FanPost

Red Rage: A defense on the rise

When you look back over the past 10 years, what can you say about the Cardinals?

We have talent, but more holes. We have leaders, but more guys playing in the shadows. We have playmakers, but more role players.

One thing I could never say since I have been a fan of the Cardinals, is that we have a Defense that can carry our team.

Defense has been our downfall ever since I can remember. We have always had playmakers like ADub, Dockett, and Dansby, but never a complete unit that was able to play together and yield the results that make opposing offenses shutter with fear. At best we have been consistently mediocre, and ranked towards the bottom half of the NFL.

Well Im sick and tired of mediocrity! And finally, after a decade, The Cardinals are to!

This ain't your Grandaddys, or your Pappys, or even your step brother Jimbos Cardinals right here folks! This is the new era of Arizona football! This is smash-mouth, in your face, aggressive, fight till you die, blood, sweat, & tears Arizona Cardinals Football! Get with it, or get out!

Now that I have your blood pumping and your heart racing, and images of Darnell Dockett tea bagging Matt Flynn racing through your mind, lets get started.

Hit the jump!

Lets take a trip down memory road.......

2007

On January 14, 2007 the Arizona Cardinals hired Whisenhunt as their new head coach. They looked for the Ex-Steeler coach to bring some of that championship pedigree to the dry, hot deserts of Arizona. With the hiring, I think we all expected things to turn around. I mean after all, you dont hire a guy and hope or expect things to stay the same, right?

In his first year with the Cardinals coach Whiz got to run his first draft as a HC. He only had 5 picks to work with, and plugged the most immediate holes.

He selected DT Alan Branch in the 2nd round, which was considered very good value because Branch had top 10 talent according to many draft pundits. The reason he slipped was probably due to a poor showing at the combine, but Whiz had high hopes for him to come in and fill a spot next to Dockett as a 1-tech DT in our 4-3 front.

In the 3rd round the Cardinals took ILB Buster Davis. Many people werent sold on Davis due to his size (5'9), and alot of people thought it was a reach. However, Davis produced consistantly in college and was a playmaker in the same mold of our current ILB Daryl Washington. A sideline to sideline backer who can cover the middle and has speed and short area burst.

Well it turned out to be a pretty crappy draft for us. Alan Branch never became that consistent force in the middle of the line due to weight issues, and had a hard time fending off Calais Campbell who was drafted the following year. Branch was eventually let go in FA because the team felt keeping him wasnt worth sacrificing other players development. It turns out he signed with our division rival Seattle Seahawks and has carved out a nice little roster spot for himself as a rotational player, my guess is thats all he will amount to.

Buster Davis was a sad story, he was a 3rd round pick that was released in his rookie season. That rarely happens in the NFL these days and was quite a shocker. Ken Whisenhunt had this to say "For Davis, it was the fact that he never really stepped up and his play was not quite what we had seen on tape." What a horrible misuse of a 3rd round draft pick. When you select someone in the 3rd round, your hope is that they will at least come in and be solid contributors and guys you can rotate in and depend on. That wasnt the case and the 2007 draft might be the worse draft Coach Whiz has had.

With the inconsistency we faced at many of the positions and the lack of depth at most positions in 2007, we finished 27th in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed, 15th in takeaways, and in the mid 20's in just about every other category such as passing yards, passing TDs, and rushing TDs. The defense was mediocre to downright bad sometimes. I do believe we had the talent on defense to be around the 15 or so mark in overall defense in 2007, but our Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast was a bonehead, I dont know why Whiz kept him around after the 2007 season.

2008

With a full year of experience under his belt as a Head Coach, Whisenhunt was confident in this team. We had some holes to fill on defense thanks to some contract years and depth problems throughout. One problem was CB, I think that was our biggest problem on defense going into the 2008 season. We couldnt stop opposing teams from passing the ball and our defensive numbers reflected that. With the front 7 we had which was quite formidable, opposing teams would throw the ball down field with great success and once they got to the red zone would run it down our throats. Coach Whiz saw the problem and he decided to do something about it.

With the 16th pick in the 2008 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of Tennessee State. DRC was a small school prospect with insane measureables. His athletic ability is out of this world, his speed is elite, and his agility, fluidity, and coverage skills were second to none in that years draft. Many people had their concerns about the quality of opponents DRC faced in his college division, but that didnt stop Whiz from taking a chance on the skinny kid that ran a 4.2 40 yard dash.

Scouting Report:

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?prospect_id=1386

In the second round, we selected DE Calais Campbell. Many people had him pegged as a 1st round prospect but questions about his motor and drive caused him to slip to the second. He was considered a high risk-high reward player with unlimited potential. With DE Antonio Smith entering his contract year, Alan Branch not panning out as expected, and little quality depth behind them, Whiz felt Calais was the perfect player to take. I think he was selected with the future in mind. Calais had the size and strength to play any position on the DL and in any scheme... being from Pittsburgh, I think Whiz had it in his mind from day 1 that he was eventually gonna switch to a 3-4 defensive front, and this was the pick that helped kick it off IMO.

Calais Campbell scouting report:

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?prospect_id=1256

DE Kenny Iwebema was selected in the 4th round and DE Chris Harrington drafted in the 6th. Adding depth and talent to an old(er) D Line and forcing competition was just what the doctor ordered.

Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema found their way into the rotation for the Cardinals while Harrington found his way onto the practice squad.

DRC earned a spot as the teams starting Nickle Back out of training camp. He wowed coaches and players alike with his speed and hops, and was transitioning well to the NFL. DRC started in weeks 4 and 5 due to injury, but by week 8 the team was so impressed with his abilities to stay with receivers down field and break on the football that he became the full time starter.

Our defense didnt really improve much in 2008 from the season before, but two areas the unit did improve in was stopping the run in the red zone and forcing turnovers. We went from 21st in rushing TDs allowed in 2007 to 13th in 2008, and 15th in takeaways in 2007 to 5th in 2008. It seems drafting 5 D Lineman and a ballhawk DB in his first two drafts payed off for coach Whiz. We finally had quality depth behind our veteran starters and some young talent to develop as well.

Although our defense was nothing to brag about in the regular season, they flipped the switch in the post season. In the first 3 games of the playoffs we forced 12 turnovers. Although we didnt exactly shut teams down, we basically held Atlanta and Carolina in check all game and did just enough against the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles. Ultimately, our defense created enough havoc by the way of Turnovers that we were able to beat all 3 teams and advance to the SB.

I dont want to talk about the SB so Ill end the 2008 season there.

2009

Fresh off an appearance and loss in the Superbowl, it was clear what our team lacked on defense. With all the improvement our D Line made in 2008, what ultimately failed us was our passing defense. We could not get consistent pressure on the QB and we could not keep guys covered in the secondary. After deciding the time was right to switch over to the 3-4 defensive front, Whiz did the smart thing and let Clancy Pendergast go. His replacement was defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Davis had experience with the 3-4 from his years in Pittsburgh, Carolina and Atlanta. He was a well respected LBs coach and learned under some big name guys like Dom Capers, who helped invent the zone blitz scheme, and Wade Phillips who now runs the Houston Texans 3-4 Defense. Whiz was confident Davis was the guy for the job and offered it to him without hesitation.

In the 2009 draft, the Cardinals drafted a pair of OLBs in Cody Brown and Will Davis. If the hiring of Bill Davis signaled the transition to the 3-4 front, these picks made it official. With Clark Haggans already on the roster, it made sense to draft a couple young guys to learn under the experienced vet. However, things didnt turn out as planned. Will Davis made little to no impact on the team, and Cody Brown spent his rookie season on IR only to be released shortly after.

The Cardinals also drafted two DBs, CB Greg Toler and FS Rashad Johnson. After the secondary getting abused in the SB, this was a good move. They also brought in veteran Steelers CB Bryant McFadden to start opposite DRC. Bryant Mcfadden was horrible and sent back to Pittsburgh a year later, but Greg Toler and Rashad Johnson have both stuck on the roster and provided depth and even developed into important players for this defense.

Toler was an under the radar draft pick from a small school in Virginia. His football career almost ended before it began due to poor grades and failing classes that ultimately got him from a top high school prospect to a kid not even playing in college. He ended up stocking shelves at a JCPenney outlet store while playing for a semi-pro football team. He stood out like a sore thumb and teammates and coaches new that he should have been playing in college trying to work his way up the NFL. He was super athletic, super fast, and had very good ball skills. He eventually found his way to a Division 2 college and made a career as a standout CB while there.

These three stories about Greg Toler are Must Reads:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/03/AR2009040301830.html

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/story/11661486

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/cardinals/articles/2010/10/29/20101029arizona-cardinals-greg-toler-making-presence-felt.html

Greg Toler scouting report:

http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=86610&draftyear=2009&genpos=CB

Rashad johnson scouting report:

http://www.mockingthedraft.com/2009/3/18/802026/scouting-report-rashad-joh

http://www.nfldraft101.com/draft/profiles/player/710/Rashad_Johnson.jsp

Although we transitioned to a 3-4, we still used many 4 man fronts do to the fact that our two OLBs we picked in the draft sucked and we were horrible against the run in the 3-4 front. So most of the year was spent in a hybrid defensive front. Even though we ran the hybrid scheme, our defense improved. We finished the season ranked 14th in points allowed. Although we were improved we were still nothing to brag about. We ended up winning 10 games in 2009 mostly on the back of our offense, and got to the 2nd round of the playoffs. Our defense suffered some critical injuries in the playoff game verse the saints and they beat us up. Green Bay exposed our defenses weakness in the wildcard game which was rushing the passer, and the Saints exploited it.

What a way to end the 2nd best season in the Cardinals franchise history..... ah well...

2010

And then there was 2010, a year that I had to go research because I had totally forced it out of my memory. This was surely a year to forget. Pathetic offense, horrible defense..... the one good thing about the year 2010 was our draft. We had a collection of nobodies at LB, we lost our franchise player Karlos Dansby, Antrelle Roll left, Boldin was gone, but we brought in some more old guys in Joey Porter and Paris Lenon to compete for jobs.

The first pick was the best NT prospect in the draft, Dan Williams from Tennessee. He was a beast in college and had the talent to be the second DT taken after Suh. He slipped a few spots due to concerns over a lack of motor. So far, he has played well. In his rookie season, he was a bright spot on an otherwise "meh" Dline, and showed alot of promise as a run stopper. He took double teams like a man and in the snaps he did play that year, profootballfocus had him graded out quite well... something like 5th best run stopper in the NFL.

Dan Williams scouting reports:

http://www.newerascouting.com/2009/12/22/dan-williams-scouting-report/

http://draftboardinsider.com/cgi-bin/prospect.cgi?id=954

The real gem of this draft class came in the 2nd round. With Dansby gone, Whiz felt we needed a young talented sideline to sideline LB to replace him. We ended up making a trade on draft day to move up and select ILB Daryl Washington out of TCU. We actually sent our 3rd round pick and exchanged second round picks with New England to swoop up Washington, thats how much we liked him. There was even another team who called and congratulated us after we selected Washington. They had told Whiz that they were planning on taking him with their pick but we beat them to it. Turned out to be the best draft day move Whiz has made IMO.

This is what fftoolbox had to say about Daryl Washington;

" Plays bigger than his size. Is compact at the point of attack. Explodes on ball carriers inside the tackle box. Plays with strong hands and can control blockers. Has great speed (4.6). Is quick to read and react to plays. Plays laterally with a rare burst. Has a good, second gear to close on plays. Is smart enough to slip blocks and has the agility to backdoor blocks. Is a straight-line blitzer. Shows good instincts on pass reads and is a better-than-average pass defender. Turns his hips relative well and has the recovery speed to make up for any mistake. Though, needs to add bulk and lower body strength."

The only knock on him was his size and strength. He was 220lbs entering the combine and that simply wouldnt cut it in the NFL. Many people actually thought he could transition to Safety in the NFL and succeed there, just shows the versatility this kid has. Anyway, he has developed into one hell of a player and a key member of this team. DWash means just as much to us as Dockett, Campbell, and Wilson. He will be great for years to come.

Daryl Washington scouting reports:

http://draftboardinsider.com/cgi-bin/prospect.cgi?id=1013

http://www.newerascouting.com/2010/03/08/daryl-washington-scouting-report/

With our 4th round pick we selected OLB Obrien Schofield, a talented young player from a storied defensive program, that had suffered a tragedy at the senior bowl that year. Schofield was a defensive playmaker in every sense of the word. He was one of the most promising young pass rushers in the nation and his senior year saw him produce at an incredible rate. He had a monster season recording 55 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 2 passes broken up in coverage, and forced 2 fumbles.Many people had him pegged as a mid first to early 2nd round draft pick after the season he had, and before his injury.

Here is what mocking the draft had to say about Schofield;

"Schofield is an experienced player who reads plays really well. Quickly sniffs out and differentiates pass and run plays. Closes with a lot of speed and intensity. Has lined up in a two-, three- and four-point stance. Very athletic. Showed during offseason practices that he can drop back into coverage and still make a play. Takes nearly perfect angles when he's tracking the run to the outside."

He played in the East-West Shrine game and showed well, playing both Strongside Linebacker and Middle Linebacker. There was alot of Buzz building around Schofield as he was selected to pay in the senior bowl game held annually for the countries top Senior prospects to show their skills to an audience of NFL scouts and coaches. During practices he tore his ACL and had to withdraw, with that he saw his draft stock plummit. Many people had felt he would go undrafted after the injury, but Whiz knew that the talent was there and when healthy, Schofield could produce at an elite level. So we ended up taking him in the 4th and shocking most everybody who watched. The patience we showed in selecting a player that needed a year of rehab right out of the gates and likely wouldnt play the upcoming season payed off as Schofield is proving to be one of the more promising young players on our defense.

Obrien Schofield scouting reports:

http://www.mockingthedraft.com/2010/3/31/1398276/obrien-schofield-nfl-draft

http://www.nfldraft101.com/draft/profiles/player/84108/O%27Brien_Schofield.jsp

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?Prospect_ID=2437

To start the 2010 season this is what our depth chart looked like on defense:

LE- Calais Campbell, Alan Branch

NT- Bryan Robinson, Dan Williams, Gabe Watson

RE- Darnell Dockett

LOLB- Clark Haggans, Cyril Obiozor

LILB- Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington

RILB- Gerald Hayes, Reggie Walker

ROLB- Joey Porter, Obrien Schofield

LCB- DRC, Michael Adams, AJ Jefferson

SS- Adrian Wilson, Matt Ware

FS- Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson

RCB- Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Marshay Green

As you can see, we had some major issues with the talent level at the reserve roles. It doesnt matter if you have the best starters in the world, if your backups cant play, you will only go so far. Starters cant play every single snap of every single game, starters get injured, starters sometimes have off years... so QUALITY depth is important. And in 2010, the Cardinals really had none. That paired with Bill Davis who seemingly did not know or understand how to use our personnel and caused one of the worse seasons in recent memory.

Our defense was appualing, but had no help from the offense either. It felt like our defense was on the field for at least 75% of the game. With all the 3 and outs from the offense, our D surely had to be tired, and a little upset from the lack of support.

We were ranked 31st in points allowed in 2010, one off from leagues worse. After starting the season 3-2 we went on a 7 game losing streak to fall 3-9 on the season. Nothing was clicking. We couldnt stop the run, we couldnt stop the pass. Teams were using play action and making our squad look like a Division 2 college defense. Many players who liked primed to have a breakout year did not. Many players who showed promise and growth during the 2009 season regressed and looked like a shell of there former selves. Many of the veterans we had come to love and expect great play from had dwindled away into nothingness.

Adrian Wilson had a down year, which we later found out was because of a torn abdominal muscle that he played through.

Dominique Rodgers Cromartie had 44 tackles and 3 INTs but was often burned by receivers and gave up way to many big plays. Teams watched tape of him and figured out how to attack him. He was outplayed by his fellow CB and second year player Greg Toler who had 90 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, and 2 INTs. Although Toler wasnt perfect himself either. He also gave up some big plays and got beat quite a bit.

Our starting DEs played well but our NT Bryan Robinson was horrible. Paris Lenon did his job but was nothing spectacular, Gerald Hayes didnt look like the savvy vet he was in years past, Haggans and Porter were good against the run and brought some fire to the team, but were invisible rushing the passer.

Our Linebackers were under performing. The hope we had for Cark Haggans and Joey Porter quickly faded. Young guys like Dan Williams and Daryl Washington were playing great in their limited reps, but for some reason could not get on the field enough.

IMO Bill Davis was the main culprit. We were stuck with yet another handicapped Defensive Coordinator who couldnt get our guys playing up to their potential. A guy who couldnt figure out where and how to play the players to maximize their effectiveness. A guy who couldnt get players to buy into his scheme.

All in all, 2010 was a horrible season. Bad D, Bad O, numerous players having down years. Its best left in the far reaches of your memory bank.

Bill Davis was eventually let go after the 2010 season, which prompted the search for yet another Defensive Coordinator. I'll admit that I had my doubts through out the process. I was questioning whether Coach Whiz was able to evaluate coaches or if it was better left for somebody else to find a coach capable of utilizing the playmakers on our defense.

2011

2011 saw the hiring of a young Pittsburgh Steelers DB coach Ray Horton. After months of searching and several interviews with coaches and coordinators around the league, Whiz chose Horton. Most of us were skeptical over the hiring. Another Pittsburgh goon thats gonna come in and fail? Thats how I felt. I was wondering why we gave an in experienced secondary coach the reigns to the horse when there were several big names available for hire.

Although I had questions, I also felt like whiz did his homework a little bit with this hiring. He knew going into this that another failed attempt at finding a defensive coordinator would likely result in his release as the Head Coach of this team. The players, organization, and the fans would not settle for another below average season when we have so much talent on the roster. It is up to the coaches to effectively utilize players to get the most out of them. Whether it is changing the scheme, players positions, players roles, players contracts, mind sets, philosophies, etc... you gotta do whatever it takes to get them playing up to par.

The more I heard Ray Horton talk the more I listened. I had heard several interviews of the new DC on the radio, internet, TV, everywhere. He was saying all the right things and sounded like a very smart, cerebral man. He said that what he saw on tape when evaluating our defense from 2010 was a top 10 defensive squad that showed no discipline, no faith in the system, no urgency to make plays, no motivation, players that were constantly out of position, players giving up on plays, players playing for themselves. When he started saying all that, that was the moment in my mind where I thought, "We may have finally found our guy."

Horton talked about some of what he wanted to do in AZ. He said it would be largely based off of the schemes and concepts that he learned in Pittsburgh coaching under defensive guru Dick Lebeau. Horton spent 7 years coaching under Lebeau and a number of years playing DB on a Lebeau coached defense. He was the perfect man to come in and implement the aggressive Zone Blitz defense, because he had vast knowledge of how it worked. He also said that he would be adding his own personal touches to the defense. Its no secret that he probably felt he could improve certain aspects of the Steelers defense, but that wasnt his job, his job was to coach the secondary. Horton said his defense was going to be aggressive, players were going to play for the man next to him, we were going to hit hard, we were going to stop big plays, and we were going to be dominant. Sounds cliche, but as we later found out, it was the truth.

The 2011 draft could not have went any better for Arizona, we are definately in the conversation for best draft class that year. Almost every player drafted contributed and showed promise for the future.

With the first pick in 2011, Cardinals selected who many pundits thought was the best overall player in the draft. CB Patrick Peterson from LSU. He was a 6'1 220lb CB with the size of a Safety and the speed of guys half his size. He was far and away the best college CB his final two seasons at LSU and many people said he was the best cb prospect ever. People were comparing him to Charles Woodsen, Champ Bailey, Dieon Sanders, Ronnie Lott, Darell Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha.... he was probably compared to every top CB the game has ever seen. He had the speed to shut down other teams fastest receivers, the strength to shut down their biggest receivers, the skills to shut down their best receivers, and the disposition of a 10 year NFL vet. He wants to be great, and has been working very hard at living up to all his praise. He is the gem of our draft class by every account, and Im willing to bet anything that he will be the best CB in the league in a few years. He showed tons of talent and potential as his rookie season went on, and now will have the experience, knowledge and mindset to go out and dominate. Plus, his punt returning skills are already second to none and won us a couple of games.

Just read a couple of the scouting reports on him and you will know the type of player that Peterson can and will become

http://nflmocks.com/2010/05/20/2011-nfl-draft-scouting-report-patrick-peterson-lsu/

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?prospect_id=2732

http://draftbreakdown.com/scouting-report-patrick-peterson

http://nfldraftgeek.com/patpeterson.html

http://www.mockingthedraft.com/2010/10/11/1745494/patrick-peterson-nfl-draft-scouting-report

In the 4th round we selected OLB Sam Acho from Texas. Acho was considered a very smart, durable, and consistent player in his time at Texas. He was always making impact plays and being a leader for the team to follow. He was a very strong player who uses good leverage, strength, and good hand position to get to the QB. He isnt a speed rusher, but he has one heck of a bull rush and his motor is relentless. He does not stop until the whistle is blown, sometimes even going after the whistle. No player in the 2011 draft had the motor of Sam Acho, and thats part of why he was so darn good as a rookie. He has great instincts, sniffs outs screens, delays, and misdirection plays. Does a nice job of staying home and keeping his gap discipline. The reason he fell to the 4th round is because many teams questioned his athleticism to play OLB. A big question scouts had was if Acho could consistently get around the edge in the NFL with is lack of speed and flexibility. Well, he proven its no problem and that he was probably an early second round talent who we nabbed in the 4th... much like we did with Schofield.

This is a great scouting report on Sam Acho:

http://withthefirstpick.com/2011/04/17/sam-acho-scouting-report/

With the first pick of the 6th round Arizona selected LB Quan Sturdivant out of UNC. He was a productive and sometimes flashy player throughout his whole college career and many said he was the heart of the defense. He was generally regarded as one of the best LBs in college and many people had a high grade on him entering the draft. Most sites you look at had him as a second round talent, yet he fell to the 6th. I have no idea why that is and if you can find out please let me know. The only reason I could think of was an injury he suffered his senior season, and maybe he wasnt fully recovered? IDK. Anyways, Sturdivant was a very very good player at UNC. He played with consistently good technique and gap discipline. Played all three linebacker positions with good overall instincts, and goes through his read s and keys very well. He was very good at reading and reacting to the ball and was rarely out of position or faked out. He was good as a downhill LB attacking the run but also showed good footwork in his shuffle and the feel to play in coverage. He was a 3-down linebacker who played zone coverage regularly and was asked to spy athletic quarterbacks.He was also praised for taking great angles to the ball carrier and staying in front of plays. Started since his freshman year and was also a team captain!

Some scouting reports on Quan:

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?Prospect_ID=2422

http://nfldraftgeek.com/sturdivant.html

Although Quan Sturdivant didnt make the final 53 man roster his rookie season, he was stashed on the practice squad for development. Many scouts said that he was a 4-3 LB only and 3-4 teams shouldnt even bother drafting him, so it wasnt surprising to see that development was needed before he could play for us. That year spent on the practice squad allowed him to bulk up, work on his technique, learn the ILB position, and get used to the pace of the NFL. He was a guy who was sticking out in this years OTAs. He was making plays on the ball, had a couple of INTs, and was making his reads and covering all of his responsibilities. Look for him to make the 53 man roster this season and get some playing time behind Lenon and Washington.

Our second pick in the 6th round was spent on DE/DT David Carter out of UCLA. As far as experience, David Carter had only one full season as a starter with the Bruins. He led all UCLA defensive linemen with 41 tackles (27 solo) in 2010, and ranked third with 3 1/2 sacks while earning the program's award for outstanding defensive senior. He was invited to the Shrine Game, where he played on the same team as his brother. However, unlike his brother, he was not invited to the combine. During his time as a reserve at UCLA, Carter showed he can play on special teams as well. He had only nine tackles as a junior, but two of those were sacks. That helped him win the program's most improved defensive player award. Carter was basically considered a project player who you could take in the 7th round or pick up as an undrafted free agent. Well, the Cardinals figured they would make sure they got their hands on this guy so they selected him in the 6th round. He has great size/speed/power combination, and great character. Although he wasnt extremely productive as a college player, he came in and showed AZ fans and coaches alike that he has what it takes to succeed and even make an impact in the NFL. He is hard to deal with in the middle and shows a relentless motor. Thats one thing I noticed about the Cardinals draft in 2011, alot of guys who maybe werent the most highly touted players or most skilled players, but had the drive and determination to be great. Carter is no exception and he will be a very good rotational player on the Cardinals D Line for years to come, heck he may even get his chance to start one day.

Heading into the 2011 season, I think alot of fans expectations were up despite having the lockout affect training camp. I for one was excited about getting a QB, the draft we had, and seeing what kind of team we would be. I was guessing we would be somewhere around a 10 win team and win the division, make the playoffs, and go from there. I certainly didnt take into account just how much the lockout hindered our players ability to learn the new schemes. I didnt realize just how elaborate and complicated the defense was going to be, and the learning curve was certainly steepened.

I was excited to see Patrick Peterson in action, I wanted to see Toler build on the strides he made up to that point, I wanted to see Calais Campbell and Beanie Wells take the next step. That was the thing I was most looking forward to entering the 2011 season, was to see our young players breakout of their shells.

The 2011 season started just as fast as 2010 ended. Not much of an offseason to get to work and everything felt rushed. We all had high expectations for Kevin Kolb and the offense and he seemed to backup the confidence we had in him with his first start against Carolina. Our offense played well and kept us in that game, while our defense had breakdown after breakdown in coverage. Steve Smith and rookie Cam Newton torched us for 400 yards and 3 TDs. Our defense was not sharp at all and looked hesitant after every step they took. It was clear they would need some more time to gel.

Weeks 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 were all about the same as week one. Our offense played okay, and our defense really struggled. They gave up big leads to Baltimore, Washington, and New York, and cost us alot of those games that our offense had kept us in. There were signs of improvement throughout the first 6 weeks though. You could see that some of our young LBs were playing pretty well and our secondary was starting to understand the coverages a bit more, which let them play faster and it showed.

After staring down the barrel of a 1-5 start, something happened. A light turned on. Somebody flipped a switch and Week 7 against the St. Louis Rams was the perfect oppertunity to prove ourselves. It was a hard fought game, and was very close down till the end. Both teams offenses were struggling, but both teams defenses were playing well. Our defense was getting at the QB, our secondary was playing well, we were containing SJax and the run game. Things were looking better then before, but still not great. Im going off memory here, and The Rams had every chance to win that game, they had the ball with a couple minutes left in the game and just needed to get into FG range to put us away. They creeped and crawled there way into our half of the field. Short passes and runs for short gains and they chipped away all the way up to our 40 yard line. It was 2nd down, everybody knew what they were going to do, it was just a matter of can we stop them? The ball is snapped, Bradford turns and hands it off to SJax who tries to run it down our throats. Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington stop SJax before he can get past the line and the run goes for no gain. On 3rd down, The Rams try the same strategy, give the rock to the best player on their team and hope he does something. Well they handed it off to SJax once again who ran to the outside hoping to use his speed to get the first down. He was met by Adrian Wilson who came clear across the field to stop him, and Richard Marshall who was proving to be quite a terror in the run game. Once again they had stopped him and that let us go into OT and win the game.

Throughout the second half of the 2011 season, our defense was a different kind of scary. They scared opposing teams everytime they took the field instead of scaring us. They were making plays, swarming to the ball, getting to the QB, winning in the trenches, stopping big plays, controlling the run. It was surely a sight to behold. Several players had career years and stood out in our D"

Daryl Washington was nothing short of amazing. A second year player who grabbed his hard hat and lunch pale and went to work on opposing offenses. Washington had probably the most impressive year of any Cardinal last year and was robbed of a pro bowl appearance. He had as good a year as the hyped up Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis in San Francisco and as good a year if not better then any other ILB in the NFL.

Daryl Washington 2011 stats:

107 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 passes defended, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 18 tackles for loss... those are elite numbers folks.

If he can keep it up he will be seeing his share of hype in the future.

Another player who had a monster season and was also robbed of pro bowl honors was Calais Campbell. After improving on each of his seasons in the league, Campbell had his true breakout performance and boy was it nasty! Campbell dominated any and everybody who lined up against him. If he was facing single blockers, he would dominate them. He proved to be a terror against the pass game. Not only getting to the QB for 8 sacks which is an incredible number for a player at his position, but he also had 14 passes defended, numbers that rival some of the best DBs in the league. And his 74 tackles is almost unheard of for a 5tech DE. Campbell has blossomed into an ELITE DE in the NFL and has the potential to be the absolute best in the league..... and maybe ever.

Calais Campbell 2011 stats:

74 tackles, 8 sacks, 14 passes defended, 1 INT, 2 FF, 3 blocked FGs

Adrian Wilson also had a great season. After a down 2010 campaign, he wanted to prove to the talking heads that he still has what it takes to be an elite Safety and his bad year was a fluke. Boy did he show them! After injuring his Biceps tendon in training camp, things looked bleak for Wilson. He missed the rest of camp, missed all 4 preseason games, and wasnt supposed to be available for the first couple of weeks of the regular season. Wilson told coach Whiz he was playing no matter what, so they better figure out a way to keep his arm from falling off. After a bad start to the season, not only from Wilson but the whole defense, Wilson turned his play around to finish as the #1 ranked Safety in the NFL according to profootballfocus.com. He outplayed guys like Ed Reed, Troy Polumalu, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Tyvon Branch to recapture his throne as the baddest Safety in the league. While his numbers seem average, it was his consistency and efficiency that made him stand apart from the others.

QBs had a hard time throwing into Adrian Wilsons coverage, teams had a hard time running the ball when Wilson was in the box, and Wilson brought leadership and toughness to this defense, something the Safeties in Seattle dont do. And to think all this success with basically one arm.... what a machine!

The Cardinals finished the season by winning 7 of the last 9 games on the schedule. Leading us through that impressive turn around was our defense and special teams. They kept us in every game while our offense slowly chugged along trying to find consistency. Our team was becoming a defensive minded team, something we had never experienced here in the valley with any of our pro sports franchises. We were transitioning from an offensive powerhouse to a defensive force over a relatively short period of time, something you dont often see in the NFL or in really any sports.

By the last few weeks of the season I know that I was super confident every time our Defense took the field, and I had almost grown to like watching them more then the offense... a crazy notion when your team has perhaps the best offensive player in the NFL on its roster.

With the momentum built up from the end of the season, and the frustration of just barely missing the playoffs once again, 2012 is gonna bea year of redemption and motivation for our guys. 2012 is gonna be OUR YEAR!

2012

Looking forward to the 2012 season has fans in Arizona excited. I mean we finished 8-8 after playing half a season worth of shitty football. One can only imagine what we are capable of if we start out playing good football from the beginning and finish hot like we have over the past few seasons.

In the 2012 draft we selected CB Jamell Fleming out of OU in the 3rd round. He was a player highly regarded by his teammates and coaches and was a standout on the OU Defense. He is solid in just about every aspect of the position, but not outstanding at any. Thats okay though, IMO those are the best players to draft, they have no huge weaknesses so they usually are easier to develop and faster learners. His potential is through the roof, and from what we have been hearing from OTAs, he looks like the real deal.

Scouting report:

http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/profile_display.cfm?prospect_id=2970

http://sidelinescouting.com/rankings/2012/cb/jamell-fleming/

In the 6th round we took a FS project in Justin Bethel out of Presbyterian. He is a great athlete with explosiveness and a never quit attitude. He is versatile, can line up at both Safety positions and at CB. And he is a gym rat. He was a standout player at his small school but when he faced superior competition, thats when he really shined. IMO he is one of those players that will end up being considered the steal of the draft, a player that got overlooked and is now tearing it up in the pros, or he will be a complete bust. I dont see an in between for this kid, but what do I know.

Here is a very good scouting Report on Bethel:

http://sidelinescouting.com/rankings/2012/cb/jamell-fleming/

We have quietly been building a young core of talented players to become key members on our team. If you go back and look at all the drafts over the years, all those players that we drafted based on potential are now experienced vets with at least a couple years under their belts. And we have brought in another young crop to develop.

We have built depth along the DLine with Dockett, Campbell, Williams as the starters, and having Eason, Carter and Holliday as backups is no joke. All three of those guys could start on a line that doesnt have Dockett and Campbell on it. If one of our premier players goes down, we can be confident knowing the next guy will come in and not give up much. Take week 17 for example. We were playing Seattle in the last game of the season, both teams fighting for pride and just to finish with a .500 record. Toward the end of the 3rd quarter Calais Campbell left the game with an ankle injury and would not return. Vonnie Holliday came in as Campbells backup and had a dominant game. He was recognized by profootballfocus.com for the game he had that day. In just one quarter of playing time he had numerous QB pressures, Hits, and stuffs on the RB. He looked like he couldve been starting and we would have been just as good of a team. I was impressed and that was the game that made me want to bring him back for the 2012 season.

At the Linebacker spot we are stocked like we have never been in Arizona. Daryl Washington is the best LB to ever wear a Cardinals jersey in the state of Arizona. Paris Lenon is a solid and sometimes spectacular LB with experience and leadership that many players do not possess. Both of these guys had very good seasons in 2011 and with them becoming more familiar with the defense, there is nowhere to go but up for these guys. Behind them we have Stewart Bradley, Reggie Walker and Quan Sturdivant. Stew Bradley was an above average starter in Philadelphia before being signed by us to come man the ILB spot in a 3-4 defense. He had a hard time adjusting to it with no real offseason and no help from team mates, considering they were trying to learn the new system as well. He had never played a 3-4 defense before, but by then end of the year he showed promise and versatility, lining up at both ILB and OLB and being fairly consistent. Reggie walker is our special teams captain and is pretty versatile as well. If you havent noticed him while he was in the game he has lined up both inside and outside for us and had some success in both spots. Obviously he isnt a pro bowl player, but if a time came where we needed him to play for extended periods Im positive that he could get it done. And Quan is a young guy who shows tons of potential and talent, just needs time to adjust to the NFL. That time may have been last year, and he will have his shot to make the roster this year in training camp. I think he will be a monster in 2-3 years. Remember, Paris Lenon and James Harisson are a couple guys who started their NFL careers as Practice Squad players.

We have finally plugged our biggest hole over the past few years, which would be OLB! We have been depending on over the hill players who were past their primes to come in and make a big difference for us on the field. Well my friends, that time is over. We now have two young studs starting for us at one of the most crucial positions in a 3-4 defense. Sam Acho and Obrien Schofield have busted out and shown they have what it takes to be starters and difference makers in this league. Acho had a spectacular rookie campaign and Schofield has shown the promise that many people saw in him before his leg injury before the draft. Both have emerged and are here to stay, which gives us awesome depth at the position. Having Haggans as a starter is not an ideal situation. He can still play, but he is not the rowdy playmaker he once was. Having Haggans as a backup is the best possible scenario other then having a 24 year old pro bowler there instead. When needed, Haggans can fill in for either starter and our defense wont miss a beat. He knows the system better then probably anybody. He knows the team, he knows the coaches, and he is a team leader on and off the field. Having him back is just a very ideal situation and probably what Whiz imagined the day he signed Haggans here in AZ. We have picked up a couple of young guys in Quinton Groves and Zach Nash who have some potential as well. If they make the team, they will spend time developing and learning the system so that when called upon, they can come in and perform to the standards we have set as a football team.

CB is probably the most stacked position on the team right now. Patrick Peterson, Greg Toler, William Gay, AJ Jefferson, Michael Adams... all have started at one point in their careers and all have played very well at some point in their careers. Jamell Fleming is a young stud who has been turning heads at OTAs and mini camp. Making plays on the ball, not making mistakes, learning very fast. People are saying he looks almost like a vet out there. Fleming has the potential to be a top shelf starter in this league for years to come. But as a backup, you couldnt ask for somebody better.

We know Peterson is the starter but we now have 4 guys competing for the other starting job. Competition breeds success, I truly believe that, so its gonna be interesting to see what happens. My money says it's between Toler and Gay. If Toler is healthy for the start of the season and plays like he did before the injury then its his job IMO. Gay could be an amazing Nickel back like he was in Pittsburgh last year. Flemming and Adams will likely split time with Toler and Gay. Fleming may even play a little safety who knows, but we have endless possibilities with the level of talent stocked at the CB position and it should be one of our strongest units in 2012 after being somewhat inconsistent in 2011.

At Safety we have our two studs Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson. Rashad Johnson is the backup FS and got his feet wet last season when filling in for an injured Rhodes. While Johnson wasnt spectacular, he was consistent and rarely made mistakes. He showed that he has at least enough talent to be an average starting Safety in the NFL, which makes him a great backup IMO. We signed James Sanders who was a former starter in his career with Atlanta and New England. Again, another average starter who will make a great backup. If your a coach and you have starting caliber players sitting behind two studs, Id say your pretty damn happy with yourself. We also Drafted a young guy with loads of potential in Justin Bethel. Small school kid who has the intangibles and athletic ability to be a quality starter in this league. He needs some time to develop but when he is ready, he is probably the heir apparent to the starting FS position.

Like I said, we have never been so stacked from top to bottom with talent on the defensive side of the ball like this, ever! We have great players at almost every position and backups who could start on other teams. This defense is ready to put the 2012 Cardinals on its shoulders and bully their way to the playoffs...once we are their, anything can happen!

Players are already gushing about how the defense is coming together this off season. Adrian Wilson isnt a guy who brags about much or raves about what the team is doing, but read this interview and you cant help but smile. When a guy Like Wilson talks, you listen, and you believe every word that comes out of his mouth! If not he might hurt you.....

I truly believe we are the best team in the division, with a slightly obvious bias. San Francisco has maybe the better defense by a small margin, but our offense is full of playmakers that they wish they had. Seattle had a pretty good defense last season, but they werent scaring anybody. I mean they only beat us IN Seattle because Jay Feely missed two field goals and they won it by 3 points. Their offense has absolutely nobody outside of Marshawn Lynch, who our defense man handled in week 17. Sure they are going to be tough to beat, every team is in the NFL. If we dont take them serious they can very well upset us in Seattle or in AZ. They play hard, they have confidence, and they have a lunatic head coach thats whoops them in the locker room if they dont win. Well butt whoopins, confidence, and hustle only get you so far. Seattle just doesnt have the talent to compete with us or San Fran when all teams are playing at 100%. The Rams arent winning squat for about 3 or 4 years.... nuff said.

As a fan I have never been more excited for this team in my life. I also said the same thing last year, which tells me this isnt the same ol' Cardinals from years past. Bidwill Jr. is finally doing things right and has us on the fast track to the superbowl, now it's up to our guys to do the rest!

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Revenge of the Birds' (ROTB) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of ROTB's editors.</em>

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