We've looked at the Arizona Cardinals safeties and corner backs, but today we take a look at the inside linebackers. The good news with the inside linebacker group is that the starting duo of Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes are not only set in stone, they're dependable (60 starts combined in the past two seasons) and have the potential to be very good. The bad news is that there is very little experienced depth behind either starter. Some of the backup linebackers will likely provide depth on the inside and outside but the club should carry at least four middle backers and could carry an additional one if needed (they carried four last year).
Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes
On the Bubble
Ali Highsmith, Victor Hobson, Pago Togafau
Reggie Walker, Chase Bullock
Obviously at least two of the three bubble guys will make the roster, if another player isn't brought in to compete, and it's not out of the question for all three to make the final 53. The status of those three will very likely come down to two factors: (1) ability to star on special teams and (2) the ability to play both inside and outside.
Ali Highsmith: Highsmith was last year's most popular undrafted free agent and he was having a good year on special teams before a torn ACL ended his season prematurely. Highsmith's health, or lack thereof, is probably the only reason that he wouldn't make the roster coming out of camp but with ACL injuries you'd think that nine months is enough time to be very close to 100%. The worst case scenerio for Highsmith would be for him to start the season on the PUP list but I doubt the team would take the risk of stashing him on the practice squad if he's not fully healthy by the end of camp.
Victor Hobson: In a three year span from 2005 to 2007 Hobson started 46 games and totalled 242 tackles, nine sacks and an interception so it sounds weird to talk about him as a 'bubble' player for the Cardinals, but that's the reality. Hobson was signed the week of the regular finale and projects as possibly the top backup at nearly every linebacker position. He's got experience on the outside and most recently has played on the inside but he'll have to prove that he can handle multiple assignments, as well as play special teams in order to beat out Highsmith and Togafau.
Pago Togafau: Togafau was signed last year after Highsmith went down and he produced immediate results with 12 tackles in six games while playing mostly special teams. He was an undrafted free agent in 2007 and spent last year's training camp with the Cardinals. His lack of size (5'10 240) will always work against him and he's probably restricted to playing inside but if he's able to have a very good camp he might unseat Hobson.
Reggie Walker: Walker was a three year starter at Kansas State, although he did lose his job at one point in 2007, but he never really distinguished himself as a play maker. He averaged 49 tackles, four for loss and just under two sacks per season as starter. He's got decent but not great size (6'0, 246) and he's not the best athlete, but he's tough and physical. Walker is most likely fighting for a job on the practice squad with Chase Bullock and it would be interesting to see what he can do in year after spending some time in John Lott's program.
Chase Bullock: Bullock's a complete unknown because he didn't have much of a college career thanks to injuries. He only played in 28 games at Maryland, totalling just 58 tackles, and most of those games he wasn't even a starter. He's got decent size (6'2 240), but we'll have to see what kind of player he is during camp. I would imagine a key to his success would be to stay healthy but I can't imagine him challenging for a roster spot.
I tend to think the top four is pretty much locked in with Dansby, Hayes, Highsmith and Hobson but the health of Highsmith could be a major tipping point. If his knee is still tender midway through camp, will the Cardinals be forced to carry five or maybe put him on the PUP list and keep Togafau? Will Hobson play more on the outside, with Highsmith and Togafau on the inside? Will either of the undrafted rookies, Walker and Bullock, make waves during camp?