With the entrance of Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb, the Cardinals defense will switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment. This will allow the last season’s starting outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden to move to their natural position at defensive end. Jones is coming the best season of his career. Not only did he make the Pro Bowl, he also led the NFL with 17 sacks and 28 tackles-for-loss in 2017. Another big and better season could be in the works for him. He brings a lot of energy to the locker room and he is one of the leaders on the Cardinals’ defense. On the other side, Golden continues to rehab after suffering a torn ACL in week four. He won’t be rushed back.
There are a lot of solid players in the interior of the defensive line. The Cardinals continue to have faith in 2016 first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche who continues to impress the coaches each of the past three offseasons, yet unable to produce during the regular season. He needs to stay healthy and be more consistent. The change in alignment should help his production significantly. No one really talks about Corey Peters but he has quietly anchored the interior into one of the better run-stuffing units in the NFL. Olsen Pierre had a breakout season with 5.5 sacks and should be in the mix to be the starter.
This team believes that they have enough depth on the defensive line. Benson Mayowa, signed from the Cowboys, will likely start in Golden’s place. Rodney Gunter has been a quality rotational defensive tackle. Undrafted defensive end Alec James is a player to watch, coming off a season where he had 6.5 sacks at Wisconsin. The Cardinals signed an intriguing player from Germany in Moubarak Djeri, who had 12 sacks in the German Football League last season.
The Cardinals want Nkemdiche to start and they are hoping that he can finally meet expectations. They need him to be the elite player they thought he’d be. If the Cardinals intend to have one of the top defensive units in the NFL, they have to be able to get to the quarterback consistently. Beyond the production of Chandler Jones and Olsen Pierre in 2017, the rest of the defensive line had trouble getting to the quarterback. The run defense was very solid all around though. The 4-3 alignment will allow all the players to think less and react more quickly. This means more sacks and more turnovers.
The other depth on the roster includes Bryson Albright, Peli Anau, Vontarrius Dora, Praise Martin-Oguike, Owen Obasuyi, and Pasoni Tasini.