Outside linebacker by committee. We saw that phrase come to life last season when the Cardinals were forced to shuffle multiple linebackers into the line up to generate a pass rush. As many of you know, the 3-4 cannot thrive without pressure coming from the outside linebackers. Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry are now out, and Joey Porter and Cody Brown are in. The front office made a push to sign Porter once he became available this offseason, and the feeling was mutual. Porter was never going to play anywhere but Arizona. Now he possesses the task of boosting the Cardinals pass rush in 2010. Should the Cardinals succeed, a division crown may not be far out of reach.
- LOLB: Clark Haggans - Eleven-year veteran Clark Haggans will undoubtedly man one of the starting linebacker positions. He's a leader and a Ken Whisenhunt-man. Haggans may be approaching the twilight of his career, but he showed he can make strides to improve when he went from an injury-riddled 2008 season to a five-sack year in 2009.
- ROLB: Joey Porter - It wasn't only Porter's name that caused so much interest out of the Cardinals - it was his natural athleticism too. Although his best days are certainly behind him, he's sacked quarterbacks 26.5 times the last two seasons and leads many to believe he's not done quite yet. He was also open to the idea of mentoring some of the younger guys this offseason - something the Cardinals were hoping would happen. Throw in Porter's lengthy mouth and you can see why he was the ideal fit.
Primary Back Ups:
- Will Davis - Davis played well in limited action his rookie year and looks to be one of the primary backups entering 2010. He's recovered from a knee injury and should be 100% for next year. He registered two sacks in a limited role last season and will likely be inserted as a situational pass rusher for the Cardinals defense next year.
- Cody Brown - We can't say a lot about last year's second round pick. Cody Brown suffered a wrist injury early in the preseason last year and was immediately placed on IR. The injury has healed and many fans can't wait to see what Brown brings to the table. He's a defensive end converted to outside linebacker that will see many looks rushing the passer next season. He and Davis have built a friendship after being drafted the same year and both are the future outside linebackers of the defense.
- O'Brien Schofield - Realistically, Schofield will be assigned to the PUP (Physically Unable To Perform) list and will miss the beginning of the season, not counting against the 53-man roster. Once he is eligible to play, however, space will need to be made available for the rookie. Schofield's potential went through the roof, especially after many draft boards projected the defensive end to land as high as the first round. Unfortunately, he tore ligaments in his knee during Senior Bowl practices and saw his draft stock slide. Schofield could pan out to be one of the best picks of the 2010 draft for the Cardinals once he returns to the field.
On The Bubble
- Mark Washington - I'm hesitant to list either of these guys on the bubble, especially with Schofield possibly seeing the PUP list to start the season. Washington drew interest when he joined the team last season, but saw zero playing time. He's still an interesting prospect and there's been nothing but positive reviews about the linebacker.
- Stevie Baggs - Baggs was one of the early offseason signings in 2010 and the sack machine coming out of the CFL could be the next Cameron Wake (former CFL star turned NFL player). Baggs will face an uphill battle, though, and is projected as a third-string linebacker right now. He's an intelligent player and will know that he must play his best in camp later this month.
Ideally, Ken Whisenhunt will put the best players on the field, but with the lack of depth in the past, the Cardinals may keep all of the outside linebackers signed to the roster come opening day. Both Porter and Haggans are no spring chickens, so expecting an injury from one of them should be a legitimate concern. We also don't know what to expect from Cody Brown and Will Davis, enforcing the idea to keep Baggs and Washington as part of the team. Do you believe Brown and Davis will be the future of the Cardinals defense? Can Schofield become a top draft steal of 2010?