In Northern Arizona, residents can get a glimpse at the upcoming Arizona Cardinal professional football season by attending one of their practices being held at Northern Arizona University.
On Friday morning, more than 300 fans packed the seats to watch their favorite players workout, run plays and do what they do best, in whichever position they play.
The Cardinals have not been a traditionally successful team, but they are looking brighter than ever with smart draft choices and trades.
One of the headline players to come to the Cardinals organization is Matt Leinart, the Heisman trophy winning quarterback from USC. Leinart was the second quarterback to be picked in the 2006 draft and became the first quarterback to be drafted by the Cardinals in 19 years.
Leinart is a three-time All American and holds the USC and Pac-10 record for total touchdowns thrown with 99, beating the previous record of 77 set by a young quarterback by the name of John Elway from Standford.
The Cardinals have a lot of depth in their quarterback position this year. Not only do they have Leinart, but they also have Kurt Warner and John Navarre.
Navarre was drafted by the Cardinals in 2004, but an injury in his first outing as a professional ended with a season ending finger fracture. He saw a little playing time in 2005 in one game when Kurt Warner and Josh McCown were out due to injury and illness respectively.
Warner has been a real asset to the team since joining the Cardinals in 2005. Warner is a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player (1999 and 2001) and the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, who led the Rams to 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Warner also led St. Louis to Super Bowl XXXVI, where the Rams lost to New England 20-17. Warner's experience also helped catapult the Cardinals in 2005 to the status of the No. 1 ranked passing offense in the NFL.
Two other big offensive players on this year's team, returning from last year is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2004 and he has started in every game in the past two years.
He has already began setting new Cardinal records with a total of 103 receptions in 2005. Also in 2005 he racked up 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns making him one of the most explosive players on the team.
The other is Anquan Boldin. Boldin totaled eight 100-yeard receiving games in 2005 and despite missing two games, caught 102 passes. He also Set a new franchise with five consecutive games with at least 100 yards receiving.
On defense, the Cardinals are looking strong as well. Bertrand Berry is a very strong defensive end. Berry recorded six sacks in the first eight games of 2005 before receiving a season-ending pectoral injury.
Berry had a very good year in 2004 when he led the NFC in sacks with 14.5. The 14.5 sacks also ranked him as the third-highest single-season sack total.
Adrian Wilson was a stand out in 2005 for the Cardinals on defense. His 8 sacks were the most in NFL history by a defensive back.
Wilson signed a five-year extension on 12/22/04 that will keep in a Cardinals uniform through the 2009 season.
Wilson started all 16 games in 2005 at strong safety and finished with a team-high 112 tackles, the second 100-tackle season of his career
Dennis Green is beginning his third year as head coach of the Cardinals. He is also the 33rd head coach in Cardinals franchise history when he was named to the position on January 7, 2004.
Green is well known for reviving programs at the college level with Northwestern and Stanford, as well as the Minnesota Vikings.
Along with the rest of the Cardinal defense and all of the changes this season, Arizona looks to be the best team they have been in over 10 years. The Cardinals have not finished a season over at or over .500 since 1994 (8-8). But if the choices made are the right ones and injuries stay at a minimal, then Arizona has a big chance to upset and surprise a lot of people.
For the die-hard Cardinal fans, you probably already know that you can watch the team practice at NAU, but for those of you who don't, it's a great way to spend a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon for one of their two daily practices.