Under Ray Horton's Pittsburgh defensive scheme, we have seen a transformation along the defensive line. Players like Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell --players who were used to rushing the passer-- were asked to completely reverse their roles. Instead of getting after the quarterback on every play from the defensive end position, they were tasked with taking up blockers so that the linebackers could go in for the sack. Still, both of them were dominant forces on the field and adept at rushing the QB.
So if everyone is rushing the QB, that leaves the inside linebackers and, more importantly, the nose tackle to defend against the run. Dan Williams was the starting nose guard for the team last season, but he was dealing with weight issues. Later in the season, he broke his arm, forcing Nick Eason over to the middle.
But one of the players that many fans were calling for to take over his spot was David Carter, a rookie out of UCLA. Carter was a force all year long for the Cardinals, both at rushing the quarterback and at stuffing the run. In fact, his play garnered him the special award of "secret superstar" of the Arizona Cardinals by Pro Football Focus.
It's hard to argue with Carter's production last season. In just 249 total stats (according to PFF), Carter had a sack, a hit and three QB hurries. He also had 15 tackles, ten of them being 'stops', which are solo tackles that create an offensive failure.
The former sixth round pick was truly a godsend for the team. His play allowed Williams to get rest and it created a new dynamic for opposing linemen to look out for while he was on the field.
The good news for Cardinals fans is that his play seemed to get better as the season wore on. Here is what PFF had to say about that:
His late-season form, however, is what should have Cardinal fans excited as he put in his best games in run defense against the 49ers, Browns, and Bengals during the final month of the season. In that trio of games, Carter took advantage of some favorable matchups to record half of his defensive stops from the season (five of his 10) in those three games... Not only can he stand up blockers to plug the A-gaps on runs straight up the middle, but he also has the ability to work off of blocks laterally when offenses try to stretch the ground game sideways-plays which can nullify bigger, less athletic nose tackles.
What PFF also points out is that if Dan Williams does not keep himself in shape and as a consistent force along the line, Carter will not only take more snaps from him, but quite possibly, his starting job as well.
David Carter is already a special, young and talented player. Watching him continue to grow this season will definitely be a storyline to look out for.