The Arizona Cardinals have lost two key playmakers from their 2013 sixth-ranked defense. Karlos Dansby left in free agency and Daryl Washington was suspended for at least a season because of substance abuse.
The team was prepared for the loss of Dansby.
“We already had Kevin (Minter) penciled in," said head coach Bruce Arians after Monday's practice about the challenge of having lost two playmakers At the end of last season. "We felt like we would have him as a starter and he brings so much physicality and he still has some great speed for a big guy."
And Minter appears to be ready. He wasn't a season ago.
“This is his time," said Arians. "He’s matured. He’s got his year under his belt to see how the thing works. He was very fortunate as a rookie he didn’t get thrown into the fire and fail, which he probably would have last year. But he got to play behind an outstanding preparation guy and a great leader in Karlos, so he knows what to do now and he’s having a fantastic camp and I would anticipate him to be great.”
The question is the other linebacker position.
They have Larry Foote, whom they signed as a free agent this offseason, Lorenzo Alexander, whom they moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker this offseason. They have some young guys and they just signed Ernie Sims.
Foote is a longtime veteran. He was very productive in 2012, but he missed all but part of one game to injury in 2013.
Arians was asked if Foote could still be a three-down player, Arians wasn't sure. He did say that Foote could play "two downs, for sure."
Alexander spent "half his career" playing both inside and outside linebacker in Washington. "His flexibility is tremendous for us," said Arians.
Possibly using Alexander as the starter is a bit of a dilemma.
"I'll be out there every down, so I guess that's the biggest thing," said Alexander after practice on Monday. "And I think the coaches struggle with that when you have a guy that's dynamic in different areas like a Pat Pete (Patrick Peterson), returning punt or playing corner, or myself covering kicks and then playing a position. Where do we want to put him that allows us to win more games?"
Alexander is actually happy that he is being moved inside. "I think it's a better fit for my skillset," he said. "I'm not a natural pass rusher...Obviously playing special teams and in space covering kicks is more like a linebacker -- sideline to sideline, making tackles, covering guys -- so I definitely think it's going to be a better fit for me, as far as making impact plays on the defense."
The team also now has Sims, whom they signed on Tuesday. Sims has mostly played 4-3 outside linebacker. He said (via AZCardinals.com), “Obviously I’m not in as much space as I’m typically used to at my usual 4-3 Will linebacker position, but it’s just different keys. At the end of the day, it’s just ‘Xs’ and ‘Os.’ I’ve got to go out there and perform.”
Arians also said that the team might consider using safeties as linebackers in some sets. I'll blog more about that in another post as to how it might look.
The Cards are certainly in a tough situation, losing two very, very good players. But they will be okay. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles doesn't need to blow things up or change things significantly.
"(If) everybody's just doing their job, we'll be fine," said Arians. "We'll adjust. Todd will do everything he can to make sure that he puts the guys in positions to do what they do best and not ask them to do things they can't do just for scheme's sake, which he does a great job of."
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