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Doubts follow Cards to camp

The Associated Press

New coach Green has predicted a 10-6 record and a spot in the playoffs.

The Associated Press

TEMPE – The Dennis Green era in Arizona begins in earnest Monday, when the new Cardinals coach puts his team through its first training camp practice.

Expectations are high mainly because of Green’s prediction of a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. But questions surround key players and the issue of whether the former Minnesota Vikings coach can work his magic with a franchise known for losing.

None of it bothers Green, who bridled this week at questions about the youth of quarterback Josh McCown, the wear and tear on 35-year-old running back Emmitt Smith and the need to strengthen last year’s 26th-ranked defense.

“I don’t think that we have less talent than most people,” Green said. “I feel very strongly that we had 10 really good guys to start building this program on. I wouldn’t tell you who those 10 guys are, but they’re probably going to be totally different than who you think they are. And I think we built a lot of guys on top of those 10 original guys.”

The team reports to the Northern Arizona University campus tomorrow, later than most NFL teams but in keeping with Green’s desire for intense practices in which quick learners will shine.

“We will probably be one of the last teams starting training camp, which puts us in a situation where we understand and need tempo – to move fast, so you get a lot done in a short period of time.”

The annual Red-White Scrimmage will take place Friday, followed the next day by a mock game without pads but using the 40-second clock, uniformed officials and substitutions.

The second week, the team will have a walkthrough Aug. 13 and then leave for its Aug. 14 exhibition opener against the Vikings at the Metrodome. The Cardinals will break camp in Flagstaff on Aug. 19, two days before meeting the San Diego Chargers in Tempe, and open an unprecedented, five-day session at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott on Aug. 23.

They host Oakland on Aug. 28 and complete the preseason at Denver on Sept. 2.

The Cardinals forfeited their last week of summer workouts when the NFL Management Council and the players’ union upheld complaints that there was too much contact during the voluntary sessions.

Green knows there are no such restrictions at training camp, but he has no plan to burn up players with lots of hitting.

“We do not wear pads most of the time, and so when you watch in training camp you’ll see it’s very similar to what you saw at team organized workouts – you don’t tackle, you don’t hit or anything like that,” he said. “You use your legs, and you work hard.”

Key injuries sent last year’s team into a seven-game skid and an eventual 4-12 record – Arizona’s fifth consecutive losing record – and led to the firing of coach Dave McGinnis.

Green, who coached the Vikings into eight postseason berths in 10 years, said keeping players healthy is a primary concern.

McCown began 2003 as Jeff Blake’s backup, but started seven games – the last three straight. In those three, he completed 60 percent of his passes, and Green wasted little time anointing him as the quarterback of the future.

Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, went the opposite route: He had 192 yards on 65 carries before breaking his shoulder blade in the fifth game.

When Green used the early end to summer workouts to announce the starting lineups for camp, Smith was back on the first team.

Former first-round picks L.J. Shelton and Calvin Pace, starters at left tackle and right defensive end last year, will have to battle their way back.

Green and his staff moved right guard Leonard Davis to left tackle in their major offensive-line move, and free-agent acquisition Bertrand Berry will get his chance at defensive end to bolster the Cardinals pass rush.

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