Ask almost anyone and the biggest defensive question about the Arizona Cardinals is how they will deal with the loss of both Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington.
Today we will focus on the linebackers in our positional previews entering training camp. We will see who is in the mix, who are the locks, who the bubble players are, key positional battles, players to watch and the biggest questions entering camp.
The LBs currently on the roster:
There are six outside linebackers and eight inside linebackers on the roster as camp opens. They are:
OLB John Abraham: Entering 15th year and second with Cards, signed as free agent in 2013
OLB Sam Acho: Entering fourth season, drafted by Arizona in the fourth round in 2011
OLB Marcus Benard: Entering fifth season and second with Cards, midseason free agent pick up in 2013
OLB Alex Okafor: Entering second season, drafted by Cards in 2013
OLB Matt Shaughnessy: Entering sixth season and second with Arizona, signed as free agent in 2013 and re-signed this offseason for two years
OLB Adrian Tracy: Entering third season, first with Arizona, signed to future contract this offseason
ILB Lorenzo Alexander: Entering eighth season, second with Arizona, signed to three-year deal in 2013
ILB Jonathan Brown: Undrafted rookie out of Illinois
ILB Glenn Carson: Undrafted rookie out of Penn State
ILB Keenan Clayton: Entering fourth season, signed as free agent this past May
ILB Kenny Demens: Entering first season, spent 2013 on practice squad after being signed as undrafted rookie out of Michigan
ILB JoJo Dickson: Entering first season, spent part of 2013 on practice squad
ILB Larry Foote: Entering 13th season, signed as free agent this year
ILB Kevin Minter: Entering second season, drafted by Cards in second round in 2013
ILB Ernie Sims: Entering ninth season, signed as free agent this offseason
At outside linebacker, John Abraham, after a season of 11.5 sacks, is a lock. He will start and get significant playing tiime. Alex Okafor, in his second season, should be a lock for the roster. Matt Shaughnessy, re-signed this offseason for two years, is also a lock.
At inside linebacker, there are really three locks -- Kevin Minter, Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.
Sam Acho has a lot to prove. After missing almost all last season and entering his final contract year, he needs to show his worth to a coaching staff that didn't draft him. He is likely to earn a spot, but he has players behind him gunning for that roster spot.
Also at outside linebacker and on the bubble is Marcus Benard. He showed promise last season and was a solid special teams guy, but he will be one of those guys you wonder if they keep because of special teams or whatever.
At inside linebacker, Ernie Sims and Kenny Demens are the top two guys that will battle for what likely will be the final ILB spot.
Key positional battles:
Larry Foote vs. Lorenzo Alexander: Foote and Alexander are both veterans. Both are coming back from season-ending injuries. Foote probably has the edge, but Alexander might play his equal. It might come down to Alexander's special teams play. He is more dynamic there than Foote. But it will be interesting to see if anything develops.
Matt Shaughnessy vs. Alex Okafor vs. Sam Acho: Shaughnessy did not start 2013 as a starter, but was forced into that role after injuries. He sat out much of the offseason with an injury and Okafor looked impressive in his place. Shaughnessy is dynamic in setting the edge against the run, but is not much of a pass rusher and really never had to drop into coverage. Okafor shows pass rushing skills and has the size to set the edge. Acho has done all of it well at one point in his career, but is coming back from injury.
Players to watch:
Minter is one to keep an eye on because he has been thrust into a starting role by design. Can he play within himself and be a difference maker?
Undrafted rookie Glenn Carson made an impression in OTAs, as did JoJo Dickson and Kenny Demens.
Okafor will be another guy to keep an eye on, for reasons already mentioned.
Can Minter be the leader and playmaker in the middle of the field? He won't be Dansby or Washington, but can he be a quality starter of a top defense? Will his mental errors be mitigated by the players around him?
How much do Foote and Abraham have in the tank? In the case of Abraham, with pass rushers, when the wheels fall off, it happens quickly. It is very, very rare that a man of his age put up great or even good sack numbers. Can he do it again in 2014? Foote was productive in 2012, but hurt in 2013. Can he be at least a two-down player?
Can Acho, Alexander and Okafor all return from injury to be productive?
Where will the pass rush come from outside of Abraham?
There are two groups left -- the DBs and special teams. Then I will have my projected 53 on Friday when the players report.
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