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Staff Stability Benefits Cards

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The Cardinals will be helped by keeping coaches like tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens (white hat talking to Troy Bienemann), offensive coordinator Todd Haley, running backs coach Maurice Carthon (red hat) and offensive line coach Russ Grimm (grey hat). 

Marcel Shipp has been a Cardinal since making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2001, and emerged as a productive starting running back by the end of the 2002 season.

Those two seasons were also the last time the Cardinals had their entire coaching staff intact for back-to-back seasons.

"The worst thing," Shipp said, "is adjusting to a new coach every year."

The Cardinals have that stability again in 2008, with every member of the coaching staff returning from 2007. It shouldn't be a huge surprise, with coach Ken Whisenhunt going into his second year, but it is still a significant happening.

There was work involved, with the franchise giving offensive coordinator Todd Haley a pay raise just to avoid the chance he could be hired as the Dolphins' new head coach. And the Cards held their breath a bit waiting to see if teams wanted to talk to assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm about a head coaching gig.

But the group stayed together, a fact that should produce tangible impact.

"It's easy to think of coaches in schemes and in plays, and there is no question that helps," Whisenhunt said. "But the underestimated part of it is the relationship you build with these players. When you have  been through the battles (together), you don't have a new guy to get up to speed and that helps with the overall team chemistry."

Teams can adapt to some movement in a staff – "The only thing that is constant in the NFL is change," veteran defensive end Bertrand Berry said – but continuity helps.

That was some of the weight Whisenhunt, an offensive coach, gave to Clancy Pendergast when he decided to keep Pendergast on the staff as defensive coordinator. Many core defensive players expressed relief last season when Pendergast was retained and keeping much of his terminology.

The offense gets the same benefit this season with Haley.

But it is the familiarity deeper on the staff that may ultimately make the biggest difference. Pendergast's preference is to have the defensive players "hear one voice" 85 percent of the time – that of the position coaches. That wasn't always the case when Dennis Green was head coach and Pendergast was more involved in the day-to-day teaching.

That has improved, Pendergast added.

"In the heat of the battle," Pendergast said, "players will go where they are most comfortable."

Ask about the staff stability and players have the same reaction. Center Al Johnson said Grimm's presence for a second straight year has put the offensive line "way ahead of where we were last year." That could only happen with the same position coach.

"That's who you spend the most time with," center Al Johnson said.

Defensive backs coach Teryl Austin, for instance, already knows what the strengths and weaknesses of Antrel Rolle, which aids him in helping Rolle's transition from cornerback to safety. Quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge already knows what the Cards want Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner to improve upon, since they watched them for a season.

And in the meeting rooms, when Whisenhunt and his crew gather together to break down film, evaluate players and draw up game plans, each already knows how the others operate.

"We aren't talking about the Steelers or the Cowboys or the Browns, we are talking about the Cardinals  now," Haley said. "Everything is referenced off the Cardinals." * * * Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 6/24/08.

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