Look at the last four Cardinals head coaches before the latest
arrival, Vince Tobin, and you see something interesting. They're
of a type: players' coaches, men of the people. Buddy Ryan was
the last one. He succeeded Joe Bugel, who succeeded Gene
Stallings (now, there's the one who got away--he was terrific),
who succeeded Jim Hanifan. Good ol' boys, all of them.
Maybe it was just an accident, or maybe Bill Bidwill has been
drawn to that type of person. Who knows, with this strange
outfit and its even stranger owner? But now Bidwill has got
Tobin is lean, taut, highly organized. Practices will be crisp.
The players will sit up straighter in their chairs at meetings.
Everything will run like clockwork. "It's a very professional
atmosphere," says linebacker Garth Jax, who's working for his
fourth Cardinals staff.
Sounds good so far, but now we come to a really strange
decision, which Tobin says was entirely his--well, his with a
bit of input from offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. Boomer
Esiason is the new quarterback. Huh? Boomer barely escaped with
his life during the Jets' 3-13 fiasco last year. Everyone
figured he would be in the TV booth by now. Granted, New York's
offensive line ranked with Arizona's among the league's worst,
and it was rare indeed when the Jets could put more than two
wideouts on the field. But even before '95, Esiason had put in
two seasons with the Jets that didn't exactly thrill anybody.
July 31, 1996
"I didn't want to start my regime with a 38-year-old
quarterback," Tobin says, referring to last year's starter, Dave
Krieg. But Boomer is 35.
"Well, 35's better than 38," Tobin says.
Why they want a 35-year-old QB with very limited skills is
anybody's guess. Boomer can throw down the middle, he can even
throw deep down the middle, but those throws are easier on the
arm; the 10- and the 15-yard out, vital passes in any
quarterback's repertoire, are no longer part of his. So defenses
have pinched off the middle on Esiason, and then he has been in
trouble. When he has had to get a drive going over the last few
years, it was all dinks or crossing patterns or dump-offs to his
And Esiason will be playing for his sixth head coach in six
years, which isn't a positive sign. Coach breaker is the term
that comes to mind.
Tobin says he was impressed with Boomer when he faced him as
defensive coordinator for the Bears and the Colts during
Boomer's days as a Bengal and then a Jet. Well, let's see what
happened. The Bears beat Cincy 44-7 in '86, when Boomer threw
four interceptions, and 17-14 in '89, when Esiason jammed his
finger and completed one of his last 10 passes. In '92, though,
the Bengals won in overtime and Boomer led the drive for the
winning field goal. That must be the one that Tobin remembers,
because as a Jet, Esiason was nothing special, winning once in
five starts against Tobin's Colts.
Is that evidence enough that he's the guy to turn around a
disastrous 4-12 program? Doubtful. Keep an eye on 6'5" Kent
Graham, a 27-year-old with a cannon for an arm. He comes from
Detroit, where he migrated last season after Dave Brown beat him
out as the Giants' starter.
Even with a 1,000-yard runner (Garrison Hearst) and a Pro Bowl
fullback (Larry Centers), the Cardinals scored only three TDs on
the ground--which might not look so bad to Esiason, since his
Jets had only two. Blame the Cardinals' offensive line for that,
but it's bound to improve now that Pro Bowl tackle Lomas Brown,
the ex-Lion, has arrived. And Boomer certainly has a better pair
of wideouts now in Frank Sanders and Rob Moore (his go-to guy
with the Jets in '93 and '94) than he had in New York last year.
Defense, of course, is Tobin's baby. In '86 he took over Ryan's
Super Bowl Bears defense, top-ranked in the league, and actually
shaved a few yards and points off the stats. Now he inherits
another Ryan D, this one in sorry shape. Simeon Rice, the third
player taken in the draft, has to assert himself at left end,
and tackle Eric Swann has to stay healthy. Swann spent the
spring playing the free-agent market, but the word around the
league is that after two operations, he has become leery of
having his knees targeted by blockers. Still, he's an
intimidating force, and Tobin will need as much muscle as he can
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 85.2 (29) 218.9 (17) 304.1(24)
DEFENSE 140.6 (30) 215.9 (15) 356.5 (26)
The Cards' Quarterback Shuffle
Eight QBs have led the Cardinals in starts over the past eight
seasons. No other team since 1960 has started as many over an
Cardinals Starting Quarterbacks, 1988-95
GS Pct. TDs Int. Rating
Neil Lomax, 14 57.6 20 11 86.7
Gary Hogeboom, 13 56.0 14 19 69.5
Timm Rosenbach, 16 54.2 16 17 72.8
Tom Tupa, 11 52.4 6 13 62.0
Chris Chandler, 13 59.3 15 15 77.1
Steve Beuerlein, 14 61.7 18 17 82.5
Jay Schroeder, 8 55.9 4 7 68.4
Dave Krieg, 16 58.3 16 21 72.6
PLAYER TO WATCH
His first experience with the bright lights of the NFL lasted
longer than he had expected. Tailback Leeland McElroy of Texas
A&M waited in April as the other 10 draftees invited to New York
were selected. And he waited. And waited. Finally, the Cardinals
took him No. 32. They had clocked the 5'9", 198-pound McElroy at
4.29. "He can be our Mel Gray, who has been the best return man
in football," coach Vince Tobin says. "A guy like that can turn
a game completely around."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Vince Tobin
QB Boomer Esiason[*] 389 att. 221 comp. 56.8% 2,275 yds. 16 TDs
15 int. 71.4 rtg.
RB Garrison Hearst 284 att. 1,070 yds. 1 TD
FB Larry Centers 78 att. 254 yds. 2 TDs
TE Pat Carter[*] 0 rec. 0 yds. 0 TDs
WR Rob Moore 63 rec. 907 yds. 5 TDs
WR Frank Sanders 52 rec. 883 yds. 2 TDs
WR Anthony Edwards 29 rec. 417 yds. 2 TDs
LT Lomas Brown[*] 6'4" 275 lbs.
LG Duval Love 6'3" 288 lbs.
C Mike Devlin[*] 6'2" 300 lbs.
RG Anthony Redmon 6'4" 308 lbs.
RT Ernest Dye 6'6" 325 lbs.
PK Greg Davis 19/19 XPs 30/39 FGs
LE Simeon Rice[*] (R) 11 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT Michael Bankston 2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT Eric Swann 8 1/2 sacks 2 fum. rec.
RE Clyde Simmons 11 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Seth Joyner 1 sack 3 int.
MLB Eric Hill 2 sacks 0 int.
OLB Jamir Miller 1 sack 0 int.
CB Aeneas Williams 6 int. 0 sacks
SS Matt Darby[*] 2 int. 0 sacks
FS Brent Alexander 2 int. 1/2 sack
CB Tito Paul 1 int. 0 sacks
P Jeff Feagles 72 punts 43.8 avg.
PR Leeland McElroy[*](R) 0 ret. N.A.
KR Leeland McElroy[*](R) 9 ret. 23.1 avg.
[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)