Casing Out the Cardinals

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Coaching Connections
49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan and Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt, strength and conditioning coach John Lott, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and running backs coach Maurice Carthon all coached together on the New York Jets staff in 2000…Nolan also coached with Cardinals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm with the Washington Redskins from 1997-99…Cardinals linebackers coach Billy Davis was the 49ers' defensive coordinator from 2005-06…49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky played for the Washington Redskins at linebacker from 1988-90 with Cardinals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm…Cardinals RB coach Maurice Carthon has coached with a number of 49er coaches. He coached running backs with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-04 with 49ers offensive line coach George Warhop… 49ers Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz coached at Arizona St. from 1982-84, and again from 1986-1991. … Martz coached quarterbacks for the Washington Redskins in 1997, where current Cardinals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm. … 49ers TE coach Pete Hoener coached TEs for the cardinals in '01 and '02 and offensive line in '03. … 49ers offensive line coach George Warhop coached the Cardinals offensive line from 1999-02 before Hoener took over.

Former 49ers Players  
DE Chike Okeafor spent the first four years of his career with the 49ers after being drafted in the third round (89th overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft.

Former Cardinals Players 
WR Bryant Johnson was originally drafted by the Cardinals with their first-round selection in the 2003 draft…K Joe Nedney spent three seasons with the Cardinals from 1997-99…G/C Tony Wragge was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals in 2002…Wragge spent two seasons with the Cardinals from 2002-03.

49er Cardinal Player ConnectionsCardinals DE Bertrand Berry played at Notre Dame with KR/PR Allen Rossum under Hall of Fame Coach Lou Holtz … Ari. G Elton Brown and 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks were both All-Americans at Virginia … Cardinals T Levi Brown blocked for 49ers WR Bryant Johnson and RB Michael Robinson at Penn State when he was a QB there… Cardinals G/T Mike Gandy blocked for 49ers WR Arnaz Battle at Notre Dame … 49ers G David Baas played at Michigan with Cardinals DT Gabe Watson, DT Alan Branch and WR Steve Breaston … Cardinals RB J.J. Arrington played with 49ers LB Tully Banta-Cain at Cal … Ari. CB Antrel Rolle played at Miami (Fl.) with RB Frank Gore … P Andy Lee and CB Shawntae Spencer played at Pittsburgh with Ari. WR Larry Fitzgerald … Cardinals DE Antonio Smith played with 49ers TE Billy Bajema at Oklahoma St. … New Cardinals DE Travis LaBoy played on the same D-Line together at Hawaii … G Chilo Rachal played as a redshirt freshman with Cardinals QB Matt Leinart and G Deuce Lutui … Ari. C Lyle Sendlein played for National Champion Texas with 49ers CB Tarrell Brown … 49ers LS Brian Jennings played with Cardinals FB Terrelle Smith at Arizona St. … WR Jason Hill played at Washington State with Cardinals TE Troy Bienemann

For the third consecutive season the San Francisco 49ers will open the season against their divisional rival, the Arizona Cardinals.

The 49ers swept the series with the Cardinals in 2007 in two highly competitive contests that came down to the wire.

The first was played out on Monday night football when the 49ers came from behind to get the victory, thanks to an end around for a touchdown by Arnaz Battle in the final seconds.

Their last meeting occured in Arizona in an overtime road victory for the 49ers. The hard fought game came to a close with a Ron Fields sack of Kurt Warner, and a forced fumble that was recovered in the end zone by linebacker Tully Banta-Cain for a touchdown.

The 49ers will see Warner this weekend as following their final preseason game against the Broncos, head coach Ken Whisenhunt named the veteran as the starter over third-year quarterback Matt Leinart.

Warner started 11 games in 2007, helping Arizona to a fifth rated passing offense, while tossing 27 touchdowns, one shy of an Arizona franchise record.

Arizona continues to boast one of the better receiving tandems for Warner to aim for in Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. However, they did lose their third wideout in Bryant Johnson to the 49ers and still seem to be searching for his replacement.

Rookie Early Doucet could be the long term answer, but the third-round pick out of LSU missed two weeks of camp with a hamstring injury.

In this week one matchup the 49ers can expect to see a mix between Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston.

Arizona's offensive line looks to be without its starting center in Al Johnson. Johnson missed all but the first two days of camp after having surgery to clean up his knee. He's been replaced in the starting lineup by Lyle Sendlein.

Outside of center it's the same returning group as last year. Levi Brown starts at right tackle, working next to Deuce Lutui, who fended off Elton Brown for his spot at right guard. Reggie Wells will start at left guard, and should be book ended by left tackle Mike Gandy. Gandy suffered a bone bruise in his knee in the preseason finale but returned to action, and practiced on Monday.

Wells is expected to take some snaps at center this week in case of an emergency situation. If he did have to fill in there, Elton Brown would likely start in his place. If Gandy can't go, the 49ers could either see Elton, who started five games at right tackle in 2007, Brandon Keith, a seventh-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa, or Elliot Vallejo, a former undrafted free agent out of UC Davis in 2007.

Although running back Edgerrin James has  not put up the kind of yards he enjoyed during his Pro Bowl seasons in Indy, James finished the 2007 season with 1,222 yards and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. He's more of a cutback runner, and he can get big gains if he gets the edge, but his prancing sometimes leads to big losses too.

Terrelle Smith returns for his second year as a true blocking fullback while Tim Castille seems to be getting his number dialed in the passing attack.  Castille finished the preseason with 9 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, good for the second most catches on the team.

Tight end Jerame Tuman followed his former Steelers offensive coordinator to the desert, giving the Cardinals an upgrade in their run blocking. Leonard Pope is more of a passing threat, although both tight ends have been used in a double tight end set in the run game.

Defensively, the Cardinals lost one of their playmakers at linebacker in Calvin Pace, but they added Clark Haggans from the Steelers, and a pass rushing specialist in Travis Laboy from Tennessee.

Laboy edged out former Pro Bowl end in Bertrand Berry for the starting spot at end. Arizona has referred to this position as their predator, as Laboy will line up with his hand on the ground at times or stand up and rush off the edge.

Antonio Smith starts at the other end with Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett working inside. Their other inside starter for the season should be Gabe Watson, but he's been out the last several months after fracturing his knee cap while running on a treadmill. Watson is expected to return to practice this week, but did not do so on Monday and his game day availability is unknown at this time. Bryan Robinson, an off-season free agent acquisition from the Bengals started three preseason games, but worked behind second-year Alan Branch in the Cardinals final preseason game against Denver. Branch left the game with an ankle injury and did not practice on Monday, so the 49ers could see any one of the three this Sunday.

The Cardinals are solid at linebacker with Haggans, Chike Okeafor, Gerald Hayes, and Karlos Dansby, and allow for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to run a hybrid defense that mixes in both the 4-3 and 3-4.

The secondary was a weak spot for Arizona last year, leading to their first overall pick in the draft being used on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of Tennessee State. DRC as they call him was slowed in camp with an ankle injury, but it seems Arizona is very upbeat about their top pick's potential. He will likely start in their nickel package, although Arizona could rely instead on veteran Ralph Brown.

Their starting lineup in the secondary last week included Roderick Hood and Eric Green at the two corner spots, and Antrell Rolle and Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson as safeties.

Playing safety marks a new role for Rolle, a former first-round pick who played primarily in the nickel package last year. His 2007 season was his best as he swiped five interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns.

Wilson is back from last year's season-ending heel injury, and looks to build on his career 16 interceptions and 16 sacks.

On special teams, Arizona went after veteran punter Dirk Johnson this off-season after their experiment last year with Mike Barr, who was kept in favor of the veteran Scott Player, led to some inconsistency in their kicking game. Neil Rackers returns as the team's place kicker, while Nathan Hodel remains as their long snapper. J.J. Arrington, Steve Breaston and Jermene Urban were all used as returners in the preseason, with Arrington recording a long kickoff return of 78 yards.

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