell said, "has got to go out the window fast."

INJURY UPDATE

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (shoulder) missed a fifth straight practice Thursday, leaving in doubt whether he will be able to play Sunday against Seattle. The Cards' injury report remained unchanged from Wednesday, with tight end Stephen Spach (ankle), defensive end Travis LaBoy (ankle) and safety Matt Ware (calf) also sitting out.


 Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 12/25/08.

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