Grimm looking to keep Cards grounded

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Russ Grimm starts apologizing before he finishes shaking hands.

He's sorry for sweating all over you.

What's an ol' Hog to do?

The temperature is pushing 110 degrees on the practice fields outside Arizona Cardinals headquarters. Grimm, the Cards' new offensive line coach, looks like he just finished off Darnell Dockett in goal-line drills.

The 48-year-old hasn't played a snap of pro football in 16 years, but he is the best-known offensive lineman in camp. Forever linked to the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" line of the 1980s, Grimm has what Arizona's line badly needs. He has an identity, clearly defined and unmistakable.

Grimm stands for running the football against an 11-man front if that's what it takes.

No wonder center Al Johnson smiled when asked about his new position coach.

"He is definitely one of the guys in that he has been in our position for many years and played at a very high level," Johnson said. "So he understands what it takes."

Grimm symbolizes what the Cardinals hope to become under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt: tough, consistent and accountable.

The organization has invested heavily in a range of talented offensive personnel. Matt Leinart is a franchise quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have combined for 357 receptions over the past two seasons. Edgerrin James still has enough left to move the chains.

None of it has mattered much because the Cardinals haven't gotten the job done up front. Or, as some players and team officials suggested, they haven't been allowed to get the job done up front.

"For whatever reason, we never really stuck with the running game [in past seasons]," guard Reggie Wells said. "Obviously, with coach Grimm and coach Whisenhunt's background, we're going to stick with it this year."

Blaming the former coach for every possible failure, plus a few imaginary ones, is a time-honored tradition in sports. Dennis Green brought a proven offensive system and a long history of success to the Cardinals in 2004. Like other adherents to basic West Coast offensive principles, Green preferred to set up the run with the pass. He probably went too far.

Three teams -- Detroit, Philadelphia and Cleveland -- passed more frequently than the Cardinals on first down last season. Arizona was one of a dozen teams that passed more than 50 percent of the time on first down. Only two of those teams, New Orleans and Philadelphia, finished with winning records.

When the Cardinals did run on first down, they averaged 3.91 yards per carry -- not great, but better than playoff teams Indianapolis, Dallas, New England, Chicago, Seattle, the New York Jets and Baltimore.

The point is this: Good teams did more than Arizona to establish the run on first down, even if they weren't gaining large chunks of yardage in the process. It's a lesson the new Cardinals won't learn the hard way.

The Steelers ran 67 percent of the time on first down during their 2005 Super Bowl season. That's a little extreme -- San Diego led the NFL at 64 percent last season -- but you get the point.

"Even though the Steelers weren't always touted as having the best offensive line, I think everybody would agree that those guys were the reason behind the success that Pittsburgh had," said Johnson, signed from Dallas in free agency. "They got the job done, and then it allowed everybody else to get their jobs done. That's what we want."

Grimm's six-year run as line coach in Pittsburgh produced a punishing ground game and a Super Bowl title, but not an unusually long list of Pro Bowl linemen. Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings were consistently excellent at their positions. But some of the role players who left, including current Cardinal Oliver Ross, weren't as effective elsewhere.

The best offensive lines aren't always the most talented ones.

The Patriots fielded championship rosters for years without sending many offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. Damien Woody (2002) and Matt Light (2006) have made the only Pro Bowl appearances by New England offensive linemen during the Bill Belichick era.

"You don't start breaking 20-yard runs from the very beginning," Wells said. "You start off and might get only one or two or three a pop, but you keep plugging away and that is when you start getting the big chunks. I think we are definitely capable of doing what they have done in the past in Pittsburgh."

Grimm has simplified things; Johnson makes relatively few calls at the line.

"Basically, you can't come to the sidelines and say you couldn't hear the call," Johnson said. "It's very simple rules. You are either covered or you are uncovered. They slide at the last second and you are uncovered, you know your rule. Everybody is accountable for what they need to do."

The depth on the line took a hit when Ross suffered a season-ending injury. But rookie first-round pick Levi Brown was going to be the starter at right tackle at some point anyway. Johnson and left tackle Mike Gandy are free-agent newcomers. Right guard Deuce Lutui has dropped weight in an effort to become more athletic.

Arizona still needs a run-blocking tight end to make the offense work as desired. In the meantime, the Cardinals will presumably use more three-receiver sets than the typical team seeking to establish a physical identity. Balance is the key.

Offensive lines need time together, so the Cardinals might not be particularly effective early.

"They have to run the football when it's so tempting to throw it because of who they have outside," said a veteran NFL player familiar with the Cardinals' personnel. "When they do throw it, they must be able to throw the comebacks and the deep crosses and the posts and the go routes that the Steelers ran when they were playing well.

"Last year they got into this pass-happy mode the first part of the year and they were not as successful. That is a big thing to look at for them."

Russ Grimm, pass happy? Excuse him while he sweats on you.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.