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Keim: I expect Arians, Palmer, Fitz to return

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2016 – 8:21 am

At the heart of his team, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim thinks he has a pretty good idea he will have his top trio back next season. Asked Monday on his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said “I know Coach (Bruce Arians) is coming back.” He did say Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald should be asked directly, but “based on conversations I had with them in training camp, I’d be surprised if they didn’t play next year.”

Of course, that’s next year, and the subject of next year is on the table because after Sunday’s loss, this year is down to three games with the playoffs all but out of the question.

Keim said this feeling doesn’t compare to the embarrassment he felt during that 58-0 loss in Seattle in late 2012, right before he got the GM job. “This is a constant frustration. I have a hard time putting your finger on issues as a whole. It starts with attention to detail, and … guys we were counting on to make big plays have not shown up with any consistency. That’s also very alarming for me.”

What about going forward?

“I have a pretty good feel (for what I want to do),” Keim said. “I really do feel like our core talent on offense and on defense is in place. … These last three games are critical for a lot of reasons. I want to identify who loves it. Which guys are passionate about the game. Who are our top competitors? If you’re not going to compete and not play with passion you’re not going to be on this roster in 2017.”

— While Keim said he was proud of the team for fighting back in the fourth quarter, there was plenty to improve. “The one thing I struggle with is the missed tackles,” he said, adding that technique is involved but he also sees it as a matter of want-to.

— The patchwork offensive line was up and down, particularly the right side. He liked how both money linebacker Deone Bucannon and left tackle D.J. Humphries were playing before their injuries (ankle and concussion, respectively). He thought newcomer Sio Moore made a couple of nice plays, and also noticed rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who ended up playing 18 defensive snaps because of all the injuries. That was the most time Williams has spent on defense since the opener.

— Keim’s special teams evaluation: “Guys that we counted on, not getting it done. Starts with the snapper. It was an issue earlier in the year and we made the change, and I thought Aaron (Brewer) for most part done done a pretty good job. I don’t know how much the conditions had to do with it but he had a few rough snaps (Sunday). But Chandler (Catanzaro) still has to make kicks and he has to show more consistency. Same goes for Drew Butler. Those positions will obviously be evaluated and if we need to make changes, we will do it.”

— When it comes to leadership, Keim said that for the most part, the message is stronger coming from the locker room than coaches. And one issue that could be a factor goes back to what Keim said earlier, that guys the Cardinals were counting on to play well have not. The best leaders also play well. If the Cards’ top leaders aren’t playing well, it likely impacts the attempted leadership.

— Keim finished off by thanking the fans for the season despite the Cardinals failing to live up to expectations. He noted the tons of Cardinals fans in Miami for the game. That was something I noticed too — there was an appreciable roar from the stands on the Cards’ final TD and subsequent two-point conversion.


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Mathieu inactive in Minnesota, Bucannon playing

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2016 – 9:30 am

Safety Tyrann Mathieu is inactive against the Vikings today because of his shoulder injury. He was limited all week, and in the end wasn’t quite ready to go. Fellow cornerback Tharold Simon (ankle) also is inactive, so Justin Bethel and/or Brandon Williams will need to play bigger roles this week again. The good news is money linebacker Deone Bucannon (ankle) is healthy and will be playing for the Cardinals.

The full list of Cardinals inactives:

— WR Chris Hubert

— CB Tharold Simon (ankle)

— S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Corey Peters (foot)


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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2016 – 4:20 pm

The very first game Larry Fitzgerald played in the NFL was in Minnesota. That’s where the Cardinals opened the preseason in 2004. (He was targeted twice, making one catch for five yards.)

The first game Fitzgerald played that counted in Minnesota was in 2006, and that’s the game he set his regular-season best in yards, with 172 on 11 catches. (He had 176 yards against the Packers in the playoffs in 2015.)

Fitz insists this is just a business trip, and truth be told, he spends enough summer time in Minnesota where I could see how he would be able to separate. Shameless plug: Here’s the story I did after going to Minnesota in 2012 and talking to him at his house on the lake.

(By the way, one part of the interview burned into my brain from that Minny visit: Did you know Fitz wants to go into space?)

Besides, Fitzgerald has big enough reasons to want to get this one aside from his 0-4 record against the Vikings in Minnesota (The Fitz-era Cardinals are 2-1 against the Vikings in Arizona.) It’s not the fact the franchise hasn’t won there since a 1977 game, with an eight-game losing streak. It’s the fact the Cardinals need the win basically to stay in the playoff race. Mathematically they won’t be eliminated, but with a game coming in Atlanta and the Vikings struggling like they are, this one is crucial. No way to argue otherwise.

— It’s easy to wonder about the Cardinals’ offensive line, and John Wetzel and D.J. Humphries will be tested (yes, that is an understatement) against this front in this building. The Cards have to run the ball better than they did last week, you’d think.

But the Vikings are facing the same issues, if not moreso. With no Adrian Peterson and line injuries, the Vikings have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. QB Sam Bradford has been solid when he has time – he’s only thrown two picks – but he can be sacked. For the noticeable hiccups the Cardinals have had on defense, and some blown coverages, the Cardinals have allowed a league-low 4.7 yards per play this season and their pass defense has nine interceptions and has allowed only six passing touchdowns.

— Along those lines, the Patrick Peterson-covering-Stefon Diggs matchup is incredibly intriguing. Diggs has made 26 catches total the last two games. That’s a huge number. By comparison, Pro Football Focus has Peterson allowing just 20 receptions all season.

— The Vikings have 38-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, who has played a significant role. Peterson shook his head at such longevity. Peterson, at age 26 in his sixth year, said he wants to make double-digits for a career before he thinks beyond that.

“My mindset is I want to go as long as my body will let me go,” Peterson said.

— Michael Floyd is also going home this weekend. He’s from St. Paul. He was asked if he looked forward to seeing some snow, since it’s supposed to snow tonight. “I’m glad they have a roof,” he said with a smile, referencing the new stadium.

— We’ll see on Tyrann Mathieu playing. It felt like a red flag when Bruce Arians said he was sore on Friday. It’s hard to tell if the safety will be playing Sunday. It could be a true game-day decision.

— You feel better about Deone Bucannon playing, despite only one day of limited work. Arians said he was “fine.” He’d be an option on tight end Kyle Rudolph. The good thing for the Cardinals is that this is the first time in a while they aren’t dealing with a mobile QB (Wilson, albeit gimpy; Newton; Kaepernick).

— Fitz, by the way, had ditched the knee brace for Friday’s practice after wearing one Thursday (and in the second half of the 49ers game.)

— Will be cool to see the new building. Everything I have heard (and seen on TV) makes U.S. Bank Stadium the jewel it was supposed to be. We’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to break their losing streak now that they’re in a new place.

befreminny


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Friday before the Seahawks, with Smoke down

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2016 – 3:38 pm

All week, the talk was Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer. Then comes the Friday curveball: Palmer should be OK to play Sunday, but Smokey Brown isn’t OK. Brown has the sickle-cell trait that is causing leg pain, coach Bruce Arians said. I’m not a doctor and there is precious little information (Brown was not in the locker room to answer questions Friday), but it doesn’t sound great. But it does sound like it can be helped now that the Cardinals and Brown know about it — plenty of NFL players have the trait. One, former Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers, tweeted he has it (and that he recently talked about it for an article.)

No, I don’t know what this means long-term or even short-term for Brown, although Arians wouldn’t rule him out for Sunday’s game. Still, it’s a jarring finish to a week that I’m sure the Cardinals would have liked to be a lot more stable heading into such a game with the Seahawks.

— At least Palmer is playing. Is he 100 percent? Clearly not. But there never seemed to be any doubt about his availability. One way to read the tea leaves when it comes to the starting QB — given that Drew Stanton is the only other QB on the roster, as long as they don’t activate Zac Dysert from the practice squad, you have to feel that they are confident in Palmer. Otherwise, they’d want Dysert available just in case.

— Michael Floyd had fallen behind Brown on the depth chart. Now, it looks like Brown might not play. And Floyd frequently does well against the Seahawks. This is his time. Will he take it?

— With Palmer dealing with his hamstring and Brown hurting, it would seem to point even stronger in the direction of heavy David Johnson Sunday. Easier said than done against a very good Seattle run defense. If you look back to the lousy games the Cards have played against the Seahawks, the terrible imbalance in rushing yards (547 for Seattle, only 86 for the Cardinals) is a big reason why. Johnson himself was held to 23 yards on 11 carries last year.

— The Cardinals (who, yes, have trailed big most of the time in those games, costing them chances to run) haven’t rushed for more than 30 yards in any of those three games. In contrast, Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown scamper in Seattle last season covered 48 yards.

— Tracking down Russell Wilson will be a key, as usual. Wilson isn’t running nearly as much (only 35 yards rushing thus far, after hurting his knee early in the season) but it’d be naïve to think losing track of him won’t kill the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals have done a great job with their four-man rush. Maybe that will help allow the Cardinals to use a robber/spy in the middle of the field to watch Wilson.

— You know the Cardinals are looking closely at the Seattle offensive line, and in particular, left tackle Bradley Sowell — the former backup here. “Bradley looks like he’s the same guy that he was here,” Arians said. “Tough, plays hard. Has had some problems, but he’ll play extremely hard against us.”

— Curious to see if the Cardinals feel there is a place to use the seven defensive backs-approach at all. The first time they used it against the Jets, it was three guys up front, money linebacker Deone Bucannon (who some might still see as a safety and therefore an eighth DB) and then a bunch of defensive backs.

It not only worked ex-Seahawk Tharold Simon into the mix but Justin Bethel saw his first defensive action of the season. If not for his foot problems, Bethel would’ve gotten a shot at that No. 2 CB job that has become Marcus Cooper’s.

“I like the fact that they came up with a package to start giving me something on defense,” Bethel said, who admitted it might not mean a lot more work. “We brought in a lot of good guys. Coop’s been playing great. Tharold has been playing great in ‘penny’ situations. As long as they’re playing the way they are, there’s no point in taking them out. I think they’ll find ways to get me out there, and I’ll do whatever I can do to help us get these wins.”

— A reminder that the parking lots will open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

— Another reminder: One week from today the NFL Network will premiere its “A Football Life” episode about Pat Tillman.

— One more thing to reflect upon with the Seahawks coming to town: Last year, the Cardinals actually were only down 10-6 in the second quarter (they missed an extra point) before it got sideways. In 2014, the incredibly short-handed Cards were leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter. It’s not just about matching the Seahawks’ intensity to start but matching it through the whole game. We’ll see if the Cardinals can make that happen.

See you Sunday.

beforeseahawks


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Keim: “It’s OK to take this thing personal”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2016 – 8:28 am

Steve Keim is, admittedly, not happy.

“We have a chance to create sustainable success and I hold myself as accountable as anybody,” the Cardinals General Manager said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s OK to take this thing personal.”

“This” is the Cardinals’ 1-3 start, after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. Keim, like everyone in the building, is trying to figure out how the Cardinals can fix their issues, knowing they play again Thursday in San Francisco and starting quarterback Carson Palmer is unlikely to play after suffering a concussion. The Cardinals had been winning these close games, especially at home, during the Bruce Arians era.

“Those were different teams and this is a different time,” Keim said. “We will find out what we are made of quickly.”

Keim did say — and acknowledged it sounded weird — that he saw a lot of good things against the Rams. There was a good run defense, the Cardinals were the more efficient team in total yards. But the same issues continue to plague the team. Miscommunication in the secondary. Turning the ball over. Missed tackles. Finishing drives. Those things aren’t new, “which is difficult to deal with,” he said.

“There were signs that let me know we have, one, a talented football team, and number two, we have time on our hands,” Keim added. “At the same time, we can’t mess around. We are in a position, as we all know, that it better start changing quickly.”

— Keim called it “embarrassing” the Cardinals had already lost two home games. The Cards went 6-2 at home last season.

— Asked directly if the Cardinals were missing the leadership of former safety Rashad Johnson on the secondary, Keim said no. “I think we have enough leaders back there and have guys that can get people lined up,” Keim said. “It’s a matter of execution.”

— The pass rush was decent, Keim said, but he said he was bothered that when guys did get pressure they didn’t keep their eyes up, allowing Rams QB Case Keenum to move in the pocket or scramble for yards.

— Keim said his interpretation of panicking is doing things out of the ordinary, and he doesn’t see the need to do that at this point. “I think we have good football players that need to play better,” he said, “and guys that need to get their heads straight in terms of preparation off the field. The mental side of it.”

— There was no update on the condition on Palmer. My guess is that there won’t be today, other than he’s going through the concussion protocol. Again, Arians said Palmer was likely to miss Thursday’s game.

— Most of what Keim talked about was overall with the team. Few names were mentioned. He said he thought Deone Bucannon played well, but fellow linebacker Kevin Minter made some mistakes. He said he thought overall, the offensive line held up. The Rams definitely beat them a few times, but with talents like Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, that was going to happen.

— Keim said rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was still not 100 percent on his bad ankle, one of the reasons he remained inactive. But Keim also said Nkemdiche needs to “continue to grow” off the field, including studying the playbook.

— Keim said he thinks Arians will be meeting with the captains and leaders, and he would guess there will be meetings among the players themselves. “There was definitely anger in the locker room after the game,” Keim said. “In a good way.”


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Keim: Cooper took advantage of opportunity

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2016 – 8:13 am

Last week, Steve Keim talked about the sky falling after the loss to the Patriots. This week, the Cardinals’ General Manager played off the theme, noting that despite getting into the office before the sun was up Monday, “there didn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky.”

Such is the reaction after a 40-7 win Sunday. The vibe tends to be better. Mostly, Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 — saw positives, including the play of cornerback Marcus Cooper. It doesn’t hurt that Cooper was acquired for a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, a cheap price even if the Bucs’ performance ends up being Cooper’s best. Keim said Cooper was high on the Cards’ potential trade list in the preseason. (That includes not only scouting players, but also guesstimating what players teams might be willing to give up or cut at some point.)

Cooper has the length the Cards like and a “feel for the game,” Keim said.

“He’s just a savvy guy,” Keim said. “I don’t want to anoint him as the next coming of Deion Sanders quite yet, but at the same time, very excited with the way he played.”

— Keim said he was “still extremely high” on rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. He thought Williams played well Sunday in limited defensive snaps. “I have no concerns that Brandon won’t develop, but still, it’s nice to see competition at the position.”

— The only reason rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche was inactive Sunday was because of the ankle tweak he suffered late last week in practice, Keim said. He added Nkemdiche should be back this week.

— Right tackle D.J. Humphries played well, Keim said, and added that right guard Evan Mathis was the “epitome of a pro” for coming back from his foot/ankle injury.

— Keim liked the game nose tackle Xavier Williams played, as well as fellow nose tackle Corey Peters. Keim said moneybacker Deone Bucannon had an excellent game.

— Early in the game, Keim admitted he wanted the pass rush to get home more often, but felt that the pressure eventually started getting to Bucs QB Jameis Winston even without sacks, given how many passes of Winston came out high. “I thought Chandler (Jones) did a nice job being disruptive, even though it didn’t show up in the sack column until later in the game,” Keim said. “I think they got into Jameis’ head enough.”


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Cards know they have to tackle better

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 10:13 am

It doesn’t get much more simple in the game of football than tackling. And the Cardinals didn’t do it well enough against the Patriots to open the season. Blame the lack of work in the preseason, blame a practice environment in the NFL that doesn’t really allow pros to practice true tackling. But it has to get better. Truth be told, I believe that even with everything else staying the same from that night, even with the Brandon Williams mistake and uneven offensive play, that if the Cards had tackled better, they would have won.

“The tackling overall was an issue for us,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “There were runs that got out on us that if we made the tackle on first hit … we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that’s too much. We haven’t had that in a while around here.”

Patrick Peterson missed a tackle on a third down that was notable (although the Patriots were already in field-goal range and the way Gostkowski was kicking, were going to get the field goal they eventually made anyway. It burned time but in the end I’m not sure that made a difference.) Tyrann Mathieu missed a couple tackles. Deone Bucannon did not play the way he was capable. Bettcher and coach Bruce Arians talked about a loss of leverage in getting in the right spots and that happened too often — the Cards losing the edge. Even Justin Bethel missed a couple of tackles on special teams.

On a night when the Cards played some zone with the idea that you tackle and keep a team short of the sticks, wayward tackling doesn’t work out all that well. “We were kind of rusty on our tackling,” said safety Tony Jefferson, who was one of the players who didn’t look that way.

I’d expect it to be different this week, given the emphasis the Cards have had. It’s crucial that it improves.

tacklingblog


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Chargers aftermath, and Okafor

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2016 – 11:26 pm

The Cardinals got a lot good work in this week while practicing in San Diego. Bruce Arians said that, his players did too. But the end result didn’t feel all that good. The offense looked ugly, which really isn’t what you’d like to see at this point of camp (and things went pretty well in the first-unit’s one series in the preseason opener, so it’s not like they were bad a week ago).

But then you throw in the news that best case scenario, linebacker Alex Okafor would have to play the season with a torn biceps tendon, and that’s only if he decides not to have surgery. That’s a tough call. Okafor is going to be a free agent after the season. If he waits on surgery, he won’t be a full strength and he’ll have to have surgery right before signing with another team. Surgery now, and he’ll have no season in which to entice teams to sign him. He called it one of the most difficult decisions he’s made (and he had to make the same exact decision already, with Arians, when he was a rookie in 2013.)

Okafor suffered the injury in practice Tuesday night. We’ll see what his choice is and what it means. Okafor is/was the third linebacker to give relief to starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— Interesting that Arians said Jaron Brown is the best receiver the Cardinals have right now. Brown did make a pair of great grabs against the Chargers. One of the few bright spots.

— Larry Fitzgerald sat with a minor MCL sprain, Arians said. It isn’t serious.

— Deone Bucannon hammered wide receiver Dontrelle Inman early in the game, a clean hit (a penalty wasn’t called and the replays I’ve seen show a hard hit to the upper chest) that knocked Inman’s helmet off. Inman was checked for a concussion and cleared, but did not return.

“I’m a physical player,” Bucannon said. “That’s what it is and I like setting the tempo for the team and making plays within the rules of football. I love playing the game with passion.”

— Couldn’t tell exactly how D.J. Humphries did at right tackle, but frankly, there wasn’t anyone on offense (except maybe Jaron Brown) that will be able to be excited about how he played.

— Cornerback Brandon Williams gave up a 13-yard pass early, but held up better in my opinion. Overall, it seemed like a better performance.

— Arians, in his postgame radio interview: “You can’t play the game without passion, energy or brains and we didn’t have any of the three.”

One more week of training camp to go.

Dontrelle Inman, Deone Bucannon


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Thursday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 2:26 pm

The work in San Diego is almost over. The Cardinals have their preseason game against the Chargers Friday night, and to be frank, the attention has shifted from what the team might do this week and to what Bruce Arians might do after his health issues. The reality is that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was already set to call plays, and Arians had joked previously that he doesn’t have much to do during a game in those cases anyway. Still, all eyes are going to be on B.A. That’s only natural.

— Because of Arians’ illness, there wasn’t much discussed about the how the game will play out in terms of snap distribution, but the first units will probably get a chunk of the first quarter you’d figure. It always depends on how they perform, but maybe two or three series, depending on the number of plays. I’d expect this game to be a lot more Drew Stanton at QB, as Carson Palmer’s big third preseason game looms and the fourth game likely will be all Matt Barkley and Jake Coker.

— Another big game for CB Brandon Williams. Also curious to see what veteran Mike Jenkins can do now that he’s back on the field, albeit with a cast.

— Another guy to watch is DT Corey Peters, who returns to a game for the first time since blowing out his Achilles after just one preseason game in 2015.

— Not only were there no fights during the two practices between the Cards and Chargers, no situation really ever came close as far as I could tell. Don’t know if it was because Arians and Chargers coach Mike McCoy made such a big deal about no fights or if the Arians situation changed how practice was approached. Question is, does Friday night get chippy at all?

— Arians has said there are four inside linebackers fighting for one spot, which includes Chargers castoff Donald Butler. But you figure the Cards are going to have Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter in there. I’m guessing Chris Clemons, who has been working behind Bucannon, likely is in. So that would leave Butler vs. Alani Fua vs. Gabe Martin vs. Lamar Louis. So again, a battle to watch.

— One more week of training camp to go. Four more open practices.

ThursBeforeCharegers


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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