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The Depth Of The Matter

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The Cards' second-string offensive line -- tackle Elliott Vallejo (68), guard Elton Brown (61), center Lyle Sendlein (63) and guard Scott Peters (64) line up in a recent workout.

When his rocky career is recounted, from rookie to an organized team activity day in 2008, Elton Brown can't help but chuckle.

Once, Brown was inactive for an entire season. He was lucky not to be released. Yet now, Brown is the only real veteran depth on the offensive line, practically a savior on the roster.

"I don't feel any pressure," Brown said. "I go into it having played tackle and guard. That's the name of the game. It's always good to have backups. There's no pressure. This is my job."

While the Cardinals are in good shape with their starting offensive line – as of now, the team expects to have the same five starters at the same five positions for a second consecutive year, only the second time that will have happened (1996-97) since the team moved from St. Louis – it is what is behind the starters that gives pause.

There is Brown, who played tackle for the first time last season. There is second-year center Lyle Sendlein, who can play some guard in a pinch. There is tackle Elliott Vallejo, who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. Guard/center Scott Peters has some experience, but it has been limited enough that he was also on the practice squad last year.

And there are a handful of rookies who haven't proven anything.

"We are looking for some depth," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "We will see how much those guys (other than Brown) can contribute."

Chasing veteran help remains a possibility. The team wanted to re-sign Keydrick Vincent, but the extended negotiations on the Larry Fitzgerald contract cost them that opportunity when Carolina gave Vincent a two-year contract.

Grimm said it was too early to think about going after a veteran, and besides, given the dearth of talent available, "you can't count on that," he said.

"You have to work these guys as hard as you can and hopefully you can find someone to fill that spot," Grimm added.

While it is a concern, it's not like candidates can't emerge from obscurity. At this time last year, Brown looked like a player almost certain to be released by the new coaching staff – until he improved. Sendlein, who started a few games when Al Johnson was hurt, was a long-shot undrafted rookie.

Vallejo, currently the second-string right tackle with Brown working at right guard, admits he probably wouldn't have even remained around if Oliver Ross hadn't suffered a season-ending injury last year.

The depth situation leans towards the unknown, but, Vallejo said, "that's my whole career so far – unknown."

"I just keep fighting for a job, fighting for a job and see where I am at the end of the day," Vallejo added. "Coming from last year, you are expected to know everything better now, even if you don't. So when you mess up, it's 10 times worse."

Grimm said the rookies brought in – tackles Brandon Keith, Thaddeus Coleman and Peter Clifford, guard Carlton Medder and guard/center Hercules Satale – all have the athletic ability to succeed.

Whether they will is something the coaching staff hopes can happen.

"I have been through a tough stretch (in my career)," Brown said. "It's about taking care of your body and how you approach your job. Last year I was more serious and committed and it showed. That's what I am trying to tell these young guys."

Added Vallejo, "There is pressure for someone to step forward."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 5/23/08.

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