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 »This Week in History
Arizona Cardinals
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Wilks focused on QB as he takes reins of Cardinals

Steve Wilks didn't take long to address what he labeled as the "elephant in the room" when he was introduced as the 38th head coach in the history of the Arizona Cardinals franchise.

Wilks, who is beginning his first NFL head coaching assignment, takes over a team without a quarterback on the roster that is signed for 2018. Carson Palmer announced his retirement earlier in the offseason after Arizona finished with an 8-8 mark.

"There's a question mark right now and we all know, it's the elephant in the room we don't have a quarterback," Wilks said.

"(General manager) Steve (Keim) and I have addressed that issue and we sat down with (president Michael Bidwill) as well already and we're going to have an active and aggressive plan in free agency and see what's gonna happen in the draft."

The 48-year-old Wilks also noted that he had an "in-depth conversation" with Larry Fitzgerald, although the veteran wide receiver didn't reveal if he's playing in the 2018 season.

Although he talked about the offense, Wilks served as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator the last two seasons. He replaces Bruce Arians, who retired after spending five seasons as head coach of the Cardinals.

"We found a great leader. And not just a leader with a high football IQ but also a high football EQ," Bidwill said before introducing Wilks. "He just doesn't coach football players, he coaches people. And when I saw EQ, I'm talking about an emotional quotient. Somebody's who's really got that sense of where the players are.

"That's a unique skill that Steve Wilks has."

Both Bidwill and Wilks mentioned accountability as an integral factor in a team's success, and Wilks' defensive mindset showed in one promise to the assembled media.

"When other teams watch us play, we're going to play with more physicality and effort than any other team out there," said Wilks.

The 48-year-old Wilks was promoted to defensive coordinator in Carolina after the 2016 season, and his defense was seventh in the league in yards allowed while finishing third in sacks this past season. Previously, he was the Panthers' secondary coach for five seasons.

"I'm fired up for Steve," Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. "Steve and I have been fortunate to work together at three different stops, and at all three stops we've had a tremendous amount of success, and Steve's been a big part of the success we've had. I believe he's going to do the same thing in Arizona because of the type of person he is. High character, high moral values, tremendous football person, and a great leader.

"I think Steve will fit very nicely into their culture. I think he'll help build this team into a perennial winner. He'll outline what his philosophies and beliefs are and more importantly he'll share with everybody what his ultimate goal is."

Before joining Carolina, Wilks was the secondary coach for the San Diego Chargers for three seasons and the defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears for three years.

"Coach Wilks was meant to be a head coach," former Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "He is a leader of men, loyal and honest. One of the best coaches I've ever had and even a better man."

He was a coach at the college level for 11 seasons before jumping to the NFL, including going 5-6 as the head coach at Savannah State in 1999.

It wasn't what they wanted, but when the Arizona Cardinals look back at the 2017 season, they won't consider their 8-8 finish a failure. Considering they were forced to place 15 players on injured reserve, including seven Week-1 starters, and saw 30 players miss a grand total of 180 games, going .500 was actually quite an accomplishment.

The Cardinals got there despite losing their best player, running back David Johnson, to a fractured left wrist in the season opener. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer missed the final nine games after suffering a broken left arm. Outside linebacker Markus Golden, who led the team with 12.5 sacks a year ago, missed the final 12 games after suffering a torn ACL.

Ten other starters would also end up on season-ending injured reserve, including four of their five offensive linemen and their leading tackler and interception leader, safeties Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea, respectively. Not only that, but Arizona was down to its third-string quarterback for five straight games in Blaine Gabbert.

The Cardinals would end up losing two more key people immediately after the season, as head coach Brue Arians and Palmer announced their retirements on back-to-back days. They each joined the team for the start of the 2013 season.

"I could not be more proud of our group," Arians said after beating the Seahawks in Week 17, making him the all-time winningest coach in franchise history with 50 wins. "To take this group to 8-8 has probably been the best coaching job our staff has ever done. There were 25 guys who were not in training camp on our roster today."

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Cardinals proved they have the defense, at least, to remain a legitimate contender. After being ranked 24th overall following a 33-0 rout in London by the Rams in Week 7, Arizona's defense finished the year ranked sixth overall (310.9 yards per game). It marked the first time in franchise history the Cardinals' defense finished in the top 10 in three consecutive seasons following a No. 2 ranking last year and a No. 5 ranking in 2015. The cornerstone players are still on the roster: pass rusher Chandler Jones, shut-down cornerback Patrick Peterson, ball-hawk safety Tyrann Mathieu - to keep this unit a formidable group.

WHAT WENT WRONG: They had some shining moments, but the lack of a consistent running game is ultimately what hurt the offense and this team the most. They finished 30th in rushing, averaging just 86.6 yards per game. It didn't help that they lost David Johnson to a season-ending wrist injury in the opener at Detroit. The trade for Adrian Peterson looked like a steal after he ran for 134 and 159 yards in two of his first three games for the Cardinals, but he would end up missing the last five games with a neck injury. The diminutive Kerwynn Williams played his tail off down the stretch, averaging 71 yards in the final five games despite dealing with quadriceps, ribs and back issues, but it wasn't enough.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: The Cardinals were willing to let veteran Calais Campbell leave via free agency primarily because they thought they had found his replacement in 2016 first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche. Instead, the big defensive tackle failed to live up to expectations for a second straight year. He finished 2017 with just 12 total tackles and still has yet to register his first NFL sack. Nkemdiche shows flashes of brilliance, but still relies too much on sheer physical traits and not nearly enough technique, which could become his downfall.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Although he didn't join the starting lineup until Week 10 - and only because of a season-ending knee injury to veteran Tyvon Branch - rookie Budda Baker absolutely soared with increased playing time. The second-round pick out of Washington took over at strong safety and finished sixth on the team in tackles (61), forced two fumbles and had a sack. He also was named to the Pro Bowl as the NFC's special teams ace after ranking among NFL leaders with 16 tackles on special teams.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Third-year defensive coordinator James Bettcher inherited some great players from former coordinator Todd Bowles, but he didn't regress and instead, kept the Cardinals' defense among the league's very best for a third consecutive year. Arizona's defense ranks as the fourth-best overall during that span, allowing 312.6 yards per game, and it was enough to get him a formal interview for the team's vacant head coaching position following the retirement of Bruce Arians.

Bruce Arians on Monday did what not many NFL head coaches get to do: walk away on his own terms.

A day after becoming the winningest coach in Cardinals history, Arians ended weeks of speculation by announcing his retirement following five seasons in Arizona, where he went 50-32-1 including a 1-2 record in the postseason.

The Cardinals finished 8-8 this season despite being forced to place 15 players, including seven Week 1 starters, on injured reserve. They relied on their third-string quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, for five games and won their last two of the season with backup Drew Stanton.

"It's been a great ride," a tearful Arians said. "I will miss the game."

Arians, 65, said he didn't formally make the decision until the end of Sunday's victory over the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where his team has now won each of the past three years. He said he's leaving primarily so he can spend more time with his family after 40 years of coaching.

Arians said the thought of retiring didn't really enter his mind until this past summer when he was at his lake home in Georgia. His wife, Christine, reminded him that their son Jake was about to turn 40.

"I mean, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I missed all that time," Arians said. "That's coaching. Probably wouldn't change anything."

Reportedly, Arians has hired an agent to represent him in the pursuit of a job in television as an NFL studio analyst.


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