Andrew602 note: I apologize for the absence the last two days. I've been dealing with connection issues at home but I'm back full strength. Also, the Hamza Abdullah Q&A needed to be rescheduled. I'll keep you guys in the loop.
In our last set of roster projections, we looked at the defensive ends. The starters - Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell - are set in stone, and the depth is much better this season. Behind the defensive ends are the middle linebackers. They are the strength behind any defense. They may be asked to defend against the run, the pass, or even rush the passer, and they're usually the leaders of the defense. The Cardinals group has seen vast changes so far in 2010, primarily because longtime linebacker Karlos Dansby bolted when the free agency period began. The team brought in depth and drafted a future starter as well. Here is their story.
MILB: Gerald Hayes
- The only middle linebacker on the Cardinals roster that is a lock as a starter is Gerald Hayes. Although he's faced back problems stemming from last season, Hayes and the coaching staff have assured the fans that he'll be healthy and ready when the season begins. He's the Cardinals best run-defender and one of the leaders on defense. After playing in Dansby's shadow the last six seasons, we'll get a full view at what Hayes is made of and see how he handles the pressure of being the top dog.
WILB: Paris Lenon
- Before there was Daryl Washington, there was Paris Lenon. Most of us cringed at the idea of Lenon replacing Dansby, but the front office and coaching staff made it clear that that wasn't the deal. Lenon is a seasoned veteran linebacker that can learn the Cardinals' defensive system, provide adequate play, and mentor the rookie. The journeyman linebacker has bounced around from the Packers, Lions, Patriots, to Rams during his NFL career, and Arizona could be his last stop if he doesn't mind providing depth and special teams play.
Primary Back Ups:
- Washington may have a tougher time starting in 2010 then 1st round pick Dan Williams, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a chance. He's transitioning to middle linebacker and will need to take advantage of the Cardinals offseason programs and training camp to be prepared for next season. If he is, Ken Whisenhunt will likely rotate him into the starting line up in passing situations. If Washington can grasp the speed of the NFL with little hesitation, we may be looking at a starter on defense halfway through the season.
- The Cardinals brought back Beisel last season because of the depth and experience he provides. That reason won't change in 2010. Although he's practiced with the first team in OTAs, he'll be a special team's ace and back up entering the season. Beisel's lack of speed and athleticism is what hinders his chances at starting time, but his determination will prevail at times when we see him on game day.
On The Bubble: Reggie Walker
- Reggie Walker is an intriguing prospect entering camp this year. He was added to the roster last offseason and he didn't see much playing time. With the changes made at linebacker this year, Walker could get shuffled into the line up as a situational role player. Either way, he'll face a steep hill to climb if he wishes to play an abundance amount of time next season.
Out Of The Mix
- After the undrafted Highsmith was signed back in the 2008 offseason, many Cardinal fans were anticipating his play on the field. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with a knee injury that season and was placed on IR. Last year, Highsmith was fully recovered and even started when Gerald Hayes sat out with back problems. The production decreased however, and Highsmith's status with the team isn't so sure. The knee injury could have been lingering, and perhaps he'll use this offseason to work out any kinks in his game. Highsmith will likely be a part of the Cardinals practice squad next season.
- Chris Johnson is the best running back in the league right now and after running for over 2,000 yards last season, he'll ... oh wait, not that Chris Johnson? Actually, the Cardinals Chris Johnson was brought on during OTAs this offseason as a undrafted rookie. He has the speed and heart on his side, but at this point, he only stands a puncher's chance at making the roster.
Middle linebacker could make or break the Cardinals 2010 season. Dansby's departure has already raised eyebrows and no one will believe the Cardinals can play well without him until they actually do it. That time can't come soon enough. What are your thoughts at middle linebacker and can Daryl Washington start before the season begins?