To round out the defensive trench, we'll focus on the defensive ends for a bit (check out defensive tackles here). The mix of depth and youth at defensive end is amazing and the dearth surplus of players will be valuable if injuries strike again this year. The 2008 draft saw the Cardinals restock the cupboard at defensive end and the talent infusion could reap benefits for years to come.
Darnell Dockett: Dockett burst on the scene in 2007, his fourth year as a pro and fourth as a starter. He not only set career highs in tackles and sacks but was also voted his his first Pro Bowl. He got off to a monster start (8 sacks in 8 games) before fading down the stretch (1 sack in final 8 games) when injuries simply ravaged the defense and he was forced to play nearly the entire game. Dockett's move to 3-4 defensive end has the potential for him to become the premier player at a position that rarely warrants much attention. Outside linebackers normally rack up the sacks in the 3-4 defense but Dockett has a chance to become a truly special player if he can continue to get to the quarterback. He'll have extra motivation this season since he believes he deserves a new contract.
Antonio Smith: Smith also had a career year and is playing in a contract year in 2008. His 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks were both career highs in his first full season as a starter. He's not the pass rush force that Dockett is but he's still a productive player and has improved every season in the league. It'll be tough for him to rack up more sacks in the 3-4 but he's got the size (6'4 282) to hold his own and rack up some tackles. The interesting thing for Smith is what he does after this season. He'll be a free agent at a prime age (27), so he has every motivation to have another career year.
Bertrand Berry: Berry's at a cross-roads in his career being that he's about to turn 33 and might not have a position in the 3-4. He's too small (6'3 264) to be a defensive end and some question whether he's athletic or fluid enough to be an outside linebacker. We'll talk more about him with the linebackers.
Joe Tafoya: The Cardinals chose to resign Tafoya to a two year 1.7 million dollar deal after a season that saw him start 7 games (played in 13 total). Tafoya filled in for Berry when he went down last year and totaled 20 tackles and 2 sacks. Tafoya's another 'tweener' guy who is too small to play defensive end (6'4 258) but not athletic enough to play linebacker. He'll turn 30 shortly before the season starts, but he's been a good special teams player. It'll be interesting to see how the coaching staff uses him this season.
Bo Schobel: The Cardinals also resigned Schobel to a one year deal shortly after last season and he's another 'tweener' guy (6'5 265) who will have to find a position. The Cardinals signed him off the street in the middle of the 2007 season and he appeared in two games and totaled one tackle. He's younger than Berry and Tafoya but isn't near the player and he hasn't started a game since 2004. He'll have to have a heck of a training camp/preseason in order to make the roster.
Calais Campbell: The Cardinals second round pick should have a rookie season
with very little pressure on him. The starters are set with Dockett and Smith and there's enough depth around him that they aren't depending on him to get off to a great start. He'll likely start out playing in passing situations where his pass rush skills and size (6'8 282) could be a big advantage. He'll likely be the primary backup at both ends but will have to produce in order to push anyone for playing time. He's a physically elite player though who will be a starter when he's able to learn the system. This season will likely be a learning experience and if Smith isn't resigned then he should be able to step in as a starter in 2009.
Kenny Iwebema: The fourth round pick from Iowa will most likely be used in a limited role. He's buried on the depth chart right now and it'll likely take a couple injuries before he makes any significant contributions. He's better against the run than he rushing the quarterback so they probably won't utilize him in passing situations like they will Campbell. Still though, they drafted him for a reason and with the injury history of the guys ahead of him, he might be just a play or two away from considerable playing time. He'll be the primary backup next season when Campbell steps into a starting role and could be a productive backup player as he spells DD and CC.
Jason Banks: Banks, an undrafted rookie from Grambling State, provides even more depth along the defensive line. He's got the size (6'5 300) to backup either tackle or end and he played both positions in school. He's an interesting case considering that he played under four different defensive line coaches in college and by most accounts isn't close to reaching his potential yet. He's a decent athlete and with surprising quickness (sub 5.00 forty at Pro Day) but he's got almost no chance to make the roster this season. He'll have to spend at least a season on the practice squad.
Keilen Dykes: I've talked about Dykes quite a bit so I won't continue to beat a dead horse (previous stories on him, here and here). I like his game and think he's got a chance to have a solid career, especially considering he's another undrafted free agent.
All in all, it's hard to figure out all of the guys at defensive end. Dockett and Smith are locks to start, but after that it gets pretty muddy. I'd have to think that Campbell will be the primary backup but what the club decides to do with Berry, Tafoya and Schobel will be interesting. One of those three, if not two, won't make the team simply because they don't really have a position. The team can probably only keep five or six ends at most so there will be some battles during camp as several players are clawing for a final roster spot. Overall though this should be a talented and deep group. Thoughts? Is this the deepest position on the team? Which guys won't make the roster? Is Dockett ready to dominate again?