Rookie wide receiver Early Doucet was active for just the fourth time last weekend when the Cardinals played the Rams.
The day Early Doucet was drafted back in April, there was an assumption by many he would be the Cardinals' third wide receiver this season.
Bryant Johnson had just left as a free agent, leaving a gaping hole. Steve Breaston had never really been viewed as a legitimate potential wideout in the NFL. Jerheme Urban's game had been riddled with inconsistency in 2007.
Doucet made sense.
But that was before Breaston took a spectacular offseason of improvement and
carried it into the regular season. It was before anyone realized Urban would play a significant role on special teams, and would benefit from having a whole offseason and training camp with the Cards (he was acquired after final cuts in 2007, right before the regular season). It was before Doucet was sidelined a good chunk of training camp himself with a bad hamstring.
For anyone wanting to know where Doucet is – he was active and played briefly against the Rams, his first game since Carolina – the answer is simple: He's just at the bottom of the depth chart for now.
"For the most part it is (a numbers thing)," wide receivers coach Mike Miller said. "Early is doing well. His progress, it took a turn there with the injury and lack of reps. He is ready to go at three of our four spots. He's just waiting for an opportunity to get in there and make it happen. We'd love to get him more, but right now, it's a tough situation."
Maybe Doucet's absence is a little more noticeable because of the impact other rookies have made. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Tim Hightower are starting. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema have been contributing.
Doucet has just eight catches for 50 yards, with six of the receptions coming in his debut against Buffalo – a game he played because Anquan Boldin was injured. Once Boldin came back and proved himself OK, Doucet was back to being inactive.
The same injury that set back Doucet as a wideout also set him back on special teams, making Urban the better candidate to play. Breaston, on his way to gaining 1,000 yards receiving, is far and away ahead of Doucet. And fifth receiver Sean Morey has a chance to play in the Pro Bowl on special teams, giving him the easy edge on Doucet.
With special teams issues cropping up – Pago Togafau, Ali Highsmith and Clark Haggans are banged up, and Hightower no longer plays special teams – Doucet may be forced to be a factor there, which will increase his chances of playing.
"Me being a competitor, you get frustrated," Doucet said. "But this is the situation I am in. I am dealing with it, but it is tough. You see other rookie wide receivers in your class getting opportunities and you're not. But things happen for a reason."
WARNER UNDER FIRE
Week after week, opponents usually are quoted as saying something along the lines that they want to pressure quarterback Kurt Warner and force him to make mistakes. It isn't a ludicrous idea; Warner's bad interception against the Rams came when he was scrambling away from the rush and tried to force it late into the middle of the field.
But that doesn't always mean it's a good idea with Warner, who has proven statistically he can tear apart a blitzing defense.
According to STATs, Inc., no one has faced more blitzes than Warner, who has thrown 166 passes against extra pressure in 2008. No one has been more successful against it either, with Warner posting a 116.0 passing rating in such situations. Warner has 13 touchdown passes, only four sacks and a mere two interceptions against the blitz.
It's easy to see why Warner tends to scare a defense.
This year is only the third time the Cardinals have spent every week of the season in first place, joining the 1974 and 1947 seasons.
The last time the Cards had at least eight wins in back-to-back seasons (the Cards were 8-8 in 2007) came in 1975 and 1976 (11-3 and 10-4, respectively).
The Cards have the highest-scoring team in the league through 13 games, at 372 points six ahead of New Orleans and the New York Giants.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 12/9/08.
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