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The Search For A Third


 Among the candidates to become the Cards' third receiver are (from left to right) Jamaica Rector, Early Doucet, Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston.

Since 2004, the Cardinals' wide receiving corps had been obvious.

Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson -- and everybody else.

Fitzgerald got his contract extension this offseason, meaning he isn't going anywhere. Boldin, despite some turbulence with his own contract, was never going to leave Arizona. Johnson, however, did leave as a free agent.

And now, the Cards' third receiver spot is vacant.

"Those positions were pretty much in cement the last few years and those guys earned the right to be there," candidate Jerheme Urban said. "(Now), you've got a handful of guys who want the position."

Said receivers coach Mike Miller, "It's as wide-open as it seems."

The recent minicamp began the process. When the Cardinals drafted Early Doucet in the third round, the rookie immediately became a favorite contender to the job. But second-year man Steve Breaston has impressed during minicamp practices and Urban has the most experience (and most 2007 production).

Guys like special-teams ace Sean Morey, veteran Ahmad Merritt and speedy Jamaica Rector – whom offensive coordinator Todd Haley knew in Dallas – are also possibilities. Miller insisted on throwing in the names of guys further down the depth chart, like Jemalle Cornelius and undrafted rookie Lance Long.

Before minicamp began, Haley gathered the entire offensive roster and reminded them the best players will play, regardless of pedigree.

"That's why you come to the NFL and play football, is to get a chance to get on the field," Doucet said. "I don't expect them to give me that third-receiver spot but I want to show I am capable of being that third guy."

Johnson caught 46 passes a season ago, for 528 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The numbers aren't overwhelming to replace, and in reality, a continuing emergence of young tight ends like Ben Patrick and Leonard Pope may decrease the importance of the third receiver.

So too might increased attempts in the running game.

But Urban recalled his time in Seattle, when the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks not only generated a league MVP at running back in Shaun Alexander – thanks to more than 1,800 yards rushing – but also a Pro Bowl quarterback as Matt Hasselbeck threw the ball plenty.

There is also the matter of Fitzgerald's and Boldin's health; Since Fitzgerald came into the league in 2004, there hasn't been a season where both played all 16 games. Number three would become No. 2 with an injury.

"You never know what is going to happen during a season," Breaston said.

None of the candidates would seem to be a natural deep threat, a receiver who could just fly past the defense and stretch the field. Then again, Johnson was supposed to have that ability and it never quite came out, while Doucet has shown in college and in minicamp that his "slow" 4.5-timed speed tends to be a little faster on the field.

Ultimately, the sorting out of the third wideout will be one of the major stories of training camp come July.

"We will miss B.J.," Boldin said. "But I think we have a good group of young guys who can replace B.J. It will be a tough competition."

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 5/9/08.

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