ROTB's roster breakdowns for the Arizona Cardinals are almost completed for the defensive side of the ball as we've finally reach the defensive trenches. Clancy Pendergast's 'hybrid' defense made it hard to distinguish exactly who was a defensive end or a defensive tackle, but we'll do our best to differentiate. In case you missed any previous positions, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, corner backs and safeties, feel free to check them out and add you opinions. To get the ball rolling on the defensive line, we'll look at the defensive ends first and for these purposes we'll assume that Darnell Dockett, Antonio Smith, Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema are ends. Dockett lined up at tackle quite a bit in 2008, but if the Cardinals move to a 'true 3-4' then he'll be a defensive end.
Age and 2008 Stats: 27 years old (5/27/81) - 49 tackles, 4 sacks and 1 forced fumble
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
2008 Analysis: Dockett couldn't follow up 58 tackle, 9 sack, Pro Bowl 2007 season but that doesn't mean that his season was a disappointment. He commanded quite a bit more attention from opposing offenses and there were still several games that he practically dominated. One of Dockett's calling cards is saving his best games for the biggest stage and he certainly didn't disappoint this season. Against the Cowboys he pressured and chased Tony Romo around for most of the game registering a sack but his biggest plays were taken away. A quick whistle on his first sack prevented Whisenhunt from challenging what look like an obvious fumble and a sack sack and second forced fumble was taken away when the 'tuck rule' was applied. Dockett's best game of the season though was on the biggest stage of all, the Super Bowl. Dockett registered three sacks in the game and was basically unblockable for most of the night.
2009 Outlook: The only real question about Dockett heading into the '09 season is whether or not he'll make a scene about his contract again. He skipped voluntary workouts last summer but his contract demands took a back seat once the season started. Dockett's game could really improve if the Cardinals are able to add another consistent pass rusher either at defensive end or outside linebacker, because right now he's quite possibly the most consistent threat.
Age and 2008 Stats: 27 years old (10/21/81) - 41 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2008 Analysis: Smith put up another solid season and really turned up his game towards the end of the season. All of his sacks and 24 of his tackles came in the final seven games of the season and he added two more sacks in the playoffs. Against the Falcons and Panthers, there might not have been a bigger defensive player for the Cardinals. He registered a sack in each game, a safety against the Falcons and a forced fumble against the Panthers.
2009 Outlook: Smith probably saw the writing on the wall when the Cardinals drafted two defensive ends in last years draft and he responded with another solid season that should put him in line for a decent pay day. I doubt the Cardinals will make a serious push to retain his services and he'll likely get a nice contract elsewhere.
Age and 2008 Stats: 22 years old (9/1/86) - 28 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
2008 Analysis: Campbell didn't get as much playing time as we originally thought mainly because Dockett and Smith were healthy all season long, but he did show some flashes of play making ability. Most of his contributions were limited to coverage units and he was one of the leaders in special teams tackles. The best news for the his rookie season is that he was healthy all year long and was able to log some snaps with the regular defense.
2009 Outlook: Campbell will most likely enter camp as the starter at defensive end and he's got the skill set to excel. His rare blend size (6'8 282) and athletic ability should create problems for opposing offenses and his ability to take pressure off of Dockett will be important.
Age and 2008 Stats: 24 years old (2/6/85) - 3 tackles
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
2008 Analysis: Iwebema got some playing time early in the season when Gabe Watson and Alan Branch were both injured but as the defensive line got healthy, his playing time diminished. He played some at nose tackle in the first couple of games which speaks to his strength and ability to hold the point of attack. His stat line isn't as impressive as Campbell's though because he doesn't play on special teams but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have a future on the defensive side of the ball.
2009 Outlook: It's possible that Iwebema will be the primary backup heading into this season and he's got the strength to play any position on the defensive line. It remains to be seen if Iwebema has the pass rush skills to become a starter in the NFL, but at this point we know that he's got the talent to be a solid rotational player.
Overview and Needs: Depending on where you look the defensive end position is listed anywhere from the Cardinals biggest need to their best strength. If we can assume that Antonio Smith will not be resigned, as most are expecting, the starters appear to be set with Dockett and Campbell. That leaves Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Robinson (who we'll cover as a DT) as the backups and that's a above average, if not very good group of ends. The key to the group will be Campbell's ability to step in a be a quality starter from day one. In case you're still wondering who's out there on the free agent market, here's a look at the 3-4 DE's who are available:
Chris Canty: Canty's stat line is very comparable to Antonio Smith but most consider him a better player. Whether that's because he's a year younger or because he's played in the spotlight of the Dallas Cowboys, we'll never know. He'll probably get a better contract than Smith.
- Igor Olshansky: Another guy who's comparable to Smith and close to the same age, although Smith may be a slightly better pass rusher. Olshansky has had the benefit of being surrounded by elite pass rushers in San Diego so the focus has never been on him but he'll still probably get a better contract than Smith.
- Demetric Evans: Evans is clearly below Smith and the two guys listed above and he'll probably never be a full-time starter, but the 29 year old could be a decent member of a rotation. He's got the size to play in a 3-4 (6'4 287) even though he's played in a 4-3 for the Redskins.
CJ Mosely: Mosely is somewhat like Evans in that he's not 'starter-quality' but he offers solid depth. He's still young (25 years old) and has put up decent stats with the Jets in limited playing time. He's also got great size (6'2 305) and could possibly slide inside if the Cardinals still want to go to a 4-man line in passing situations.
- Mike Wright: Another young guy (26 years old) who's put up decent stats without consistent playing time. He's got good size (6'4 295) and could be another solid rotational option who's capable of filling infor a game or two.
All in all there are some good ends on the market who are familiar with the 3-4 and if the Cardinals want to add a starter or just bolster their depth chart, there are options out there? Are you satisfied with the depth at DE? Should the Cardinals make a play to keep Antonio Smith? Is anyone else on this list attractive?