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INDIANAPOLIS — Honesty is always the best policy, and to his credit, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt pulled no punches in his interview session late Friday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine regarding his team’s disappointing 2010 campaign.
At least three different times, Whisenhunt acknowledged the need to do a lot of things very differently following a 5-11 last-place finish in what is widely considered the NFL’s weakest division.
But despite a multitude of concerns — with a major upgrade at the quarterback position at the top of the list — there are still some things Whisenhunt feels good about with another draft just around the corner in which the Cardinals have the fifth pick overall.
For one thing, he is genuinely optimistic about the immediate contributions the Cardinals' 2010 draft crop provided.
“Last year, we had six of our seven draft picks who played and kept improving, even though we had a tough season,” Whisenhunt said. “We got a guy in the fifth round, (QB) John Skelton, that we’re very happy with. That gives us a lot of excitement as we prepare for a new season.”
That said, while Skelton displayed a strong arm and surprising mobility for his size in four starts under center late in the season, he is still considered by most league observers to be a year or two away from being ready to start. In addition, none of the four other Cardinals quarterbacks who were thrown into the fire last season, did anything to distinguish themselves.
Which led to the inevitable two-fold question: Will Whisenhunt be targeting a signalcaller, like Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert or Auburn’s Cam Newton, with the fifth overall pick? Or, with so many other needs, would the Cardinals be better off opting for the best player on their board?
Whisenhunt’s answer was intriguing.
“Well, if you look at what some of those guys like Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford did as rookie starters, you certainly can’t rule out taking a quarterback with the first pick," he said. "But it all comes down to our evaluations. There a lot of different scenarios we will be considering.”
Whisenhunt also left the question of whether he or newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Miller will be doing the play-calling next season up in the air.
"I think we’ll see how things progress,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s always been my goal to turn my play-calling duties over to somebody deserved like I did with Todd (Haley) a few years ago. Mike has worked very hard for this opportunity, and I feel good about him in that role. But it’s something I believe I’ve done well over the years, and it’s something I really enjoy doing.
“So I guess the best answer I can give you is that I’m kind of torn.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Whisenhunt isn’t feeling nearly as conflicted, as he feels quite confident that new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who previously was the Steelers’ secondary coach under Hall of Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau, will fill the bill sufficiently.
“We will do some things different (schematically), but we will try to stay as consistent as we can,” Whisenhunt said. "I’ve known Ray for a number of years and coached with him in Pittsburgh, and I have always been impressed with not only his knowledge but how well he relates with players.
“It’s always good when you play as long and as successfully as he did, because it really adds a lot of credibility. I’m excited about the improvement I think we’ll see in our defense next season.”