For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2015 – 3:11 pm

The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.

So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.

That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:

(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)

DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.

NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.

DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.

OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.

ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.

ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.

OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.

CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.

CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.

SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.

FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.



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18 Responses to “For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition”

  1. By hummer53 on Jun 18, 2015 | Reply

    Always love these every year Darren. It means camp and the season are fast approaching. And you get a much needs vacation haha.

  2. By D on Jun 18, 2015 | Reply

    Darren-guessing these players maybe high on the cut list for the defense (if no major injuries to players in front of them in training camp)

    – Josh Mauro
    -Taa’mu Alameda
    -K. Demens or G. Carson

    S. Riddick to Practice Squad

    Maybe L. Alexander is cut if a free agent Pass Rusher is signed before camp


  3. By Darren Urban on Jun 18, 2015 | Reply

    D —

    RE: Cuts

    Guess it will depend on camp. If Williams doesn’t pan out, you are keeping Ta’amu. Can’t make any real predictions on Riddick. Hasn’t even been on the field. You may need Demens and Carson depending on how the rest shakes out. Who are your ILBs besides Spoon and Minter?

  4. By Crow on Jun 18, 2015 | Reply

    great line up… i really like bethel though and leave powers in the slot witherspoon was a great pick up

  5. By Richard L on Jun 18, 2015 | Reply

    Minter is a liability. Let’s hope they find an ILB that is faster and hard hitting in training camp

  6. By Cactus jeff on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    Minter will be this year’s Cooper. He won’t be a factor. They will play with 3 safeties, they will call it a 3-4 defense but it will play more like a 5-2 with Weatherspoon and a safety at LBs

    Still can’t see Cooper and. Massie on right side of OL. If the rookie doesn’t start at RT I see BA moving Iupati to RG to help Massie and Valdeer assisting Cooper on left side.

    Keim it’s time to sign a RB to run inside. Also, Kelly has to be signed to beat sea chickens, Kelly and Campbell give Russel Wilson all kinds of problems.

  7. By clssylssy on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    Last season our defense kept us in the running and got us to the playoffs before it got wore out and just couldn’t do all the work any longer. Part of that was the wizardry of Todd Bowles as a signal caller, drawing up brilliant plays and using players in subpackages, part was the veteran presence he had at every position (bringing their knowledge of other major players and teams, as well as, maturity and toughness), with a lot of young talent bringing the speed and specialty skills rotated in a variety of positions as suited the scheme. While I still see young talent in this defense, it appears to be lacking some of the key ingredients that allowed us to be successful last season, namely veteran leadership. We have Calais and P. Peterson but Weatherspoon is new to our system and so, while a veteran in the league, doesn’t have the team leadership value as a Lorenzo Alexander. Again, we need veterans at every position if we are to seriously be a contender for a SB run. Bethel, Johnson and Jefferson were significant contributors who we relied on last season and seem to have been left out, which makes me fear they could become trade bait, and I think that would be disasterous. This defense does not impress me in it’s current form and, doesn’t hold a candle to others in the NFC. We are in serious need of linebackers (we all know who) and corners (I like Powers but he’s not Cro in part because he’s not got the experience, bluster and confidence that seems to make Corners aggressive and successful in this league). Playing the Saints in our home opener will be an excellent measurement tool although the thought of a loss at home to start the season isn’t something I like to even consider!
    From what you’ve written about our new DC and what the players have to say, it sounds as if the players have been left largely in charge of running things, which is probably not true, but, again does not inspire confidence in a league where defenses win championships and we will be facing defenses run by guys who have many playoff games on their resume.
    I don’t expect a lot of people to give me a “thumbs up”, just offering an alternate , antagonist point of view (to balance your protagonist view). Just read an article in which the Cards were predicted a 8-8, 9-7, season (in the over/under)
    based largely upon the losses we sustained to our defense.

  8. By Jerry on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    Josh Mauro was very impressive against Seattle last year, and stopped Lynch in his tracks several times. Don’t cut this guy…..he tough as nails!

  9. By Patrick Hoog aka Don't Take Losses on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    “Last year, the Cardinals were 6-0 when Carson Palmer got the start, but just 5-5 when Arizona’s subpar backups were under center. If Glennon was the fill-in QB on last year’s team instead of Ryan Lindley and Drew Stanton, the Cardinals would’ve fared better with Palmer sidelined. If acquired now, Glennon — whose skill set mirrors Palmer’s and fits perfectly into Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack — could learn quite a bit playing behind the 35-year-old QB. Plus, it’d be good injury insurance for the Cardinals with Palmer coming off his second major knee tear.” ESPN writer. Wonder if TB needs DLs and DBs?

  10. By Don on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    Your 5-5 statistic while factual it is also misleading as Stanton is way above Lindley and Thomas. Their performance needs to be separated. Stanton was pretty good till he was injured and there is no guarantee that had Glennon been the second he wouldn’t have gone down as Stanton did which leaves you with the exact same situation. Lindley and Logan. .

  11. By clssylssy on Jun 19, 2015 | Reply

    Lindley isn’t even on the team anymore and was only a last minute fill-in (maybe a month at the most?) for the playoffs being signed off the Charger’s practice squad, so why do our fans still even include him in the conversation?
    Stanton did a heroic job getting us to the playoffs as a backup but we still need that 3rd spot filled with somebody who will be qualified to step up and make the hard decisions if the unthinkable should occur once again and Glennon is probably the best guy currently available. I’m not quite sure why our fans seem to be so down on Stanton except maybe for the fact that he was “BA’s guy” which, to my way of thinking, should be a plus. His contract does expire next season but with the slim pickens in the league QB pool, the Cards could certainly do worse and bringing in somebody to backup Palmer next season will come with a major learning curve.

  12. By Andre Ellington on Jun 21, 2015 | Reply

    Can’t wait to show everyone how awesome our running game is going to be this year!

  13. By Scott H on Jun 21, 2015 | Reply

    Don –

    Thank you for pointing that out. It is ridiculous / idiotic to just lump all the QB’s who were NOT named Plamer together and draw the conclusion that we were hopeless without Palmer. NOT true. Yes, we are the best we can be with Palmer. That is not in dispute. But let me point out the following –

    – Palmer didn’t play against the Broncos in Denver. That is a TOUGH draw. Yet, the Cardinals were very competitive in that game until Stanton got knocked out with an injury. Bottom line, the Cardinals were probably losing that game no matter who played QB that day.

    – Palmer never played against the Seahawks OR the 49ers. Stanton played each team one time and went 1-1. He had to face the Seahawks IN SEATTLE ( another very tough draw ) with no Fitzgerald and with Ellington reduced to a non-factor. Again, probably a game the Cards lose regardless under those circumstances.

    – in the first game against the Rams, the Cardinals were flat on offense with Palmer in the game and were TRAILING the Rams when Palmer was knocked out. Stanton came in put us ahead a few plays later, turned that game around.

    The point being, Drew Stanton is a VERY capable QB in this league. He may very well be the best back-up QB in the league right now. Remember this – the 5 wins that didn’t come from Palmer came from Stanton. If not for him, this team is NOT 11-5 last year.

  14. By Scott H on Jun 23, 2015 | Reply

    I just read my last post and I don’t know who Plamer is. Please excuse the typo.

    But I’ll bet he’s better than Lindley! 🙂

  15. By CardinalChris on Jun 23, 2015 | Reply

    Why are so many prognosticators predicting a fall off in the Cards D? I don’t get it. They said the same thing when T Bowles was about to become the DC. Is there memory really that short? Same ole media treatment for the Cards. I keep hearing these self proclaimed prognosticators talk about all the defense has lost. Where is that exactly? Minus column – Cro, yes. Darnell, love Dockett, but team played last year without him. Plus Column – lots of depth and young players getting better, getting healthier to start the season- PP and TM. Sounds like the young guys are already motivated to work hard, but hope they stick some of the junk on the wall to remind them who the real believers are.

  16. By Scott H on Jun 25, 2015 | Reply

    Cardinal Chris –

    Yeah, I’ll give ya that. When we were losing Horton (who had done such a great job ) and we were getting Bolwes ( who appeared to have been very average with the Eagles right before he was coming here )…..yeah, I was predicting a drop off. It turned out OK, obviously.

    BUT…you know it doesn’t go that well every time. We’ll see.

    MY concern is for the departures of players that were not only VERY good on the field but were also providing leadership. We have some young guys stepping up to replace top notch veterans ( like Cro ) and other guys who CAN play but are also very injury-prone ( Weatherspoon ) stepping into other spots, so….no guarantees that all of this works out. Cro was a tremendous loss for this team. Add in the depatrure of Bowles and I think you have why some are predciting that we drop off. Really, if these same comings and goings were going on in Seattle, don’t you think you might expecting them to fall off a little? I probably would. And, yeah, they DID just lose their coordinator before last season. BUT their defensive core of players remained very much intact. Hence, no significant drop off last season. The Cardinals have lost their coordinator AND several players who really made this defense go.

    Then, there’s the whole thing with Washington….too much un-certainty around that situation.

  17. By brinnc on Jun 28, 2015 | Reply

    Please remember that we started last season missing almost half of our starting defense and they still did quite well all things considered!!
    Also Glennon would not have done us any good last season, I watched the kid at NC State, and I also watched him sit on the bench for two years because he had trouble picking up NC State offense!! If he has trouble learning a college offense how do you think he could pick up BA’s offense? It would take him a whole season and probably half of another (depending on playing time) to fully understand BA’s offensive playbook, which is one of the most complex, if not the most complex offensive playbook in the NFL!
    Logan Thomas should have started after the first Lindley disaster, I think that is the only mistake that BA made last season, sticking with Lindley!! I mean what did we have to lose, no way Thomas could have performed worse than Lindley and it would have given him game experience, every Cardinal fan seems to forget that Thomas was a rookie last season and he is only going into his second training camp!! He was supposed to get the majority of the snaps this off season and training camp (which would have benefited him greatly!) But now that Palmer has defied the odds and seems to be way ahead of schedule, if not completely done with rehab schedule, it will be interesting to see if BA holds Palmer back more than usual, hate to see him return to early and get hurt in camp or preseason, hopefully he sticks to his plan of giving Thomas most of the snaps in camp and preseason, people giving up on Logan Thomas so fast is crazy, afterall Lindley was given 3 years as #3 QB, 3 years to develop and he never really did, yet everyone dogs Thomas after one season, very few snaps (he did a better job against Denver than Lindley would have!!) If given the snaps and playing time in camp and preseason you will all see a vast improvement and one more season after this season Logan Thomas will go into camp as #1 QB, and will be our QB for many years, he just needs the experience and snaps (which with this idiotic new CBA, it is impossible for any #2 or #3 QB’s to get any snaps, you all realize that once the season starts teams are limited (no, handcuffed!!) to something like 11 measly ass practices with pads!! That is a freaking joke, how can anyone develop and get better when they are so limited in practice time!! Not to mention minicamp is no longer in pads!! You would think with the kind of money these guys make they should be required to practice three times as much as they are now!! If they would go back to more padded full speed practices and minicamps that are full speed in pads and go back to training camps that are longer and much more padded full speed practices I think all the torn ACL’s and other season ending injuries would decrease significantly! !!

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