No rush to linebackers

Posted by Darren Urban on May 7, 2012 – 3:48 pm

Before the draft, it seemed  — at least, in my opinion — the Cards had three areas that most warranted help: offensive line, pass rusher and receiver. The Cards took care of the latter right away with the Michael Floyd pick. They obviously hit the line hard with three choices, including potential right tackle starter Bobby Massie. But, sticking to their board — and perhaps revealing just how much they think of their young players — the Cardinals didn’t take a pass rusher. Didn’t take a linebacker at all.

Right now, the Cards have 14 linebackers on the roster. Six could be classified as outside linebackers, seven as inside guys and Stewart Bradley as a swing guy (although obviously guys can always move around.) Three of the inside linebackers are undrafted rookies (Marcus McGraw, Colin Parker and Paul Vassallo) and one is definitely untested (Quan Sturdivant.) But one the inside, Darryl Washington is established, Paris Lenon continues to outperform everyone’s expectations and both Bradley and Reggie Walker have shown they can fill in.

But it’s on the outside that will always get the attention. Young players usually have a ton of confidence that they will do the job as long as they get the opportunity, and that’s certainly the vibe you get from O’Brien Schofield when you talk to him. Sam Acho had seven sacks after barely playing the first five games, so he seems to be a potential game-changer. Both must up their games. And then what? Will Brandon Williams, signed late last season on to the practice squad after not finding a place with the Cowboys, surprise some people? Can the Cards find a diamond among free agent Antonio Coleman or undrafted rookies Zach Nash and  Broderick Binns? (Clark Haggans could also still return.)

It’s not like the Cards didn’t sack opposing quarterbacks last year. As a team, they had 42, tied for seventh in the NFL. The Cards had an NFL-best nine different guys with at least two sacks. The way defensive coordinator Ray Horton does things, pressure by committee works and is much harder for which to handle. But developing those linebackers, especially the rushers on the outside, is one of the keys to any 3-4 scheme. After passing in the draft, development will be one of the things to watch at the position.

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30 Responses to “No rush to linebackers”

  1. By SteveG on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    Paris is the best signing from free agency in several years now….What a great pick up he turned out to be.

  2. By Todd on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    Great piece Darren! Great stat that the Cardinals were 7th in the league in sacks made last season! I am sick and tired of people hacking on our pass rush. I thought Acho and Schofield showed amazing promise to be our pass rushing starters for years to come and excel. I couldn’t understand why so many thought it was a major “need” to draft a pass rusher with those two young kids ready to go then add Calais and Dockett from the line and I think we will have one of the better pass rushes in the league. Kudos to coaches and management for realizing that. With the defense we have now and adding back Ryan Williams at RB and Floyd at WR with Fitz, if we can improve the offensive line at all from last season, I think we are going to make some major noise this season barring many injuries.

  3. By D on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    Sounds like Horton will try to scheme alot this year until he finds two dependable rushers…let’s hope Acho doesn’t do the typical second year step back like alot of players do or they will be in trouble. At least they have a clear need in next years draft.

    I think alot will depend on the front 3 eating up blocks, which is where they will need a breakout year from D. Williams and they cannot afford to have Campbell hold out and miss training camp or regular season games…

  4. By carlo milano on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    do u think one of this undrafted rookies will make the team
    i think binns could surprise

  5. By Justin001 on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    With 42 sacks had the fifth most sacks in the NFL.

  6. By AndyStandsUp on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    The key to me, is Alace. He has to get the game and “have the lightbulb turn on” like Acho or stay in the dark like Alan Branch.
    Take away Sam’s 7 sacks and only 8.5 of the Cards 42 sacks came from the OLB position; the one that traditionally provides them. If Haggans doesn’t re-sign someone is in dire need of stepping up.

    Interesting to note Adrian Wilson didn’t have a single sack last season.

  7. By in fitz we trust on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    washington, acho, and schofield WILL make a difference this year. darryl washington with his speed should have a pro bowl year. especially having to cover vernon davis lol

  8. By Scharf on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    I like that we don’t have a standout guy on defense. I mean, while a standout is great, it always looks better when the entire team is doing well. To have 42 sacks is one thing, but to have 42 sacks with at least 9 guys getting in on the action speaks volumes about Ray Horton’s scheme.

  9. By John the draft guy on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    Couldn’t Agree with your article more ( except I would have included QB) . After passing on a passrusher and taking Floyd, Schofield and Acho better come through.

  10. By INSOMAN1ATIC on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    That picture says it all, that is our OLB tandem of the future, not too mention anyone else notice how much bigger Acho looks in some of the new videos compared to this picture?

  11. By ben on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    yeah baby look at those two pro bowlers next year

  12. By Matthew on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    I personally have faith in Schofield, and Acho. I believe our future LB corp is those 2 D wash, and Bradley will step up. Everytime ive seen Schofield play he has done an above average job, and Acho speaks for himself.

  13. By Chris G on May 7, 2012 | Reply

    Although I really like Acho´s intelligent and Schofields physical tools, they were both under 10 sacks last season. Of course they both just had limited playing time, but it´s not like they played lights out at the end of the season either.

    It was a promising start by both,no question. But they have to take a huge step this offseason, as, in a 3-4 defense, pressure MUST be generated consistantly by the OLB. You need to get sacks without blitzing and sending additonal people, otherwise (good) QBs will make u pay.

    I really hope that those 3 Keyplayers in any 3-4 scheme, OLB and NT, can make splashes this offseason (and first real offseason for any of them!)

    But u must not forget, that passrushers can´t be on the fiield every defense down (other than DBs) -> u have to be able to rotate, so u have fresh legs. thats why depth is so crucial at the DE/OLB spot. and thats clearly a need. especially as u can´t pick up cut-players easily, because our scheme takes some time to learn.

    I believe they will re-sign Haggans (good mentor for their first full offseason aswell) and hope one of those undrafted rookies/free agents show some promising moves, as we definitley need still supplement guys for rotation.

  14. By cdubbbbbbb on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    DWash might be the best blitzing ILB in the league. Acho and Scho show alot of potential. Dockett and Campbell are proven studs who we can rely on/

    The beauty of the zone blitz is that every single player at any position could rushing the QB at any single moment. That is why Dick Lebeau is considered the greatest defensive mind to ever step foot on the football field, and he is the reason why our D is nasty. We have the right players for the scheme we run and we have a very very intelligent coordinator that knows exactly how to use them. Nothing but upside IMO>>>>

  15. By Bryth on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Darren –

    I dont know if youve seen it, but there is also a video of Paul Vassallo with a 60 inch vertical jump

  16. By Ezz on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    I watched plenty of Houston football last year and Marcus McGraw was a very good free agent pickup, he’s a tackle machine, very solid on the inside. Naturally doing it in Conference USA an in the NFL are two different things and he is pretty undersized for the position, but so is Stephen Tulloch. I’m just glad we gave him a chance to show if he belongs. I wish we would’ve given his teammate Sammy Brown a look too but the Rams picked him up.

  17. By shannon robinson on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    The confidence that Mr. Graves and Mr. Keim had in the defensive line and linebackers (aces in the hole Talley and Brandon Williams) allowed the Cards to fill our hand in the draft at WR, OL, and DB’s. Ryan Williams is a big part of that play. Confidence and guts is all it takes so now we hand the crew over to John Lott and position coaches.

  18. By joe67 on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Overall, I was happy with the rush especially as the year went on. I think it will be better this year, but I think the KEY is consistency. There were still times we couldn’t get close to the qb. Everyone likes a lot of offense, but when it is your team with the good D, it is soooo much fun to whatch.

  19. By Keith on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    I think tied for 7th in the NFL for sacks can be a little misleading. How many times did we have to over commit players to the pass rush leaving ourselves exposed in the middle to get to the quarterback? With a pure pass rusher that can consistently beat his man on the outside, we would not have to expose ourselves as much by sending in more bodies. Not to mention with an elite olb, when we did commit more bodies we would see a much higher success rate at getting to the qb.

    That said, this was a weak draft as far as olb go and I am glad the cards did not reach for one. I am just a bit surprised we did not spend at least one pick on a player to provide decent depth. Hopefully you are right about them finding a diamond in the rough…otherwise I hope Acho and Schofield are able to play >90% of the snaps this season.

  20. By Todd on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Remember that last year was really Schofields first real season as his rookie season he was coming off a major knee injury. And even in his limited time playing last season he made some great plays on defense and special teams. Acho is good too but I think people are overlooking how great Schofield can be when he is healthy and has playing time. He was an absolute stud at Wisconsin. He dropped in the draft because of the knee injury. I think the Cardinals got a major steal there.

  21. By Peter in Canada on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    This is a very interesting column and like most of the posters I am in complete agreement. The team only has so many draft picks and our greatest needs were on offence. We did manage to pick up two Db’s so the defence was not entirely overlooked. One has to trust management when it comes to the draft since they have the scouting resources and access to college coaches that fans are not privy to.

  22. By matt on May 8, 2012 | Reply


    have you herd anything on calis being signed I know he wants some big bucks but i think he has earned. it his special team play is outstanding and he is good at the run as well as the pass and he has blocked how many passes i believe if this defence needs to keep moving foward we have to sign him to a long term deal but yea i cant wait to see the cards play this year and un like everyone else I believe in kolb the reason we won so much down the strech was the defence not the play of skelton I believe with better o line play kolb will show his true potential

  23. By Darren Urban on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    Matt —

    RE: Calais

    Trust me, if there is something new, I will say it.

  24. By Todd on May 8, 2012 | Reply

    I think Calais will do what Dansby did. He will let the Cardinals place their franchise tag on him and take the raise in salary that goes with a franchise player. He will let the Cardinals continue to do that to the full extent as Dansby did and when that runs out, will leave for a better deal to some crappy team like Miami. The Cardinals history with placing the franchise tag on a player means they will never give them a long term deal at the price the player wants. The only very good players the Cardinals have ever stepped up and signed to lucrative long term deals in recent history were Warner, Fitz, AW and Dockett. They let Dansby, Breaston, Rolle, Boldin, Calvin Pace and Antonio Smith all get away over money and these players are all highly productive with other teams now. Not to mention even older players like Thomas Jones, Garrison Hearst, Simeon Rice, Jamir Miller, Jake Plummer and the list goes on. The Cardinals will never become a consistent winner until they learn how to keep their top talent they drafted and molded instead of losing them to other teams. Maybe now with Steve Keim in a higher position and JR running the team instead of tight papa, that will change.

  25. By Eazy E on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    Hey darren, you spelled my boy Daryl name wrong?! And, I don’t know if Walker and Bradley have shown that they can fill in?! I would say NO as of now. Also, I’m glad we have possible studs at OLB for years to come in Acho and Schofield, and it is nice to get contributions in the sack department from a few places, but it ain’t nothing like having a Suggs or Ware.

  26. By Darren Urban on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    Logan —

    RE: Film study/”Obviously”

    I once sat with linebacker James Darling for a session for a Tribune story I wrote. I have never been in an actual group setting.

    As for Whiz, as someone who says “obviously” too much myself (although no one ever hears it because I am asking in a print interview), that’s hard. Sometimes you are going to say something that is indeed obvious and you want people to understand that you know that. Besides, Whiz talks in coach-speak a lot. That happens.

  27. By joe67 on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    @Todd. I know where you are coming from. Some good players have left. Dansby, Breaston, Rolle, Pace, Smith were all GOOD, not great. I bet if the truth was known, in hindsight, those teams would have second thoiughts about what they spent for them. VERY inflated salaries, IMO. I wonder if even Bolden has done what the Ravens had really hoped.
    I really don’t think the Cards will let CC get away. We will see. I hope I am right.

  28. By Cbus cardsfan on May 9, 2012 | Reply

    Instead of a “swing guy”, shouldn’t Bradley really be considered a “swing and a miss guy”.

  29. By Mike Ellingboe on May 9, 2012 | Reply


    Some of what you said is true, some of it not. The reality with Dansby and Rolle is they were set on leaving here, for whatever reason, but not because our FO didn’t have legit long-term deals on the table for them. Just the reality of FA in today’s game, we could come up with a list for all 32 teams similar to the one you posted for us. Old man Bidwill made one of the bigger mistakes of his tenure in jumping the gun on a big contract for Plummer, which only seemed to create problems when it came to Jamir Miller. Agree about the improvement since JR took over, and would add the hiring of Whisenhunt, who has been remarkably diligent in sticking to his plans for rebuilding this franchise.

  30. By Ann M. Adam on May 10, 2012 | Reply

    With the “pressure by committee” concept it MUST be very hard to get the LBs into an automatic response mode. Especially since the media and fans keep track of the PERSONAL number of sacks!!! IF this is to be the coaching tactic then the team media MUST help a LOT more informing ALL of such and patting the whole LB roster when they deserve it EACH GAME!!!

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