The linebacking corps of the Arizona Cardinals was one of the most glaring weaknesses during the 2014 season. Some call it the worst group of linebackers in the NFL. While that is harsh, it wasn't the best season. Let's look at the position group and what lies ahead. Today we focus on the inside linebackers
Glenn Carson, signed through 2016
Kenny Demens, signed through 2015
Larry Foote, will be unrestricted free agent
Kevin Minter, signed through 2016
Daryl Washington, currently suspended
Looking back at 2014:
Last season was marred by the suspension of Washington, who was given at least one year under the NFL's substance abuse policy. Larry Foote was added in May before Washington's suspension came down. Whether the team had been tipped off ahead of time (appeals and such), Foote was expected to be depth, but became one of the most important additions to the team.
He became an immediate leader. Within just a few weeks, he almost got enough votes to be a defensive captain. He ended up having a very productive season and was a rock for the team, playing in every snap but one until he sat out Week 17 with an injury.
Kevin Minter was expected to have a big season, as the team was ready to turn things over to him after Karlos Dansby left in free agency. That didn't happen.
He suffered pectoral injury in the preseason that hampered him and there was even some talk he might have to have surgery and miss the season. He chose to play through it while wearing a brace.
He only played in base packages, as Todd Bowles chose to play six defensive backs in pass defense sets with rookie Deone Bucannon playing like a linebacker. Minter was very strong early in the year against the run, but as the year progressed, missed tackles stood out. The team credited him with 44 tackles, but Pro Football Focus credited him with eight missed tackles, meaning he missed a tackle every 6.5 attempts. That's not what you want from your "thumper" in the middle of the field.
Carson made the team as an undrafted free agent and the coaches and Steve Keim talked about how much they liked what he had to offer, but he was inactive for almost the whole season. Late in the year, though, he started getting some snaps in base packages, replacing Minter. He started with Minter Week 17.
Demens was a special teams contributor and nothing more, but he was pretty solid on special teams.
Questions in 2015:
The big question the Cardinals have is what to do with Washington. He can't be reinstated until the end of May at the earliest. But after that, he still is likely to face league discipline related to the domestic incident with the mother of his child, which led to a guilty plea of felony aggravated assault.
Will he be suspended again? How long? Will the Cardinals even keep him?
Team president Michael Bidwill said the team would move forward as if they wouldn't get Washington back, but it sounded like the team might welcome him back.
Foote is a free agent and isn't sure whether he will retire or not. Reports are he is about 70/30 in favor of returning and the team wants to bring him back as well. If he retires, he could return as a coach.
But with Washington's return uncertain, Foote's future in limbo (not to mention his age a consideration) and the uncertainty as to whether Minter can be a legitimate starter and full-time starter in the league, inside linebacker suddenly has gone from one of the team's biggest strengths to potentially one of the team's biggest liabilities.
Arizona wants to get faster. They had speed in 2013. They didn't in 2014, except for Bucannon playing like a linebacker, and his play tailed off significantly down the stretch.
The Cardinals have they would be aggressive in free agency. Who is available at inside linebacker?Here are some names.
They include guys like David Harris, Rey Maulaluga and Brandon Spikes. Younger players like Casey Matthews and Rolando McClain are there. But there could be others available when salary cap cuts start.
Mock drafts have the Cardinals taking an ILB early. We have seen Benardrick McKinney, Eric Kendricks and Denzel Perryman all mocked to the Cardinals in Round 1.
Mike Jurecki tweeted the Cardinals will be looking for a "thumper" at ILB. That is very notable considering they drafted Minter two years ago to be just that.
We will surely have plenty of information in the coming weeks and months about potential prospects at the position.