For four seasons, coach Ken Whisenhunt has sought to implement a defense similar to that of his former employer, the Steelers. But the attempt has largely failed, partly because of the franchise's inability to find or develop outside linebackers, perhaps the most important position in the 3-4 scheme.
There have been draft busts, such as Cody Brown, taken in the second round in 2009 and cut in 2010. There have been free-agent failures, such as Joey Porter, signed a year ago to provide a pass rush. He had just five sacks.
Porter and the other starter from last season, Clark Haggans, each will be 34 when the season starts. With a $5.75 million salary due, it's doubtful Porter will return.
Coaches are high on a couple of youngsters on the roster, O'Brien Schofield and Will Davis, but neither has proven himself.
So the Cardinals desperately need to draft an impact player at the position. That's why many mock drafts have them taking Texas A&M's Von Miller with the fifth overall selection.
The Cardinals' overall priority this offseason will be finding a quarterback, but they are expected to do that via free agency or trade. With the draft more than a month away, the Cardinals don't think there is a quarterback worthy of the fifth overall pick. To justify taking a quarterback there, the Cardinals want someone similar in ability to the Rams' Sam Bradford and the Falcons' Matt Ryan.
They aren't sure if there is a quarterback of that caliber in this draft. So look for them to draft a defensive player who can provide an immediate impact. That likely means they will go after Miller, a pass-rush specialist.
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the third man to hold that title under Whisenhunt, is the first coordinator to come directly from the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a reputation for developing outside linebackers, and they have been a key to the Steelers' continued dominance.
With Miller, the Cardinals would have an athletic linebacker corps but also a young one. Insider linebacker Daryl Washington, a second-round pick last season, is fast and has great instincts. He needs to be stronger at the point of attack.
Schofield, a fourth-round pick, showed great pass-rush skills at Wisconsin, but his progress was delayed by a torn ACL a year ago. He is healthy now, and the Cardinals think he can be a dynamic player.
Put those three players together with inside linebacker Paris Lenon, and the Cardinals would have a group that Horton should be able to mold. But that paragraph should come with a big asterisk: *If the talent has been properly evaluated.
If Miller and the other youngsters are what scouts think, the Cardinals have a core of young players in which to build around. But if the opinions are wrong, then the Cardinals' quest to run a Steelers' 3-4 defense will end fruitlessly, again.
Cardinals look to emulate Steelers' pass rush
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