Cards strive to find anchor at nose tackle

Arizona's defense got better during the second half of last season but there's room for improvement, starting in the middle.

The defense improved dramatically in the latter half of the 2012 season, which was the main reason the Cardinals won seven of their final nine games.

But there is room for improvement, and that starts in the middle at nose tackle.

Since Ken Whisenhunt became coach in 2007, the Cardinals have spent considerable resources in trying to find a nose tackle to provide an anchor for the 3-4.

In 2007, they traded a fourth-round pick to move up to take Alan Branch at the top of the second round. He struggled with weight issues his first three seasons and never looked comfortable playing inside.

He eventually moved to end, where he played better, and is now a solid player for Seattle.

Gabe Watson, a fourth-round pick in 2006, had multiple chances to win the job but couldn't do it.

Veteran Bryan Robinson was signed in 2008, presumably as a backup defensive end. But he ended up starting at nose tackle for most of three seasons because younger players didn't develop as quickly as expected.

That includes Dan Williams, a first-round pick in 2010. The Cardinals thought highly of Williams coming out of college at Tennessee, because he didn't struggle with weight issues and he seemed to have the stamina to play through an entire game.

But just as Branch and Watson, Williams struggled to keep his weight in check as a rookie. Coaches held him out of one game because of it.

No player suffered more because of the lockout last year than Williams. Without the supervision of the Cardinals strength staff, Williams gained even more weight and reported to training camp in poor condition.

Rookie David Carter, a sixth-round pick, played better for much of the season because he was in better condition.

Williams gradually shed the weight and was starting to play better when he suffered a broken arm in the 10th game of the season.

That required surgery and has limited his activity this offseason. But in an odd way, the injury might have benefited Williams. Because he's on a rehabilitation plan, he has access to the team's facility and its training staff.

Williams' weight problems came last year when he returned home to Tennessee and was not under supervision. He ate poorly, didn't work out as hard as he should have. The result was significant weight gain.

This year appears to be different for him. He plans to spend the entire offseason in Arizona, and he's maintained his weight at about 328 pounds, which is his playing weight.

If Williams is in shape, he gives the Cardinals a dimension they've lacked. He can take on double teams more effectively than Carter, who is built like a defensive end.

Williams has the strength to hold at the point of attack, and if he's in shape, he should be able to last an entire game without fading.

If healthy and in shape, Williams could be the impact nose tackle the Cardinals have been seeking the past five season.

Having Williams in great condition backed up by Carter is an ideal situation for the Cardinals.

Carter could be freed up to play some defensive end, too, and the team could use backups behind Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett.

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