Observations from Cardinals' exhibition game

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' game against the Chargers on Saturday night:

  • Tim Hightower looked good. He carried nine times for 42 yards and broke one for a 19-yard gain. Beanie Wells appeared to be favoring his injured ankle during warm-ups. He did not play. Hightower is getting a better feel for the offense. He effectively chipped Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips deep in Arizona territory to help the Cardinals pick up a first down. Backup running back Jason Wright missed Shawne Merriman in protection. It's looking like Arizona can trust Hightower.

  • Calais Campbell is sustaining it. The second-year defensive end held up against the Chargers' Pro Bowl left guard, Kris Dielman. Campbell beat Dielman one-on-one for a sack. Dielman later cleared out Campbell effectively on a running play, but Campbell answered by shedding Dielman to deck LaDainian Tomlinson.

  • The offense was out of sync. Kurt Warner and Brian St. Pierre both threw interceptions in the red zone, curious for a team that fared so well inside the 20 last season. Arizona used an unusual mix of personnel -- two running backs and three wide receivers -- on the play ending with Warner's interception. Arizona used that general grouping five times in the red zone last season and 39 times overall, including 17 times against Carolina and Washington. It's not a group I expect to see much this season unless the Cardinals suffer injuries at receiver and/or tight end. Injuries to Steve Breaston and Early Doucet have limited the Cardinals' four-receiver options this summer.

  • The starting tight end must block. As much as the Cardinals would like to have a versatile tight end, their strength at receiver means they do not need lots of receptions from the position. The tight end must block in this offense. That's why I think Stephen Spach has the edge if he's healthy. Arizona used Spach and Ben Patrick effectively in clearing out defenders for an 8-yard gain on the ground, with Patrick leading.

  • The sideline featured intensity. Todd Haley's offseason departure deprived the Cardinals of a passionate and sometimes combative presence. Haley's style worked well in challenging some of the Cardinals' best players, including Larry Fitzgerald. Cameras showed an animated Warner explaining something to receiver Anquan Boldin after they combined on a pass play that failed to gain first-down yardage.

  • The pass rush was effective. Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson, Karlos Dansby and Campbell each had sacks against the Chargers' first-team offense.

I previously noted LaRod Stephens-Howling's excellent performance. I'm now watching the second half of the game on replay. Rookie linebacker Will Davis made a positive impact. He had a quarterback hurry after quickly sniffing out a play. Rookie right tackle Herman Johnson still looks good from what I am seeing. He has made significant improvement since minicamps, more evidence of Russ Grimm's impact as line coach.