FLAGSTAFF – They may have been the group that coach Ken Whisenhunt jokingly called "big ugly oafs," but dim-witted the offensive line is not.
The argument can be made that the group's intelligence is a main building block of the Cardinals' explosive offense. And one guy making that argument is the quarterback himself.
"There are a lot of systems out there where people say 'We'll let the quarterback make all the decisions,' and say, 'We'll make it easier on everyone else and harder on the quarterback,' " Kurt Warner said. "(Offensive line coach)
Russ (Grimm) tries to eliminate as much of that as possible and he tries to make his guys see things and handle so much more."
Perhaps it's above and beyond the normal call of duty. But it's just normal life.
"Well," center Lyle Sendlein said with a laugh, "nobody wants to be a dummy."
Grimm downplays what he asks his group to do, saying bluntly "it's what they need to do under this system." The Cardinals have a number of protections and it's up to the linemen – with left tackle Mike Gandy, left guard Reggie Wells, right guard Deuce Lutui and right tackle Levi Brown flanking Sendlein – to understand what they have to do on each play.
If the linemen do their jobs the correct way, Warner only has to worry about coverages and where his hot read may come on a blitz. Warner doesn't need maulers; he just wants his guys to slow up the pass rush enough to give him the moment to find his receiver.
"It's not simple," Grimm said, "but it's not difficult either."
Rather than a set way of doing things, Wells said the line's extra responsibility has been an evolution in the offense. That's little surprise, given that when Whisenhunt first arrived Matt Leinart and not Warner was the quarterback and the shift to a pass-heavy playbook came when the two-time MVP moved behind center.
"It's how it has played out, having Kurt back there and what he can do and the weapons we have on the outside, what we can do to help them operate," Wells said. "It's obviously beneficial for us. We take a great deal of pride in knowing week in and week out what schemes and protections we will be running."
The continuity the five starters have had plays into the knowledge the line carries around as well. They started all 20 games together last season. Sendlein, who runs the line calls, gained valuable experience in his first season as a full-time starter in 2008.
They have learned what the others will do on a certain play, or in certain situations. Sendlein said Grimm teaches "rules" and "what-ifs," a system of dos and don'ts that – while always being tweaked – tries to account for almost every scenario.
Now, Sendlein said, the Cardinals are beyond learning the rules and are polishing the what-ifs.
"If all five of us are doing the same thing, even if we are technically we are wrong, we still have a chance to get a good play going," Gandy said.
"We expect big things. We have no excuses."
Knowledge is power. It's also makes anyone look very smart in what they are doing. By now, the offensive line's intelligence is showing.
"It speaks to our intelligence and our talent level as well," Wells said. "There aren't many offensive lines called upon to do what we do week in and week out, not just from the scheme aspect but also protecting as many times as we do and not have guys mentioned for Pro Bowl and things like that. It underestimates the abilities of guys on that line."