Another desert mirage?

By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports
September 3, 2007

TEMPE, Ariz. When cornerback Eric Green reported for training camp with the Arizona Cardinals in July, he delivered a familiar punch line about this franchise. He talked about the team having a different energy and a new face. This, Green said, was the new and improved Cardinals.

It's the Cardinals' fourth new look in 12 seasons. And improved? Well, that typically turns out to be the annual joke.

"I really do think it's going to be different this time," general manager Rod Graves told Yahoo! Sports, just before training camp kicked off.

Graves' words can be taken either as a statement or a prayer. He has seen so many head coaches wash out of the organization in the last decade, you can understand if it's a little of both. He was the assistant to the team president through the Vince Tobin disappointment. And he ascended to his GM duties during the Dave McGinnis disaster. Then he helped stock the team with ample talent during the befuddling Dennis Green era, which was marked by plenty of bluster and promise but delivered an anemic 16 wins in three seasons.

So the question Graves hears now is simple: Why now? What is going to work for new coach Ken Whisenhunt that hasn't worked for every other administration? What makes this Cardinals team, with just one playoff win since leaving St. Louis, different from every other desert mirage the NFL has seen in Arizona over the past 19 years?

"There are a few things," Graves insisted. "At various stages in my time here, we had one aspect in place, but there wasn't another. Yes, we've grown as an organization along the way. But this is the first time I really believe that all the elements are really in place for us to make a run.

"We've got a good coaching staff. We're more talented as a team than we've been since I've been here. Our organization has supported keeping our key players in place. We've jumped up and extended players before their contracts have been up. We've stabilized our roster. Our ownership has shown commitment by going and doing what it took to get a new stadium. For the first time, every aspect of our organization has the support that it needs to be successful."