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.)


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

  1. By jwoosaz on Jun 23, 2016 | Reply

    Always fun to see your view. Seems speculation is all that can be done now anyway. Justin Bethel will find his way as a corner, way too talented and has film now on his good and bad play. Coach Betcher has some amazing athletes to design packages for and being creative should be fun with the teams we play this season. Brandon Williams may push for a starting rotation roll in the DB’s, he seems like a determined young man. wouldn’t be surprised to see Rodney Gunter keep his spot too. Thanks for all you and the team do to keep this site entertaing.

  2. By mitchaz on Jun 24, 2016 | Reply

    I always love these blogs, Darren! Keep them coming!

    In my opinion, the best scenario for the 34 base defense would be:




    Having the Honey Badger opposite of Patrick Peterson presents a whole different set of problems for offenses, as they would no longer focus on trying to exploit the RCB.

    Depending on some matchups, James Bettcher could flip-flop Branch and Mathieu if he wants to have a little more size on the outside and more flexibility with Mathieu in the middle.

    Then in the sub packages (nickel and dime)—Bettcher can fit the personnel to the best man-to-man matchups, while moving Mathieu up to the slot or into the box. As BA calls it—the “you got that guy” defense.

  3. By D on Jun 24, 2016 | Reply

    I’ll wait until training camp when you predict final 53. Depth guess analysis is the challenge/debate.

    I still believe Frosty maybe on the bubble. Mauro/Stinson play special teams and have lower salary.

    Additional D players on the bubble: K. Martin, S. Riddick, R. Bryant, C. Clemons.

  4. By Eazy E on Jun 25, 2016 | Reply

    I think Branch is going to start over Jefferson although all our safeties will play alot! ”Mitchaz” up there said Honey Badger at right corner. I’ve always loved Tyrann anywhere including outside corner even when he came out! I mean he ran a 4.50, I think he jumped 38-40 inches, instincts and ball skills are incredible and he missed an entire freaking season! That would be a great fit opposite Pat! He’ll probably stay at free safety though. He’s pretty good there.

  5. By Mr Know it All on Jun 26, 2016 | Reply

    Hey DUrban, Thanks for the update on CB E Bouka. Waiting to see what he does at training camp. This DB rookie class could be special.

    mitchaz this group will help the secondary


  6. By clssylssy on Jun 27, 2016 | Reply

    I think DUrban’s projections are probably the “safe” route and more likely while mitchaz offers an interesting and little more dicey alternative, and as BA says, “no risket, no biscuit”…wouldn’t be surprised if the final product was somewhere in between. With the use of so many subpackages,the term “starter” almost seems obsolete. Im kinda wondering what kind of shape Tyrann is going to be in as he looks like he has put on weight and may not be up to his old form right off. i do think Jefferson will start and would still feel better if we had more veteran leadership to help with the on field coaching (we need ti grab Freeney before he gives up and signs some place else!)

  7. By John faile on Jun 27, 2016 | Reply

    Corey Peters is an unknown factor right now coming off the Achilles surgery, but if he is recovered, he could add needed depth. I think Branch is a steal, and will really help at safety. If Nkemdiche pans out, this defense is deep and could be dominating.

  8. By Scott H on Jun 27, 2016 | Reply

    Just saw an interesting something up on around the basic question of who is the best CB in the league right now – Sherman, Revis, or Peterson. Several “experts” weighed in and PP had the most endorsements, by far. One went so far as to call him the ONLY true shut-down corner in the NFL right now. As CB’s go, that is some pretty elite company to be rising above. Nice.

  9. By clssylssy on Jun 28, 2016 | Reply

    @Scott…PP, true shutdown corner? I dont think there is such a thing in today’s NFL. Peterson has tremendous athleticism but lacks the size and physicality of a Sherman or Revis and his production has been up and down the past few seasons as he dealt with health issues. I remember him being owned by Amari Cooper in preseason last year while Fitz has had his way with both Revis & Sherman in recent years. I dont think any of these guys can claim the title of shutdown corner, different skillsets, not apples & oranges just different kinds of apples😁 Let’s hope he’s back to rookie season form this year because the other side of the field is still in question!
    That being said,Im glad he’s in Cardinal red and wish him a Fitz like resurgance this year🏈🎉

  10. By Scott H on Jun 29, 2016 | Reply

    clssylssy –

    I guess in terms of a “true shut-down corner” the problem becomes that everyone has a different definition of what that is. I keep it simple and think of that in terms of a CB that other teams are generally not going to throw at and / or are not going to have success if they do. And I certainly think PP meets those criteria. Pro Football Focus was the source for some stats that Darren provided in a blog late last season and those numbers definitely supported that PP was one of THE most dominant CB’s in the league, regardless of the use of the words “true shut-down corner.”

    Interesting that you point out his lack of size and physicality in comparison to Sherman and Revis….and I could not disagree more. I think PP is much more physical than Sherman. I don’t consider physicality to be as important for a CB as size, coverage skills, ball skills, speed, and intelligence. For me, THOSE are the areas where Sherman excels. And I think PP is right there with him – or better – in ALL of those areas. Neither Shernam or PP are going to separate a WR’s body from his helmet with bone-jarring hits. But that said, I think PP is a more physical player than Sherman is.

    I just haven’t watched as much as Revis to really speak to a comparison there.

    ANY CB – shut down guy or not – is going to have that one game or maybe a few where he just gets abused by another team / WR for whatever reason. Sherman has had his, PP had had his, Revis had had his. No one shuts down his opponent every week, every year. What puts these guys on a different level is the rarity of that and the consistency with which they perform at a level of excellence. All 3 of these guys do that, for sure.

    Anyway….appreciate the dialogue. In terms of my initial post, the use of the words TRUE shut-down CB were being used by others and I was sharing it here.

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