Well, it's been awhile but I'm back. . In parts 1 & 2 I covered the "State of the Franchise" part of the story with where we are and how we got here. In parts 3 & 4 we will cover the "Future of the Franchise". In other words, what do we do and what are our chances for success. Since this part of the series deals with what we should do to right the ship, I thought it best to wait until we got closer to the draft and see if there were any labor updates.
As I stated previously, this team is a disaster right now. This team spent the entire 2010 season without di
rection or identity and all you have to do is listen to our best player talk about his future to tell how far away he feels this team is of winning. Two years removed from being seconds away from winning the Super Bowl, Fitz, a player who, in his own words, has admitted he has been well taken care of and would like to stay here, is for all intents and purpose letting everyone know, 'Either this thing gets turned in the right direction or I'm outta here'. Does that sound like the words of a player who thinks we are just an 'average' QB away from being a good team? And if we can't get a player like Fitz, a guy who is the epitome of a team player, to stay, who's next? Better yet, how are you going to get elite talent to come play here if you can't keep your own elite players?
So how do we get this thing turned in the right direction? We know now last year should have been a year strictly dedicated to rebuilding. So unfortunately, a process that might have been a little further along is really kind of at the beginning stage. Not that some pieces weren't put into place, namely on the defense, but the process must continue. And you don't continue a rebuilding process by signing aging veterans. It is one thing to sign a veteran to hold down the fort while a player that is on your roster develops. It is quite another if you don't yet have the youngster on your roster. You then find yourself continually filling the roster with veterans and never really filling the spot. Now we have many holes on this team whether it be QB, LB, TE, OL.... you are not going to be able to fix everything overnight. But if you develop your youth properly, and you PLAN LONG-TERM, you will not find yourself rebuilding every five years. Patience, and not going for the quick fix all the time is the key to rebuilding.
Going forward, with the labor situation unsettled, the only thing we can depend on is the draft. Not that you don't do your homework in regards to the open market, but at this point we have no idea when the situation will be settled. With that said, when you look at our two units, until an above average, or better yet, good QB is in place, it is clear that the defense is much further along than the offense and that is where we should concentrate in the draft. Why? Because if you have at least one very good unit, you can game plan around that unit. You could argue our offense could use 6 or 7 players as it stands right now. And I'm just not sure that any of the QB's in the draft afford any immediate help, although I am sure someone will come out of this draft class and shock everyone.
So let's go to the defense and see where we can make some strides. Absolutely, LB has to be addressed, specifically the right side I have been a big proponent of R.Quinn but, sadly, I doubt he is going to be a Cardinal. I also don't think Von Miller will be either, and that actually makes me happy, but that is for another post. First, since we can assume that we will be playing a Dick LeBeau-esque style of defense, being that Horton is an 11 yr disciple, you have to look at the type of player we are going to draft to fit the system. And it is clear that to play OLB, particularly on the right side, you have to be able to drop into coverage and not just zone but be able to play some man-to-man. It is a read and react position and the Steelers RARELY blitzed from this position unless it was a pure passing down. It is a position that has produced 13 Pro Bowlers for Pit in the last 20 years, yet has been filled by players like Greg Lloyd(6th rounder), Joey Porter(3rd) and James Harrison(undrafted). In other words, you don't have to be a #1 pick to be successful at the position. So if there is someone further down in the draft that could fill the bill(K.J.Wright, Mark Herzlich) why would you use your #1 pick on this position. I'm calling it here first. Von Miller WILL NOT be drafted by the Cardinals, even if he is available at No.5. If he is there and Dareus and Peterson are gone, I could see a trade down to anywhere from 8 to 11 and going for OL help. As far as inside on the right, you have to be a run stuffer who plays well in a phone booth and can get to the QB when called on. Somehow, someway I think the Cards end up with Martez Wilson, even if they end up reaching a bit for him. Yes, I know all about his bad pro day and if you were asking him to play outside in space you are probably making a mistake. that is NOT what he will be asked to do in our system. He fits perfectly for what we are trying to do, and brings a Steeler-esqe attitude with him that won't hurt his chances of landing with us. Buff has also shown interest at No.35. I personally hope they draft Von Miller and shy away from going back to back on LB's.
As far as DL, we have talent AND depth but they need to understand that job #1 in this style of 3-4 is stopping the run, not getting upfield to the QB. This type of defense succeeds by putting the other team in 3rd and long and THEN sending the blitz. If everyone does their job on 1st and 2nd down, there will be plenty of sacks to go around on 3rd down. I will say this, though. If Marcel Dareus somehow falls to us at #5, you can bet the house that we will draft him. Take it to the bank!
As for the secondary, now that we have Ray Horton as our new DC, I expect this unit to be a strength on the team if things play out like I think they will and Patrick Peterson is available at #5. He is the rare complete CB(solid vs run AND pass) who adds the added weapon of the return game(if needed). But there are a couple of things that need to be addressed. 1st, I think Toler is absolutely fine on one side and will only get better. It amazes me how quickly some people are willing to give up on him and try to relegate him to nickel. Remember, this is a 2nd year player out of St.Paul College. The fact that he was a starter last year is remarkable enough. He is already solid in run support and will only get better in pass coverage as he learns the game. No, he is a keeper and should at least be given a fair chance to win one of the 2 starting positions. That being said, I think it is about time someone gets in the grill of DRC and explains to him that he is NOT Deion Sanders, in fact, he looked more like Col.Sanders last year. TACKLING IS PART OF THE GAME. No more trying to 'push' runners to the ground. HIT SOMEBODY FOR CRISSAKES! Oh, and btw, shut down corners don't play eight yards off the line of scrimmage. Shutdown corners line up nose-to-nose with WR's and stay with them stride for stride. Until I see him do that play after play, referring to him as a 'shutdown' corner is complete and utter garbage. But as talented as he is, quite honestly, I don't think that is something we are ever going to see out of him. His game is all finesse and speed. Tell me the last time a player like him played in a Steeler secondary? If we draft PP, I could absolutely see us trading him before the season starts. And he is someone you could probably still get a future No.1 for, particularly from a team that feels they have a chance to make the playoffs(Oakland and Tampa Bay come to mind right away). You may have to sweeten the pot slightly, but I sure wouldn't mind having 2 No.1's next year with Luck, Landry Jones and Matt Barkley coming out next year. As for safety, I really think AW has a chance to bounce back and have a solid season under Horton. His problem has been in man to man coverage, but if you watch LeBeau's defense, Polamalu is rarely left alone in man to man coverage, and I am pretty sure Wilson will spending alot more time either around the line of scrimmage or in zone coverage. And Rhodes, although not a true centerfielder is enough of a playmaker that would fit this type defense very nicely. Raheem Moore(the only true centerfielder in the draft) or a Ras-I-Dowling who played CB in college but would probably transition nicely to FS ala Malcolm Jenkins are possibilities but I don't really see it as a need strong enough to use higher draft picks on.
Now for the offense. QB, QB what are we going to do at QB? First, I don't think we will use our first pick on a QB. New regimes do that, not ones with many holes to fill and a somewhat questionable future. Just ask Dennis Green how well that usually works out. That takes Gabbert, Newton(Thank God) and most probably Locker out of the picture. I saw Mallets non-denial-denial of drug use at the combine and can't imagine he would be a guy Whisenhunt would have any interest in, particularly because of his immobility. But if he is still around in the 2nd round, how can you not consider him? We are a team with enough high character people to influence a kid like him that we should think long and hard before dismissing him. I would so much rather take a chance with a guy like him, than a prima donna like Cam Newton. Other than character and mobility issues, the biggest problem with Mallet will be coaching the Bobby Petrino OUT OF him. After that, the pickings get thin. I've always liked Kaepernick, just not sure he is built for taking an NFL pounding. Lot of people high on Christian Ponder. Me...not so much. As it stands right now, I don't see the answer for the Cardinals QB situation in this draft. We'll sign a veteran and see how the season and 2012 draft play out.
RB position....until we start using what we already have consistently, addressing this position is moot, which is unfortunate since there are some nice players that could be weapons at the next level like Dion Lewis. I would also like to see AZ take a shot at an Owen Marecic or Henry Hynoski, nice fullbacks who bring a little something extra to their game. Tired of the no-dimensional FB's we have been using.
WR position does not need to be addressed, unless a real burner is available after the 1st 2 rounds. If Fitz decides to wait and see before making a decision on his future, there is nothing you can do about that. Sign Breaston; I'll be really, really pissed if he eventually walks. Doucet can stay or go at this point, he is not on the field enough to matter; Roberts looks fine; Komar and Williams add adequate depth.
TE: the draft has gone from last year, a year that may eventually go down in history as the greatest TE class ever, to this year, one of the weakest in, at least, the last 10 years. When all the buzz at the combine was about Virgil Green of Nevada....enough said. I'm still stunned that we didn't pluck any of the remaining TE's last year when we were drafting in the 3rd round. Don't get me wrong, I like Andre Roberts, but revisit this 5 years from now and Cardinal fans will be asking "You mean we could have had Jimmy Graham, instead?" But since this offense rarely utilizes the TE anyway, even if Kyle Rudolph drops to us in the 2nd, my guess is we pass and pick, Oh I don't know, Lee Smith out of Marshall in the 7th round....very frustrating since Pitt offenses have always been known to utilize the TE. I would really like to see AZ go all out to sign Zach Miller whenever FA starts(he is still out there, right?). He would bring back the physicality to the receiving corp we lost when Q left while still being a downfield weapon. He would also be an immediate improvement as a blocker at the position, something we lacked sorely last year. He is not a dominating blocker, mind you, but surely an upgrade. It is a signing that would also please Fitz, I would think.
OL is a place we may be able to make some hay in this draft and I fully expect us to draft 2 or 3 lineman. But, if you are looking for Levi Browns replacement at LT, keep looking because it is not going to happen in this draft, unless we trade down, which I addressed earlier. Costanzo looks prototypical, he has the BC pedigree and will probably be a solid pro, though not necessarily a Pro-Bowler. Solder, next to Newton, is the biggest risk in this draft, and I'm leaning towards bust. For all Carimi's bluster, I still say he ends up at RT. And for all the talk about Ty.Smith, he has never played LT at any level. The fact that he, a RT, is being talked about at #12 or earlier tells you all you need to know about the LT's in this draft. Ben Ijalana looks like he will be a solid pro, but I really think he will also be gone(NE) by the time we pick in the 2nd. But guys like Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston and especially James Brewer could be had for 4th round picks and should be considered.
At guard, I love Rodney Hudson, but it would probably take our 2nd rounder for him but he is still be worth it. Size is the ?, but bulking up to 299 did not hurt him one bit at the combine. Putting him between Sendlein and Brown would really help our pass-blocking as he excels in the zone blocking scheme we used last year. He is also an excellent inline run-blocker but sucks in the screen game...but when was the last time we actually ran a screen pass? Of course, it is highly unlikely we draft him because of our affinity for drafting huge OG's. Marcus Cannon is massive, but is not the pass blocker Hudson is and we need to get better at pass blocking. Keep an eye on William Rackley, also. He is just the type of small school player Whisenhunt loves. And Carl Johnson could be considered late in the draft.
Bottom line for the OL, expect AZ to draft at least 2, maybe 3 OLinemen and could quite possibly be the only type of offensive players we draft, save for maybe 1 other position.
Now this whole post has dealt almost solely with the draft because at this point, I'm not even sure there is going to be a real "Free Agent Signing Period". The owners and players seem perfectly content to let this play out until late August or early September so only the most industrious of teams will be able to work out trades at that point and do you know what it's going to be like signing free-agents and bring them in for maybe a 2 week training camp/preseason? There will obviously be some movement because alot of players will just be let go, but I think most of the bigger names will end up staying put, probably signing shorter deals than they would under normal circumstances. If something can get done by, say, mid-late July I think you will see more trades than you normally would at that time of year. Players will be flying all over the place.
I really think that PP will be our pick at #5. The way this is playing out, if Carolina drafts a QB at No.1, the only way he doesn't fall to us at No.5 is if someone trades up with Cin at No.4 to get him. That being said, I would still like to see the Cardinals try to create a little noise and at least hint that they might be interested in trading down. They need to be prepared and I really, really do not believe all the hype over Von Miller going to AZ. I've watched enough tape on him and enough tape on how Pitt plays defense to say that AZ will not draft him.