With the offense now out of the way, we can shift our focus over to the defensive side of the ball, beginning with the defensive ends. When the Cardinals officially changed to the 3-4 defense last season, they were already blessed to have one proven Pro Bowl starter, and an up-and-coming monster entering just his second season. Now a season removed, the Cardinals have established consistency and depth at one of the most important positions on the defense - defensive end.
Starting Right End: Darnell Dockett
- There really isn't much of an argument here. Dockett will be the starter here (assuming he signs a contract extension) for the next 4-5 years. Dockett has taken a different approach this offseason by working out with his teammates, as opposed to years past when he skipped voluntary workouts. 'Nine O' has also kept himself in incredible shape and has already revealed that he has added 12 pounds of muscle to his frame. With the losses of Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle, Darnell will immediately become a leader on the defense. He's taken the new role with open arms, working with the younger players on the roster already. With 2010 being a crucial year for a possible new contract, we should expect a dominating season out of Darnell Dockett.
Starting Left End: Calais Campbell
- Last season saw second-year defensive end, Calais Campbell, break out into one of the most captivating defensive ends in the league. Campbell filled in for the departed Antonio Smith and exceeded all expectations. He tied Dockett with a team-leading 7 sacks last season, while also blocking two field goals on special teams. Now with a full season under his belt, Campbell can work on improving his technique and using is massive 6'8 frame to his advantage against opponents. Scary? I agree.
Primary back ups: Alan Branch & Kenny Iwebema
- Perhaps two players that need to do well next season are backup ends Alan Branch and Kenny Iwebema. A second round draft pick out of Michigan, Branch never lived up to expectations and saw minimal playing time to start his career. This past year, he played at end for the first time and showed vast improvements. Iwebema successfully underwent surgery to remove a tumor recently, and should give the Cardinals a spark coming off the bench. He can play both end and defensive tackle. He can also play on all aspects of special teams, something that Branch cannot.
Out of the mix: Jeremy Clark & Ryan Kees
- These two ends have the unfortunate task of trying to beat out two studs and two solid backups. The only possibility that one of these ends makes the roster is if Branch shows up to camp with his infamous "light bulb" turned off, or if Iwebema's injury returns. The likely scenario for Clark and Kees, though, will be nothing more than a preseason stint and a shot at the practice squad.
It's clear to me that the Cardinals may have one of the top defensive end tandems in the league in Dockett and Campbell. Both still have age and size on their side and both respect the game enough to provide dependable play on Sundays. Although the defense saw significant changes this offseason, defense end was one area that remained unchanged. Will Dockett and Campbell prove to be one of the best end tandems in the league in 2010?