clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Arizona Cardinals preseason preview: Defensive depth - how much is too much?

New, comments

With only three weeks to Arizona's preseason kick-off, it's a good time to get acquainted with some of the players who will be suiting up for the Cardinals that we don't normally get to see.


The starters have been, and will continue to be, covered in depth already so let's take a closer look at the heroes of the second half, the depth players, with an eye towards where the roster may be a little thin (or thick). If you're looking for a more in-depth look at specific position groups, check out Jess' training camp previews.

The Cardinals' defensive line has been the heart of the squad for a while now and the first couple of depth guys were actually starters on their previous teams. Matt Shaughnessy and Frostee Rucker should parley their experience into quality performances against second string competition. Will they flash the way Vonnie Holliday and Nick Eason did in their first appearances for the team?

Given his body type and upfield style, David Carter always seemed like a better fit at defensive end than at nose tackle. Perhaps Todd Bowles will move Carter around a bit more. After those three, the youth will sort itself out in the dogpile. Ronald Talley and Ricky Lumpkin have stood out in preseasons past. Padric Scott's natural gifts should enable him to dominate second-rate offensive linemen, maybe even enough to push for a roster spot, while Everette Thompson's lengthy build could give him an advantage at the point of attack and as a pass-rusher.

Linebacker will be a position to watch. Many words have been written over the last few seasons about which Cardinals' pass-rusher will step up, and with no clear back-up to Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander squaring off with O'Brien Schofield for the other starting job, expect many more to come.

Shaughnessy will see some time at OLB but unless they intend to use him there full-time, one of the younger guys should make the team as well. Zach Nash held a spot last season after joining the team undrafted. He made a splash in the preseason in 2012 with a couple big hits on special teams and a sack despite missing time due to an ankle injury, but didn't get many opportunities when the regular season came around. Tim Fugger followed Arians from Indianapolis and merits extra consideration for a roster spot given the potential for jersey sales. The stocky, scrappy Dan Giordano will make life difficult for opposing running backs but will struggle to make the splash play as a pass-rusher.

At inside linebacker, Jasper Brinkley and Kevin Minter will duke it out for a spot temporarily replacing Daryl Washington next to Karlos Dansby. Brinkley struggles in coverage but he's solid in the box and could benefit from moving to a 3-4 defense, where he'll have fewer responsibilities and, ideally, a little less traffic between himself and the ballcarrier. He'll have to clean up his tackling to keep Minter, an efficient, consistent run-defender, behind him.

It'll be tough for anyone else to crack the line-up. Reggie Walker has been a solid special teamer for the Cardinals the last couple years but he'll need to step up on defense in the preseason to put himself in the conversation for a roster spot. ASU product Colin Parker spent a year developing on the practice squad and could find himself there again unless Kenny Demens flashes as a potential three-down linebacker with his well-rounded skill-set or if Korey Jones' fantastic range and athletic ability enable him to stand out.

Competition is the mantra at cornerback. No one will be pushing Patrick Peterson (if that's even possible) this year, but a handful of players could challenge Jerraud Powers for the number two job. Both Powers and Antoine Cason struggled somewhat in 2012, hence their availability in free agency, and would benefit from strong preseason showings.

Jamell Fleming's aggressive, physical style is fun to watch but he hasn't lived up to expectations at this point and his job could be in jeopardy. Entering his fourth year, Javier Arenas is a proven slot/nickel corner and should claim a spot. Justin Bethel was the fastest guy on the field for the Cardinals when he came into preseason games last year. His combination of size, speed and effort is enticing but with another position change this season it's unlikely the new staff knows exactly what they have in him.

The speedy Bryan McCann should be motivated, looking to finally stick with a team after bouncing around the league for three years, and could sneak onto the bottom of the roster. Either Josh Hill or Ronnie Yell have a chance to earn a spot on the practice squad, as the Cardinals don't have any other eligible corners. Hill is a sound tackler and zone defender who struggles at times in man coverage. He may be a better fit at safety, but it sounds like he's stuck at corner for now. Yell's size limits him to the slot.

As much as competition is the theme for the corners, opportunity beckons at safety where the starters are either unproven (Rashad Johnson) or over-the-hill (Yeremiah Bell). The Cardinals' most polarizing draft pick in 2013, the undersized ball-hawk Tyrann Mathieu, should have an early impact in the team's secondary. As a player who's been out of football for a year, getting his hands on a couple of passes early in the preseason could boost his confidence and help him get his career started on the right foot. Pay attention to how he handles himself when tackling and in run support, as his small stature could hinder him somewhat in the physical side of the game.

The Cardinals have two veterans who will be looking to dump the "journeyman" tag. Both Jonathon Amaya and Curtis Taylor have the size and speed you look for in an NFL safety but haven't done much with their careers aside from special teams.

Of the rookies, if Tony Jefferson can get comfortable in the Cards' defense, expect him to make plays all over the field. He was impossible not to notice roaming around in Oklahoma's secondary. The other, Javon Harris, has a solid, well-rounded skill-set and he had a good career cleaning up after Jefferson at Oklahoma, but that might not cut it in the pro's.

There's no such thing as "too much depth" in the NFL, but there is such a thing as an "excess of talent." The Cardinals are going to have to cut some good players and they may look to a player-for-player trade to try and address position groups that are a little lacking.

Perpetually thin at outside linebacker and, Yeremiah Bell notwithstanding, inexperienced at safety, there are potential roster moves to be made. Those corners aren't all going to make Arizona's roster, but they will find their way to other teams. Jamell Fleming seems like the most likely trade option. The new coaches slid him way down the depth chart but as a third round pick from 2012, he should have some value. With the depth on the defensive line, Ronald Talley is another option. He's played a few games for the Cardinals over the last couple years and could attract a little interest around the league as a young back-up. A former special teams stand-out and Captain who seems to have lost his roster spot, Reggie Walker could be tempting for a team looking to improve their special teams.

It's not that you could start an expansion team with the Cardinals back-ups but with the quality of the front seven, big-name off-season storylines in the secondary and legitimate opportunity for a few surprises to sneak their way onto the team, Arizona's defense will be one worth watching this pre-season -- even in the fourth quarter.