Improved O-line critical to Cardinals' hopes

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By Jonathan Daniel By Jonathan Daniel

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Keeping Carson Palmer upright is priority No. 1 for the Arizona Cardinals.

That means the pressure is on the offensive line, the biggest question mark on the team entering training camp.

The Cardinals allowed an NFL-worst 58 sacks in 2012, and with new coach Bruce Arians' love of the deep pass, improvement up front is essential.

"The offensive line really determines how good an offense is going to be," tackle Levi Brown said. "The eye is definitely on us, because if we don't give the quarterback time, nobody else can get their job done."

While Arians won't commit to a starting lineup for the regular season, if current trends hold, three of the five Arizona linemen will be new from last season.

Brown, who missed all of last year with torn triceps, moves back to left tackle, with first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper at left guard and late free agent acquisition Eric Winston at right tackle.

Daryn Colledge moves from left guard to right, leaving center Lyle Sendlein as the only constant from a year ago.

Left tackle Nate Potter and right tackle Bobby Massie would be the backups, with Paul Fanaika - out of football last season - impressing at right guard while playing with the first unit because Colledge had been sidelined until this week with leg nerve irritation.

"I think we're building a very strong, deep offensive line," Arians said, "and we'll keep adding pieces if there's some out there."

At age 33 and battered by 11 NFL seasons, Palmer is anything but fleet afoot. If he's to succeed, he needs time, something that Arizona's quarterbacks often lacked a year ago, when the Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 with the worst offense in the league.

Some of those sacks were not the line's fault, and it did get better as the season progressed and the rookie Potter moved in at left tackle. But it was an area that new general manager Steve Keim and Arians approached quickly in the offseason by using the seventh overall draft pick to select Cooper. The All-American from North Carolina has worked with the starting unit virtually from the day he arrived.

The line passed its brief test in last week's 17-0 victory at Green Bay. Palmer had plenty of time to throw, but it's preseason with no defensive scheming. In the nine plays the first unit had, there were no blitzes to deal with.

Arians wants to see the pass blocking continue to improve when the Cardinals are home against Dallas on Saturday, although he said he's less concerned about run blocking given the difficulty of quickly adjusting to the Cowboys' 4-3 stunting defense.

"I know we can run block," the coach said.

Arians has been lukewarm in talking about Brown, after calling him "an elite tackle" early in the offseason.

The coach said Brown "played extremely well" against the Packers, but added "I'd just like to see him practice on a more consistent level."

Brown said the competition up front is a good thing.

"There's a lot of people competing for jobs," he said, "which is going to make everybody better."

Winston, who has started every game in his seven NFL seasons, didn't get the big free agent contract he was looking for and wound up taking a one-year deal with the Cardinals. It took just a few days for him to supplant second-year pro Massie at right tackle.

Winston likes the personalities of his fellow linemen.

"They're all kind of rugged individuals," he said, "and that kind of personality trait leads to the ability to have a good offensive line. Obviously, things are still a work in progress. We'll see how things shake out, but I like the guys here. I like the leadership that's here. I think it's just about five guys being on the same page and just doing it."

Conventional wisdom says great offensive lines need to play together for years to build continuity, a luxury the Cardinals do not have.

"Believe me, I've been on offensive lines where we just grunted at each other and we knew what we were all doing," Winston said. "Those were great lines. But at the same time we're professionals and to be a professional you've got to know what you're doing at all times, no matter how long you've played next to the guy."

He said Arians' blocking system should make familiarity with the other linemen less of a factor.

Colledge watched as Fanaika did well in his absence. He said that the new coaching staff has made it clear that if you're not doing the job, they'll find someone else to do it.

"We don't have anybody on that offensive line that's a five-time Pro Bowler," he said, "and we've got a brand new system. So it's kind of a situation where you don't feel the coaches owe you anything. You feel like you've got to go out every week and prove yourself and prove that you're the guy that deserves to be out there."

Notes: ILB Daryl Washington was on his way back from New York City on Tuesday after meeting with NFL officials in an attempt to have his suspension reduced. The league suspended Washington for the first four games of the season for violating its substance abuse policy. ... Larry Fitzgerald spent 30 minutes after practice Monday working with rookie TE D.C. Jefferson. Jefferson, a seventh-round draft pick out of Rutgers, dropped two passes against Green Bay.

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