Several young defensive players are starting to come through for the Cardinals, but none has made as much of an impact as inside linebacker Daryl Washington.
A second-round pick in 2010, Washington is starting to make big plays every week. His interception in the end zone against the 49ers might have kept the Cardinals in the game had their offense been performing.
He's among the faster linebackers in the NFL, and that speed has allowed him to stay with players such as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and 49ers running back Frank Gore.
Washington played his rookie season at about 225 pounds, and teammates teased him that he was the smallest linebacker they had seen.
Washington is around 230 pounds now and he thinks he can eventually get into the 240-pound range without losing speed.
The weak-side inside linebacker position is a critical one in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. It's designed to keep offensive linemen from getting to Washington. If Washington has a weakness, it's that he has a difficult time shedding blocks and sometimes over-pursues plays.
He's improved in both those areas this season and will need to display that ability Sunday against the Rams.
Washington is one of handful of young defensive players starting to make an impact. Rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson is playing well on defense, and he was a dangerous punt returner the day he signed a contract.
The secondary has cut down the number of big plays it's yielding, and coordinator Ray Horton thinks the defense is starting to grasp the concepts that eluded it earlier in the year.
"Out here on the practice field, I hear how they talk now," Horton said. "Before, they wouldn't say anything about what they were looking at with the other team, they were so worried about themselves. That's how I know they are getting it."
Cards' Washington heading up younger players
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