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The Right Kind Of Player

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Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt (left) and general manager Rod Graves (center) prepare to meet with the media one final time after the 2008 draft Sunday.

The concept was "football character."

It was a catch phrase employed by the Cardinals during the 2008 draft weekend, along with others like "greatest margin of improvement." And "football character" was used by both general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt as they summarized this year's class.

The Cards wanted players they felt were truly energized to play in the NFL. It was

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information as important as medical files or 40 times.

"It is a process of gathering information all year long, and sometimes longer than that," Graves said. "Usually, history follows a player. The interviews at Indy don't tell the story."

"When a coach comes up to us," Whisenhunt added, "and says, 'This kid loves to practice, this kid is watching tape after practice,' those are the things you mark down."

Ultimately it is all but impossible to grade a draft class before three or four seasons have passed. And desire, no matter how strong, doesn't mean a player will develop into someone who can contribute.

But after the five picks the Cards had Sunday – wide receiver Early Doucet, defensive end Kenny Iwebewa, running back Tim Hightower, linebacker Chris Harrington and tackle Brandon Keith – the Cardinals felt they had a good starting point.

"When you talk about football character, we want guys that want to play, that want to study, that want to learn and to a man these guys were all excited about that," Whisenhunt said. "This is not a pick-up-the-phone-on-draft-day-and-see-if-they-are-excited. This is a gathering of information and one of (our) priorities for us."

Many of the Cards' picks used a version of the "chip on my shoulder" cliché. The Cardinals hope that drives them to another level, whether it was Doucet talking about his lack of timed speed – "I'm not a 4.3 guy and I never will be. But I'm a football player so that's all that really matters," Doucet said – or Hightower irritated at similar questions or not getting any looks from major colleges -- "It was always the thing; I had a dream of playing professional football and that's something I set my mind to," Hightower said.

Even first-round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has questions after playing college at Tennessee State, with the Cardinals hoping (and Rodgers-Cromartie confirming) it will be used as motivation.

The class was built, Graves said, on best-player-available-at-the-time theory. That's why the team took three defensive ends (Calais Campbell and Iwebewa, with Harrington being moved at this level to linebacker) and never jumped at a shot at adding some offensive speed.

That was one of the thoughts heading into the draft, getting faster at running back and maybe receiver. It didn't materialize.

"It's easy to say 'We want a home-run hitter' but it's not always the case," Whisenhunt said. "Let's not forget Edge ran for 1,222 yards last year."

There were few fast backs left by the time the Cardinals selected in the third round. Hightower, offensive coordinator Todd Haley said, could eventually be a "carry-the-load" back."

Doucet, meanwhile, was a player the Cards had long liked, and Whisenhunt said he thought Doucet's productivity in the SEC was proof enough he was fast enough – even if his speed is about the same as Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

"I'm not putting (Early) in the class of Jerry Rice yet, but when Jerry Rice came out, was that not one of the knocks on Jerry Rice?" Whisenhunt asked rhetorically. "(Doucet) plays fast. … We'll see."

The Cardinals hope to sign about 12 or 13 undrafted rookies in the next day or so in preparation for the upcoming minicamp.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 4/27/08.

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