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Cardinals looking for identity without Warner

Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – While Kurt Warner dances a Viennese waltz, the Arizona Cardinals struggle on without him.

Warner, who retired last year after leading the once-lowly Cardinals to unprecedented success, was all smiles as he made it through the first round of “Dancing With the Stars” this week.

His old team, on the other hand, is reeling from a 41-7 rout at Atlanta, working to fix myriad mistakes as it prepares for Sunday’s game against Oakland, Arizona’s first home game of the post-Warner era.

Running back Beanie Wells says it is difficult to escape the considerable shadow Warner left behind.

“When somebody leaves like Kurt,” Wells said, “it doesn’t just go away overnight.”

Warner wasn’t just a prolific gunslinger of a quarterback on the field, he was the confident, tough leader of the team in the locker room and away from the field. He led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, for goodness sake, and took them back to the playoffs the next season before deciding to call it quits when he still was at the top of his game.

“He was definitely a leader out there,” Wells said, “and an even better person.”

Warner was the master of the perfect passing touch and, especially late in his career, as good as any quarterback at improvising at the line of scrimmage to burn teams that chose to blitz.

Arizona’s new quarterback, Derek Anderson, like Warner, is tough. He has already taken several brutal hits in the first two games. He is fiercely competitive on game day and a joker at other times, a combination that won over his teammates.

But accuracy and passing touch have been a problem. With every bad pass, the comparisons with Warner by fans are inevitable.

“You come behind Kurt Warner, that’s the way it is,” running back Tim Hightower said. “I don’t think he suffers from it, but you have a guy who played at such a high level in front of you, you’re going to be criticized, you’re going to be critiqued. It’s one of those things where everything you do that’s not right is going to be magnified.”

Not that Anderson seems bothered by that.

“You don’t see a lot get to Derek,” Hightower said. “As a quarterback, that’s a good thing. He’s able to shake stuff off. … I don’t think he’s too worried about what people are thinking and the pressure that they’re putting on him. He loves playing the game.”

Anderson said he has no intention of trying to fill Warner’s shoes.

“It’s not something that I’m thinking about. I’m trying to play the best I can and be me,” Anderson said. “I understand that I’m not Kurt. I just want to lead the guys and win football games.”

Warner wasn’t perfect. He threw five interceptions in a game twice last season.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt also noted that Warner was initially booed off the field in Arizona. It was only when Matt Leinart was injured five games into the 2007 season that Warner became a starter.

Warner went on to play with his injured left elbow in a sling part of that season. Then came the magical 2008 campaign, which resulted in a close loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Last year, Warner had one of the best playoff performances in NFL history against Green Bay.

So following that act, trying to fill that void, was bound to be a challenge, especially when other major contributors – linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Antrel Rolle – also left the team.

Whisenhunt said these Cardinals are “trying to find our own identity.”

“Kurt was a great player for us,” the coach said. “We had a lot of success and he was a huge part of that. But you know, at some point, that it was going to end.”