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Cardinals embracing change on offense

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By Jeff Biertzer

If Cardinals RB Beanie Wells had his way, he would carry the ball every down.
"I hope we run the ball a lot more (next season), and I hope I am one of the key guys to do so," Wells told PFW. "I want the ball as much as possible."

After an offseason of changes to the Cardinals' offense — QB Kurt Warner retired, WR Anquan Boldin was traded and nine-time Pro Bowl OG Alan Faneca was signed — Wells' ambitions may come true.

"You always go in with the mindset that you have to be able to run the football when you need to run it," co-offensive coordinator Russ Grimm said.

Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt and Grimm lived by this philosophy as coaches on the Steelers' team that won Super Bowl XL by featuring a two-back system — Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker — that gained nearly 140 yards per game. 

When Whisenhunt took over in Arizona in 2007, he embraced the pass-friendly offensive scheme that was already in place.

By last season, however, things had gotten too far out of balance. The Cardinals finished last in the league in rushing attempts — running the ball only 38 percent of the time and averaging 93.4 yards per game.

Despite the pass-first offense, Wells finished his rookie campaign with 793 yards and seven TDs, while backfield mate Tim Hightower finished with 598 yards and eight TDs.  

"We are going to share the load," Wells said. "We are both very productive on the field and deserving."

Grimm said the Cardinals' offense in ’10 will resemble those Steelers teams of the early-to-mid 2000s at times, which is a dramatic change from when Warner was under center. 

The Cardinals were third in the NFL in passing attempts last year and attempted a league-high 1,224 passes in 2008 and ’09 combined. Warner completed 66.1 percent of his passes in ’09, and WRs Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald each finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards for the second year in a row — WR Steve Breaston also had more than 1,000 receiving yards in ’08.

With Warner retired and Boldin now playing for the Ravens, Matt Leinart is expected to be the No. 1 QB for the first time since 2007 and Breaston will move up the depth charts to the No. 2 receiver spot. 

Leinart, who has started 17 games in four seasons, has a 57.1 career completion percentage while throwing 14 TDs and 20 interceptions. The Cardinals also signed QB Derek Anderson, but Whisenhunt gave a strong endorsement for Leinart during the introductory press conference for the former Browns starter. 
The signing of Faneca, who was the starting left guard on the 2006 Super Bowl Steelers team and the Jets' AFC championship team last season, adds depth to an already solid corps of offensive linemen.

"(Faneca) is a veteran player that has played a lot of football," Grimm said. "He's a good addition to the team."

While Faneca is expected to take charge at left guard, the team's returning linemen are trying out new positions.

"We're moving guys around to see what we (have)," Grimm said. "Right now, Levi (Brown) is at the left tackle, Reggie Wells went to right guard, Brandon Keith, a third-year player, (is) working at tackle, and we have some good backups with Jeremy Bridges, Rex Hadnot and Ben Claxton."

While the Cardinals still have many offensive weapons, it is not the same team we saw over the past two seasons.

"There will be some little adjustments," Grimm said. "We are loading up the game plan right now, and are going to find out what we will be successful at and what we can do."

Early indications are that the Cardinals' best success will be by running the ball more, which should make Wells very happy.


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