-- Coach Dennis Green opened his first Arizona Cardinals practice Monday to expectations he himself has heightened.
"We expect to be a playoff team. It would be very disappointing if we are not a playoff team," Green said. "I think we have that kind of talent."
They do now. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a family friend and the team's top draft choice -- No. 3 overall -- signed a six-year deal early in the day that could be worth $60 million. That was just the latest sign that Green will run things differently. Yet another was a move Green made Sunday, waiving eight-year veteran center Pete Kendall and citing tape of five games last season in which the offensive line appeared to lack chemistry.
And then there were those offseason workouts. A month ago, the NFL forced the Cardinals to trim a week out of their offseason workout program after numerous players complained it violated union rules.
But Green has also given the Cardinals a future to consider. The cornerstone is Fitzgerald, the kid Green hired as a 12-year-old ballboy during a Minnesota Vikings training camp in the mid-1990s. Green believes that Fitzgerald and 2003 Pro Bowl rookie receiving sensation Anquan Boldin can be the Randy Moss and Cris Carter of the desert.
"He [Fitzgerald] is a fabulous player. He and Anquan together are very impressive," Green said. "Big. Physical. Catch everything in sight. Run very well."
Those kinds of receivers made Green's aggressive offense go in his 10-year career in Minnesota, which ended in 2001. After two years of TV work, Green brings his belief in the Bill Walsh system back to the NFL. He's a devotee of stretching the field and is not afraid to pass on first down -- as the Cardinals discovered during spring workouts.
"I think the main thing is, we have the weapons around to run this offense," Boldin said. "You can't just put this offense in with any players. If you have playmakers, this offense will work. He went out and got players, so we're looking forward to it."
Fitzgerald expects to practice Tuesday. "I'm a rookie," he said. "I don't want to lose a rep or a practice. I don't want to miss valuable coaching points that all my coaches are going to have for me. I feel like I'm a day behind already."
Green named Emmitt Smith his starting halfback early in spring work, and also liked so much of what he saw in film study of third-year quarterback Josh McCown that drafting a quarterback in the first round was never an option.
Still, the Cardinals opened training camp, their first since their former teammate, safety Pat Tillman, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, very much a work-in-progress. "In my opinion, you start with 10 guys. I still feel strongly that we have 10 really good guys to start building this program on. The number one job, teach reality. The number two job, take a realistic evaluation of our talent," Green said.
"A realistic evaluation of talent is not based on reputation. It's not based on salary. It is based on whether you are able to do your job. Every guy knows what his job is. That's where we came up with those 10 guys. And we start building on top of those guys with the exact same approach."
Kendall wasn't the only roster move Green has made. Three former first-round draft picks -- tackle L.J. Shelton, defensive end Calvin Pace and defensive tackle Wendell Bryant -- lost their starting positions in the offseason, and there are nine new starters for a 4-12 team that scored the fewest points in the NFL and gave up the most under Dave McGinnis.
"You can't be surprised by anything that is going to happen this year, or from this point on, from the way we played last year," Shelton said. "We have to make changes from top to bottom, so who can really say they are safe?"
Green expects his team to be tough and physical, and if that takes a weeding-out process, so be it. UNLV assistant and former California coach Bruce Snyder, an observer at practice Monday, saw Green mold that type of team at Stanford, when the two were Bay Area rivals in the late '80s and early '90s.
"He took a fairly soft, weak Stanford team and, by the end, they were really tough," said Snyder. "Very physical. They ran the ball. Played defense. And won. To me, that was a direct reflection of Denny."
Perhaps no one symbolizes Green's approach more than defensive end Bertrand Berry, signed as an unrestricted free agent after recording 111/2 sacks in Denver last season after four years out of the league.
"You have to have all blends on your team. You have to have some older guys, you have to have some younger guys. You have to have some guys in between. You have to have guys who are first-rounders that have had things kind of handed to them," Green said.
"And you have to have guys like Bert who was on the street for a full year and understands what it's like when people don't appreciate what he can bring to the table. He's our kind of guy."