For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.

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

  1. By D on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    Looks about right Darren.

    Nkemdiche has to be a factor this year, and the same for Gunter.

    I would bet your paycheck that Mr. Keim will add a free agent CB in the next 60 days. Although, I hope Bethel stays healthy because he has the tools to be a solid 2nd CB in the NFL.

    Can’t wait to get to SD in July myself, this heat is already getting old.

  2. By Darren Urban on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    D —

    RE: FA CB

    That’s very kind of you, to bet my paycheck.

  3. By steve on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    Darren: Do you think Markus Goldens plantar fasciitis injury could potentially derail his season? I hear those types of injuries can linger for quite some time.

  4. By Darren Urban on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    Steve —

    RE: Golden

    I do not.

  5. By Adam Smith b1723 fka DTL on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    Kris Hogan, hands, body control, wow.

  6. By JTDG on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    I think it is pretty plain and simple. I think that is a solid defense minus that CB 2.

    Hope you are right about a vet. I also wonder about Badger. The guy can play when healthy but was a shell of himself last year. Got to hope he returns to form.

    Here is a question for you Darren. Two things;

    1) When the go to nickle, which is 60-70% of time, do they bring in a CB or a safety?

    2) if Badger struggles like last year, given his status and salary, do you think the coaching staff would pull the trigger and run Branch or the rookie out there?

  7. By Darren Urban on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    JTDG —

    RE: Questions

    1) I expect a safety. Branch or Baker likely will be ahead of CB No. 3, especially if Badger is covering in the slot.

    2) No.

  8. By Scott H on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    First, in the picture, #43 looks a lot like Anquan Boldin.

    Always a chance Nkemdiche could slip in….whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute….he’s last year’s FIRST ROUND PICK and there is a chance he could slip in???? THAT is what we feel is a realistic expectation from him in his 2nd year??? I will find it tremendously disappointing if he is not making a significant impact this year. Let’s be honest, the other players we have in the mix on the D-line are solid, hard-working players. But if Robert Nkemdiche is still not finding his way onto the field this year as a starter, that is a failure ( in progress, as we say ). A first round pick, still playing behind these other guys? C’mon…..a first round pick HAS to be better than that. I’m hoping to see this kid find that not-gonna-be-denied place within himself and then turning it loose on the field.

    And Bethel…..look, somebody has to say it – the fact that he looked better than Brandon Williams in the off-season is hardly a ringing endorsement. The other CB spot cannot be a weakness all year if this team is going to be a real contender. It just can’t. Darren, your saying that you would not be shocked at all if he weren’t the starter in Week One does not inspire confidence. You tend to be pretty accurate with this kind of thing. I DO appreciate the candor, you know that. I just find it disturbing that he seems to be everyone’s best hope for the other CB spot, yet you feel he may not be. That’s fine if SOMEONE else really stakes a claim to that spot by stepping up to just flat out take it. But if that hasn’t happened by Sept 10… are we not in trouble???

    I don’t want Justin Bethel as my other starting CB simply because no one else was better than him.

  9. By JohnnyBluenose on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    I think the key to our Cardinals being good on defense is having a good pass rush and being aggressive, blitzing and tackling. If we can pressure the quarterback I think our secondary will be fine. Last year it seemed to me that we allowed the opposition too many 3rd down conversions. We need to get their offense off the field. A return to form by Mathieu would be a huge step forward. I will be paying close attention to Elie Bouka. I don’t know if he even makes the team but he has potential. I think our team, on paper, is better than last year’s. But other teams have gotten better too. I think it’s going to be a very interesting season and, if we can avoid injuries to key players, we will certainly be in the mix when December rolls around.

  10. By Steve88 on Jun 22, 2017 | Reply

    To me, the big question mark on this defense is how well can they play the run?
    Detroit gave up 34 passing TD’s last year, which was only bettered by Cleveland’s 36. Because the Lions have such a putrid pass defense, with the exception being Darius Slay, we should score early and often in this years first regular season game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Detroit have less than 15 rushing attempts the entire game. Arizona 34-10
    Indianapolis , the seasons second game, will NOT provide much of a test for our rush defense, for obvious reasons. The true test or the big test is the 3rd game and first home game of the year on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys. I predict Dallas will come into this game 1-1(loss to the Giants)with a great sense of urgency to not fall to 1-2. IF our defensive line can win some battles and hold their own against the leagues top offensive line, then we have a great chance to start 3-0 and potentially, health permitting, be the team we all want and hope the Cardinals can be!!

  11. By mitchaz on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    I would like to think:

    *Nkemdiche wins the starting LDE spot.
    * Pierre subs in for Mauro on passing downs
    * Reddick is used as a blitzer on passing downs
    *Jarvis Jones and Rodney Gunter help the pass rush in the nickel
    * Either Brandon Williams or Elie Bouka beats out Bethel (who is likely gone in FA next year). Although, it would be good to add a FA CB to this mix.
    * Baker wins the FS job—particularly because Honey Badger has said the FS position does not fit his game—he prefers playing in the box at SS and the coaches have assured him that he will. Not sure if Bethea or Branch have FS instincts.

    Darren: we heard SK say a few weeks ago that he has his eye on 6-8 FAs…have you heard any rumblings on what FAs are on SK’s list? Any sense of why Keim has made any deals as of yet?

    Also, why didn’t Keim bring back Dwight Freeney last year? He still gets plenty of pressures and his price tag is in the $2-3M range and he makes everyone around him better. It was no coincidence, imo, that when he became a regular contributor in 2015, the Cardinals won 9 games in a row, 5 of which were prime-time games. Freeney helped the Cardinals win close games, something the team struggled with mightily last year.

  12. By Darren Urban on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    Mitchaz —

    RE: Questions

    1) There isn’t anything on free agents and some of those names may never see the light of day unless they are willing to play for cheap.
    2) As for Freeney, you traded for Chandler Jones. You didn’t need Freeney anymore. The Cardinals lost close games last year, but pass rush wasn’t the reason why.

  13. By Patrick on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    Lots of cardinals gear on San Diego beach this week and I do not think they are charger converts.

  14. By erik on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    I, too, see the CB2 spot as the only glaring weakness. I feel confident they will sign a vet to man that spot. I like Bethel, but you can’t go into the season counting on him to be something he has not shown himself to be.

    I’m very excited to see Mauro get more snaps. He is a demon out there and I think he will impress everyone!

  15. By Scott H on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    Patrick –

    NICE!! Man, how nice is it there???? Can’t wait to visit San Diego someday. I’m thinking that will probably be part of a west coast trip involving a Cardinals game for me….

  16. By jeffcardinalfan on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    the one prevailing weakness in cards front office has for decades been that when there is a clear and definite weak position the front office has a) over valued existing players and b)allowed the same problem to exist for years. how many years did we need a lt before valdheer? not to mention why we insisted on playing leonard davis at lt when it was clear that he was a guard and as I predicted he immediately became all pro at guard when he went to the cowboys. how long did we need a qb after lomax or plummer or kurt? now we NEED a #2 CORNER…how many years will this be an issue? this could be the top defense this year with just an average #2 corner.

  17. By shannon robinson on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    It is so much fun to have a tough defense! The defensive line was developed over a four year period for this moment. I take X. Williams and E. Stinson as my development gauge. Plucking J. Mauro off the Pittsburgh practice squad was surely brilliant based on the crying and tantrums from Steeler fans when it happened. Now we reap the benefit of the Gunter myth, sticking by C. Peters, stashing O. Pierre, and our amazing reurgent leader F. Rucker. We will stop the Dallas Offensive Line and I know that because I’ve watched the Cards continue to build that wall. Every year they’ve added people with determination and toughness and that includes R. Nkemdiche. We’ll keep ’em under a 100 all year, Steve88!, and you know what good comes out of that..

  18. By chris on Jun 23, 2017 | Reply

    Going into his third year I thought Gunter wld be a starter or getting some serious playing time. He played solid as a starting NT in his rookie year and we all heard how raw he was coming out of college. How is a soon to be 34 year old Rucker still holding him of or even Peters at NT. The nature of the NFL is to go younger. The fact that it is not happening makes me think Gunter might not ever take that big step.

  19. By mitchaz on Jun 24, 2017 | Reply


    I am well aware that the Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones, but, imo, part of the reason why the Cardinals lost close games last year was not getting the timely 4th quarter sacks, pressures and turnovers they got the year before.

    Now that QBs pass 67% of the time, teams need more than 2 pass rushers. Having played virtually every snap, Markus Golden and Chandler Jones were gassed late in games, and understandably so. Keeping Dwight Freeney at $3M a year and rotating him in for Golden and Jones could have made a big difference, especially late in games..

    I still harken back to Super Bowl 43…and am haunted by the sight of the Cardinals’ pass rushers (Bertrand Berry in particular), with the lead and a championship on the line, getting absolutely zero pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Great teams close out games with sacks and pressures — in fact, that game was closed out when the Steelers sacked Warner at midfield.

    Who is behind Golden and Jones on the 2017 roster? Jarvis Jones? He’s had only 6 sacks in 4 years. Then who? Kareem Martin? 3.5 sacks in 3 years. Then who? Please explain why Jarvis Jones and Kareem Martin are better options than Dwight Freeney.

    The Cardinals currently have north of $16M in cap space.

  20. By oscar p on Jun 24, 2017 | Reply

    I like mauro, he is good DT. I like Tyrann, he is good Safety. I dont like bethel, he is not good CB.

  21. By shannon robinson on Jun 25, 2017 | Reply

    Mitchaz – Glad you asked. Our outside linebacker room is actually already full – they can only keep 4 and Alani Fua is number 5. Kareem “The Dream” is in the last year of his rookie contract so now is his time. Kareem played well last year as part of the pass rush rotation. He is expected to fulfill expectations after the Cards drafted him in the 3rd Round of 2013. Remember he’s a DE conversion to OLB which (like with Okafor) takes a few years to pay off. I see “The Dream” as a culmination of the Front Office’s four year wager to reap a quality outside rusher with a third round choice.This year’s jewel of a gift to Cardinal fans is Jarvis Jones who was actually drafted ahead of Okafor. Jarvis was a highly touted DE out of Georgia who was stung by “attitude” or behavior, concentration issues/rumors when the Steelers drafted him. However Jarvis Jones was a top prospect for pass rush talent even though he was ultimately seen by Steeler fans as a disappointment. Enter Coach Brentson Buckner who coached Jones at Pittsburgh and is delighted to get him back – the Cards targeted Jarvis Jones as a top FA at the bequest of Coach Buckner. Our scheme may fit Jarvis well and Buckner sees him as ‘his project.’ My bet is those VHS tapes from Pass Rush Specialist Coach Tom Pratt will make the difference. Oh, by the way, the reason we lost the Super Bowl wasn’t because of the heroic effort by B-Train, but the fact that BA was calling the plays on the other side (he’s got the Ring). Minute and a half left in the game? No Risk It, No Biscuit.

  22. By Scott H on Jul 6, 2017 | Reply

    Darren –

    So, you’ve expressed here that you would not be shocked at all if Bethel is NOT the other starting CB come opening day. OK. Then, are you thinking that the other starting CB at that point will be someone currently on the roster, or…no?

    We all ( well, most of us, yourself included ) have been thinking they probably bring in a vet at some point. But if that is going to happen, is anyone else wondering WHAT they are waiting for??? C’mon, the Cardinals are probably not the only team among the 32 that are a little thin at the CB position. The pickins are slim as it is. Are we gonna wait until there is even less of a scrap heap than there is now to TRY to find someone who might offer some help??

    It wouldn’t seem to me to be wise to wait as long as possible before you bring someone in. Why not get them in sooner so they can see a playbook, get to know teammates, get to know coaches, get to know our system, start looking at films of the other teams in the division, etc…..stuff that seems pretty important. And pretty basic.

    I guess the only thing that occurs to me is that they might feel that some decent nuggets will become available as other teams start to make cuts. And that is fine – IF it comes to be. If it doesn’t….again, you have little but a scrap heap to pick from and you have even less time for trying to get someone effectively into your system.

    You can’t always find a Dwight Freeney sitting on his couch in October…..

  23. By Darren Urban on Jul 6, 2017 | Reply

    Scott H —

    RE: Signings

    Multiple things your raise here:

    1) The Cardinals often sign players in camp, or right before camp. People are on vacation right now (yes, football people take vacations). No one is signing right now.
    2) By the way, those vacations include players and coaches. Doesn’t matter if you did happen to sign anyone right now. There are no players or coaches to “get to know,” or talk about roles/systems/playbooks.
    3) No, there aren’t a lot of good options. Which is one reason you may not be signing anyone. Or maybe those left are expecting big money. Revis is a good example. He is already guaranteed $6M from the Jets this season, in a contract that includes offsets. Putting aside the fact he may or may not be over the hill/out of shape, if he signs a contract for less than $6M, he is essentially playing for free this season. The Cards (no one, really) is paying him more, so he has to decide if it’s worth playing, and for how much.
    4) Cuts are possible, but don’t forget all cuts come after the final preseason game this year.
    5) Yes, if it’s not Bethel, I’d think it was someone not on the roster. We’ll see.

  24. By Scott H on Jul 6, 2017 | Reply

    Darren –

    Thanks. Speaking of vacations, I hope you enjoyed your time off.

    I get that nothing is going on right now. But IF there WERE anyone they WERE interested in, there WAS activity going on before….

    Wow, did not know that all cuts are coming after the final pre-season game…which I think is a lousy way of doing things, really. I think that creates chaos for some of the reasons I mentioned. Why create that mad scramble for everyone, right on the eve of the season? Again, it doesn’t give much time ( at all ) for new players on a team to get into their systems. No chance for them to even get SOME time in a pre-season game for the team they are now playing for and is now counting on them.

    And I gotta say, I really have not been all that excited about Revis. Not that I know, but my sense is that he’s done. And I really don’t want to hitch my wagon to him only to find out that he really is. I feel like I will be surprised if he has anything left.

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