Linebackers are the star players in a 3-4 defense with inside backers racking up tackles and the outside backers putting constant pressure on the quarterback. That should be the case with the Cardinals as well with the OLB depth chart filled with accomplished pass rushers. There will be some transition period since most of the group are former defensive ends but there is a veteran presence to help bring the younger guys along. So are these guys ready to keep pressure on opposing offenses and carry the defense?
Chike Okeafor: Okeafor is looking to bounce back from an injury that caused him to miss considerable time for the first time in his career. He was drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff during the camp last year before a triceps injury derailed his season before it even got started. He's the ideal size (6'5 265) for an OLB and has the pure athleticism to stand up and drop into coverage as well as put pressure on the quarterback off the edge. Chike has averaged over 7.5 sacks a season since he became a starter (2002) in this league and there's no reason that he shouldn't be able to better that number this season. He is 32 years old but by all accounts, he's looked great in workouts so far this off season. I wouldn't be surprised at all if his 2008 season was very similar to Greg Ellis' 2007 considering that they are comparable players in terms of age, size and production who both moved from defensive end to OLB.
Bertrand Berry: Berry is a similar player to Okeafor being that he's about the same age (about to be 33) and close to the same size (6'3 264), but Berry's athleticism isn't comparable. His injury history is something else to worry about (missed 21 games in past three seasons) and the combination of everything above led Berry to sign a restructed deal in the off seaon so that he'd have a lower cap value. For now, Darren Urban is still projecting Berry to win the starting job on the outside, but time will tell if he can handle the position. One thing that's not questionable though is Berry's ability to rush the passer and even if he can't drop back in coverage, he'll still have a role in pass rush situations.
Travis LaBoy: LaBoy signed a 5 year 22 million dollar deal in the offseason and will be Berry's biggest competition during camp. He'll have to learn the position pretty quickly though if he's going to give Berry a serious run for his money. LaBoy has never played in a 3-4, even though most scouts thinks that he's best suited for it. He's constantly compared to the recently departed Calvin Pace and should have no problem posting similar numbers if he's wins the starting job. LaBoy's an outstanding pass rusher and is relentless in his pursuit to the quarterback. Even if he doesn't start, he'll have some role that capitalizes on his pass rush prowess.
Clark Haggans: The Cardinals brought in Haggans from the Steelers in an effort to have at least one seasoned veteran with extensive experience in the 3-4. He's started the past four seasons in Pittsburgh and even though his best days are behind him, he can be productive with a limited number of snaps. He'll be one of the smallest OLB's (6'4 243) on the roster and the Cardinals will likely use his athleticism and experience in pass coverage. His greatest contribution will likely come off the field as he helps the younger guys pick up the finer points of the position.
Chris Harrington: Harrington, a sixth round pick out of Texas A&M, will look to make the transition from college defensive end to a stand up OLB with the Cardinals. His transition should be easier than most though considering that he played with his hand off the ground about 20% of the time with the Aggies. At 6'5 264 he's got the size to play the position and even though some question his athletic ability, there are no questions about his motor. He's plays to the whistle, has great instincts and is an intelligent player. He has dropped some weight since the draft and has never felt as quick as he does right now.
David Holloway: Hollaway was an undrafted free agent out of Maryland last year and he spent nearly the entire season on the practice squad (activated for last game but didn't play). He's undersized (6'2 230) but athletic (4.72 forty, 32 bench reps) and could push for a roster spot this year. He's got experience playing on the inside and outside but his pass rush skills are best suited for the outside. He's had a full season to learn Pendergast's system and could have a leg up on Harrington in camp.
Overall this group of outside linebackers has plenty of talent and the real question could come down to, can the talent overcome a lack of experience? Berry and Okeafor have had a season to learn Pendergast's system and Haggans should pick it up quickly, but LaBoy and Harrington will be hard pressed to learn all of the ins-and-outs during camp. If Berry and Okeafor can stay healthy, this unit could be really good, but if they have to depend on Haggans for a considerable amount of snaps or if LaBoy has to 'learn on the job,' it could put the rest of the defense in a bind. Thoughts? Are you confident or cautious with this group?