A new week brings a shift to the defensive side of the ball as we continue to break down roster, position by position. We've already look at the entire offensive side of the ball and if you missed any of them you still have time to catch up (TE, WR, RB, FB, QB, OT, OG & C). In a 3-4 defense it all starts up front so we'll do the same and look at the defensive/nose tackle first. The nose tackle doesn't have to be a dynamic player to be successful but he does have to be able to absorb a double team and keep blockers off of his linebackers. The Cardinals have stocked their defensive tackle position by selecting a couple of former Michigan Wolverines the past two drafts but are they ready to step up and dominate the middle?
Gabe Watson: A fourth round pick in 2006, Watson is outplaying his draft status so far. He's entering his third season and coming off his first season as a starter. He's already started over 20 games and he's yet to turn 25. Watson is currently rehabbing a broken kneecap suffered from a accident on a treadmill earlier in the offseason. He won't be ready to go by the start of training camp but he should be 100% by the beginning of the season. He's not much of a threat in pass rush situations but he's a force against the run. He's big enough (6'3 332) to demand a double team and has the strength to fight through some of them. Watson has greatly improved from his rookie season to his sophomore season by doubling his tackles and he knocked down a couple of passes as well. Only time will tell if Watson will be able to hold off Branch in the next couple of seasons but either way he'll be a solid member of the defensive line rotation.
Alan Branch: Branch, a second round pick in 2007, didn't have a stellar rookie
season but that doesn't mean that the coaching staff wasn't impressed. The Cards traded up to pick him and even though a broken bone in his hand slowed his progression he's still rumored to give Watson some serious competition for the starter's job. He's nearly the exact same size (6'5 332) as Watson, but he's stronger and more athletic. Branch has benefited from Watson's injury so far by getting reps with the first team and he may remain in that spot if Watson isn't in 'game shape' quick enough. If he doesn't win the job by the start of the season he'll still get considerable playing time especially in passing situations, considering he's a better pass rusher. He'll eventually take over for Watson and he's got the tools to be one of the best nose tackles in the league if he can continue to grow as a player and stay healthy.
Bryan Robinson: Robinson was signed in the offseason to provide depth and veteran leadership to the defensive line. He's versatile enough to play either tackle or end and can be productive in a limited role. His contributions to the defense probably won't be measured by his stat lines but instead by his presence in the locker room. He's an eleven year veteran who has experience in the 3-4 and should be able to help Watson and Branch pick up the finer points of the game. His previous stops in this league have included Cincinnati, Miami, Chicago and St. Louis.
The anchors of the defensive line are largely forgotten when the praise gets handed out but a 3-4 defense will fail if there isn't a nose tackle who can stand his ground and occupy multiple blockers. While Watson and Branch may never be Jamal Williams or Casey Hampton, they both have the potential to become solid and productive tackles. Having both guys and Robinson in the mix should ensure that everyone stays fresh throughout games, which is always a problem for guys with that much size.