We all know that the Arizona Cardinals struggled to put pressure on the quarterback last year despite finishing in the middle of the pack (14th to be exact). They really struggled to get to the QB in the second half of the season and at the end of the regular season Bertrand Berry was the team leader with a whopping five sacks. To make matters worse, two guys who combined for 7.5 sacks (Antonio Smith and Travis LaBoy), or roughly 24% of the team's sacks are no longer members of the Cardinals. What's left are three pass rushers over the age of 30 (Berry, Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans), a passing rushing interior linemen who's learning a new position (Darnell Dockett), an above average pass rusher from the inside linebacker spot (Karlos Dansby) and the best pass rushing safety in the league (Adrian Wilson). The only new faces to the pass rushing group are two rookies (Cody Brown and Will Davis).
Since we're talking pass rushers, it's worth noting that every successful 3-4 defense has at least one premier pass rusher, whether it be DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys), James Harrison (Steelers), Terrell Suggs (Ravens) or Shawne Merriman (Chargers), but will the Cardinals have their own double digit sack master? Here's a look at the candidates....
Bertrand Berry: Even though Berry doesn't appear to be in line for a starting job, it seems only fair to start with him considering that he wasn't supposed to be a starter heading into last year either. He may be on the down side of his career and may not be a full time player anymore but few players in the league are better at getting after QB's than Berry. He'll likely be a situational rusher this season which may actually work to his advantage because he'll have a singular focus when on the field. It'll be interesting to see where he lines up but whether his hand is in the dirt or he starts from a standing position, Berry's got the ability to rack up some sacks.
Chike Okeafor: Okeafor is one of the starters at OLB and given his 48.5 career sacks, he might just be the best bet to break into double digit sacks. Okeafor has played some form of OLB for the past two seasons but he should be finally turned loose now that the defense is a full-fledged 3-4. He's never broken the double digit mark before but neither had another veteran defensive end, Greg Ellis, before he busted out with 12.5 in his first season as a OLB. Okeafor's had eight or more sacks three times in his past five seasons and If he's healthy all season long he's got the skills to push for double digits.
Clark Haggans: Haggans is an interesting case who's always seemed to be a seat holder for someone younger and seemingly more talented but he returns to a starting role after registering just one sack in a limited role last year. He started for four seasons for the Steelers, averaging just over six sacks per season, but he always had a much better rusher on the other side of the defense who would beat him to the quarterback. If Haggans can keep second round rookie, Cody Brown, on the bench and perform well enough to keep his job on passing downs, he just might set a career high in the Cardinals new and improved 3-4.
Karlos Dansby: Dansby's a unique animal because he has the athleticism to be a decent pass rusher on the outside but he's also got the total package on the inside. He'll almost certainly pick up a handful of sacks simply by rushing from his interior spot and surprising some people but if the coaching staff wants to get creative and use him on the outside in some passing situations, he just might make a run at double digits.
Darnell Dockett: Dockett registered an amazing nine sacks from the defensive tackle position in 2007 but he's moving to the DE spot this season and double digit sacks seem virtually impossible. The position simply isn't expected or even designed to rush the passer so ten sacks is more than a pipe dream, but I wouldn't put anything past a guy who wants to get a major pay day. I will say though that if he gets ten sacks from the defensive end spot, we'll have an amazing defense in 2009.
Adrian Wilson: Wilson's registered eight sacks before in a season but ten sacks from a safety position would have to be league wide record so we'll call this a long shot at best. Still though in the same respect as Dockett, I'd never count A-dub out.
Cody Brown: Brown's biggest problem might just be playing time. Whisenhunt doesn't really like to throw his rookies into the fire right away and he was with Pittsburgh when they slowly worked a promising second round pick, LaMarr Woodley, into the lineup behind Clark Haggans. Whether or not they try and take the same route with Brown remains to be seen but a rookie with double digit sacks would be an amazing feat.
Will Davis: If the deck is stacked against Brown, then there's a mountain in front of Davis. He may get playing time with the regular defense and he may have a bright future but double digit sacks is crazy-talk.
In the end, I tend to think that it'll take a group effort from everyone above for the Cardinals pass rush to be above average but I think Okeafor and Dansby have an outside shot if they can stay healthy and are used properly. What do you think, will the Cardinals have a double digit sack artist and who will it be? Are there any other candidates that I missed?