On the Road: Day 9 with the Cardinals

Jason Cole
Coach Ken Whisenhunt keeps a close eye on Leinart

(Editor's note: In addition to his team reports, Jason Cole will share some off-field highlights and other observations of his preseason travel.)

Day 9
I have literally gone from the lowest point of the NFL to its highest, traveling from the San Diego seaside to nearly 7,000 feet of elevation in Flagstaff, Ariz., to see the Cardinals. In between was a flight to Phoenix and a two-hour drive. While it's actually an interesting drive, finishing with a stretch going through a corridor of pine trees, this particular trip was a little disconcerting. There was a pretty good storm taking place. Being from Florida, this usually isn't an issue. However, rain coming down in the mountainous region leading to the Colorado Plateau can be treacherous. The water doesn't soak into the ground, meaning that flash floods happen a lot. When that happens, you can get washed off the road and over the side of a mountain in a hurry. Yeah, it's time to slow down or even stop in those conditions. All of that said, the practice fields at Northern Arizona University might provide the best setting for any training camp in the NFL. Flagstaff isn't Napa, Calif., where the Raiders train, but the fields here are set amid a grove of pine trees with mountains in the background. Throw in the culture of Flagstaff, which is a mix of Western and hippie in a college town and you have a pretty cool place.

Enough of the tour guide, what about football?
No team in the NFL has lost more prominent players this offseason than the Cardinals. Between QB Kurt Warner(notes) (retired), WR Anquan Boldin(notes) (traded), LB Karlos Dansby(notes) (free agency), FS Antrel Rolle(notes) (free agency) and Bertrand Berry(notes) (retired), the Cardinals lost five pretty good to great starters. That said, the Cardinals have a pretty good foundation of talent remaining with WRs Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Steve Breaston(notes) and Early Doucet(notes), DT Darnell Dockett(notes), SS Adrian Wilson(notes), RB Beanie Wells(notes) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes). Of course, the major question is whether Matt Leinart(notes) can finally become a legitimate starter and replace Warner. That concern keeps me from thinking this team will win the NFC West this year (I like San Francisco just a little more), but it's not as if the Cardinals are going to go away anytime soon. If Leinart is good, they have a chance to stay atop the division. If not, they should still be decent. … Speaking of Leinart, observers who saw the opening day of camp on Saturday said he was excellent. That wasn't the case Sunday for Leinart or any of the other quarterbacks. That's because the Cardinals secondary was pretty geeked up. In particular, Rodgers-Cromartie was excellent. He put on a show that backed up the belief of many people that he will soon be considered right there with the likes of Darrelle Revis(notes) and Nnamdi Asomugha(notes). … The Cardinals are hoping that second-year CB Greg Toler(notes) will work his way into the starting lineup at some point in training camp. Toler isn't as quick as Rodgers-Cromartie (few are, particularly at his 6-foot-2 size), but he's plenty fast enough for the weakside corner spot. … Wells has looked terrific all offseason as his weight has gotten below 230 pounds. In college, Wells played at closer to 240, but the Cardinals thought the lost weight would make him quicker and a better fit with their pass-based offense.

Flagstaff is a hidden gem
OK, you know about that thing called the Grand Canyon. Outside of Yosemite, few places in this world are as breathtaking, particularly when the sun is setting and lighting up the red-and-brown rock. But that's about two hours away. If you stay right in the area, there are several cool spots. Walnut Canyon is literally only five minutes east of Flagstaff and is a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. It's a much easier hike, particularly if you have kids. In addition, there's Sunset Crater and the lava flows in that area.

Song of the morning
For whatever reason, I was in a bit of a serious mood this morning and dialed up a little Joe Jackson. I find Jackson to be one of the most underrated musicians of my lifetime. The punk/new wave of his early career was fun when I was in high school, but that really doesn't represent the best part of his career. Anyway, there's a great live track he did years ago called "One to One." It's not exactly a pounding beat, but it's not bad and the lyrics are great.

Good eats
Oregano's in Flagstaff doesn't qualify as a dive, by any means. In fact, there are also a couple of locations in the Phoenix area. The draw is terrific food with a delightful ambiance. It's Italian and they do some fantastic desserts. Don't miss it.