I must say I'm impressed. I must also say like Derek Anderson being hit on a corner blitz, I never saw it coming.

For more than two decades, I've watched the Cardinals stutter, stammer and stumble through 20-plus free agency periods. They were a day late on this prime-time player, a dollar (usually many dollars) short on another. Time and again, Arizona's free agency bounty would consist of has-beens (Dexter Manley, Jim McMahon, Emmitt Smith, etc.) or never-was.

With 2011 free agency reduced from a marathon to a 72-hour sprint by the lockout and the Cardinals fixated on needing a quarterback, what were the chances they would quickly address their other gaping holes?

Turns out, they were pretty good. No one knows if they were the right moves, and they didn't lead to any Miami Heat comparisons ala the Philadelphia Eagles. But general manager Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Bidwills deserve credit for hitting the ground running last week, shocking local and league pundits alike.

They got the Kevin Kolb deal done, regardless of the steep price. They kept Joey Porter and Deuce Lutui on the cheap (unless you count the extra training table grub for Deuce) added Daryn Colledge and Floyd Womack to the offensive line, picked up linebacker Stewart Bradley, filled a need at tight end and added buzz by snatching up Todd Heap and Jeff King.

Richard Marshall added depth at cornerback and Chansi Stuckey at wide receiver, but the Cardinals are still looking for another pass catcher now that Braylon Edwards decided to fill Terrell Owens' pom-poms in San Francisco.

No one rings the bell with every move. Who knows how the new gaggle of Birds will fit in? The new CBA had forced a crowbar into the wallets of even the most frugal NFL owners, and even after all the wheeling and dealing, the Cardinals are vulnerable at offensive tackle and dangerously thin when it comes to pass rushers.

Arizona had 24 newly signed players waiting to hit the field for their first practice on Friday, more than any team in the league. They reached deals with 51 players in the first seven days after the lockout. No hesitation there.

It's interesting what a taste of success - followed by a reminder of the bad old days - can do for an organization not interested in looking back.

As it has been for four years, the NFC West is for the taking. The Rams have a quarterback but the rest of the roster is running in place. The 49ers could be angling for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. If anyone has any idea what in blazes the Seahawks are up to, please fill us in.

The Cardinals aren't a great team. They are even a far cry from their 2008 team. But if Beanie Wells can use his new guards and run inside without dropping the ball, Arizona might have something.

Quick hitters

• No qualms with the pitchers the Diamondbacks picked up at the trade deadline, despite early returns to the contrary. I'm still amazed Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson feel their offense is good enough to carry the day.

The Giants have picked a lousy time to have a lousy week, but the middle of their lineup has been bolstered and their pitchers aren't going anywhere. Arizona has run out of minor league bats to call on - that sound you hear is the knife scraping the bottom of the jar.

Perhaps there is a veteran bat that will clear the waiver wire and give Arizona a second kick in the can.

• My only question is, was Alex Rodriguez on steroids while he was playing illegal, high-stakes poker amid piles of cocaine in Hollywood? Is there any MLB rule that actually applies to this guy? Next time A-Rod hits a home run, he should run the bases backwards while carrying Cameron Diaz and being fed popcorn to see if he can get away with that, too.

• No steroids and no HGH in the NFL? Attention fat and slow guys: The door is open.

• Not only do I like Oklahoma to win the BCS title this year, but I'll take it a step further. With a full spring of practice and 46 starting players back from last year, maybe we should let them play in the NFL this year and see what happens.

Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at jbrown5548@aol.com.


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