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The Year After

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Coach Ken Whisenhunt is hoping the Cardinals can use their 2008 success as a building block for 2009.

Through their postseason run of 2008, the Cardinals were reminded by coach Ken Whisenhunt often that there was an ancillary benefit from the success – the team gained understanding going forward what it took to become a winner and reach a Super Bowl.

But, with training camp opening tomorrow, there is also the realization the Cards don't know what it's like the year after.

There are a couple of players who have been through this before, playing for a team coming off a Super Bowl, but they are few: quarterback Kurt Warner and

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safety Matt Ware lost a Super Bowl, while linebacker Clark Haggans, Warner and wide receiver Sean Morey won one. The rest of the roster is in new territory as they attempt to become the first Cardinals team to achieve back-to-back playoff appearances since the mid-1970s.

"What helps the bulk of our team is we did have success winning the division and then we saw what happened in the next couple of weeks when we didn't play that well," Whisenhunt said. "We were pleased with ourselves, we felt like we could just show up as a good team and we got drubbed a couple of times. I think we can point back to that experience. Hopefully that will help us keep our focus and not get caught in the trap thinking you can just show up and pick up where we left off."

Whisenhunt has been through this before, on both ends. He was a coach with the Steelers when they made it to the AFC Championship game and lost, and again the year following the Steelers' Super Bowl victory after the 2005 season. That experience, however, doesn't necessarily translate.

Those Steelers were already a veteran team with multiple playoff berths, Whisenhunt said. Besides, every team is different.

"The dynamic has changed for this team," Whisenhunt said. "That's the NFL. What we have to do is use our group of leaders, our core group of veterans, and they've got to help hold the rest of the team accountable just like the coaches do.

"Because we went through some experiences where not a lot of people gave us chances, it did make us stronger. Hopefully we can use that as a bonding mechanism."

The Cards are a little different. Edgerrin James is no longer the running back, having been released after Beanie Wells – who has yet to sign his first contract – was drafted in the first round to compete with Tim Hightower. Both coordinators are gone from the coaching staff, replaced by promoted incumbents Mike Miller and Russ Grimm (on offense) and Bill Davis (on defense). Defensive end Antonio Smith left as a free agent; cornerback Bryant McFadden arrived as one.

But most of the pieces remain in place. Offensively, quarterback Kurt Warner re-signed and still has three 1,000-yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. The offensive line that started all 20 games last season is still intact.

Defensively, the leaders are still defensive end Darnell Dockett, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Adrian Wilson. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a star on the rise.

Whisenhunt also said he isn't expecting many limitations on injured players heading into camp. The only questions marks are tight end Stephen Spach and linebacker Ali Highsmith, each of whom are coming off significant knee surgery. There is a feeling the Cards won't be as affected by players upset with their contracts. Dockett has already come out and said he won't let his issue bother him, while Boldin –still a question mark since he has yet to speak publicly since changing agents – may tone down his anger given his move to advisor Tom Condon.

The Cards will have a shorter stay in Flagstaff this season, closing out camp Aug. 20 after just 17 days of actual workouts at NAU. Practices will continue in Tempe until the regular-season opener Sept. 13.

That's when the Cardinals get to take what they learned about winning in 2008 and see if it can gain the same results in 2009.

"We know, there is no question, if we practice the right way, study the right way, prepare the right way, that we can win," Whisenhunt said. "That's always the big question when you come in with a new program. Now that question has been answered. Now we have to do that on a weekly basis, to establish that consistency like the New Englands do, like the Indianapolises do, like Pittsburgh has done. That's the challenge for us.

"When you talk about starting over (in a new season), it's developing that chemistry that served us so well in the playoffs. That takes time. Camp is a great place for that to start."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 7/28/09.

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