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 TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The Arizona Cardinals' defense looked soft at times during an 0-4 preseason.
Defensive end Bertrand Berry says looks are deceiving. The Cardinals spent most of August in their so-called ``vanilla'' defense, wary of tipping their hand to future opponents.
``The preseason wasn't anything,'' Berry said after practice Thursday. ``If I'd have had a banana and some Hershey's chocolate syrup, it would fit right in with all that vanilla we had going on out there.''
The Cardinals will serve a different flavor when they open the regular season at San Francisco on Monday night. For starters, Arizona is expected to blitz more often, using Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson to create havoc in the backfield.
``I just look for them to be aggressive and physical,'' San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said on a conference call with Arizona reporters. ``That's what they've been for two years.''
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said he's optimistic despite the defense's inconsistent preseason. He has seen the unit improve in practice against the potent Cardinals offense.
``The reason that I feel good about our defense is because of some of the things that I've seen them do against our offense in practice,'' Whisenhunt said. ``The timing of their blitzes, the way they've run some of their coverages, some of the different looks that they've given us is something that's been difficult for our offense to pick up at times.
``That gives me optimism that we can do well in season when we're turning everything loose,'' Whisenhunt said.
There has been speculation about Whisenhunt's plan to switch to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. The defense Arizona rolls out on Monday night may have elements of both.
The defense needed a change after last year's 5-11 finish. The unit ranked 29th in the NFL a year ago, and improvement seems critical to the team's success in Whisenhunt's first season. But the preseason generated as many questions as answers.
The Cardinals surrendered 31 points per game in the first three preseason games, and 21 in a game that Denver rested its offensive starters.
One nagging problem is replacing strong side linebacker Chike Okeafor, who is out for the season with a torn biceps tendon. Okeafor will be replaced by Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round draft choice who has started six games in three years.
Cornerback is another potential trouble spot. Antrel Rolle, the team's first round pick in 2005, lost the starting left cornerback job to Rod Hood, signed as a free agent from Philadelphia. Terrence Holt will man the other side.
Nolan said the Cardinals' defense may be better than the numbers it put up a year ago.
``I know that they don't get as much attention as their offense, and certainly statistically they haven't been as productive as the offense,'' Nolan said. ``But I will say that they're a physical group. I know Adrian Wilson is an outstanding player as well as Berry. They have some good players over there.''
The defense faces a 49ers offense that features Pro Bowlers Larry Allen at left guard and Frank Gore at running back, as well as veteran wide receiver Darrell Jackson, acquired in the offseason from Seattle.
Quarterback Alex Smith threw for 2,890 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and set a club record by taking every snap.
Berry said the defense will be ready for the test, and that few will remember the preseason once the game kicks off in San Francisco.
``Practice is what's really been important,'' Berry said. ``During practice we've been really coming together. Guys are really starting to fill into their roles, and we feel good about where we are.''

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