The Breakdown: Defensive Line

First things first: The Cardinals have two quality defensive ends.  Bertrand Berry has posted 20 ½ sacks in his two seasons with Arizona.  The 2005 season was cut short 7 games.  Chike Okaefor, the last high-profile free agent the Cardinals lured away from another team before Edgerrin James, is a solid defender at the point of attack and is always a threat to get to the quarterback. 

As far as two defensive ends go in a 4-3 scheme, these two men are about as good as you can get in the NFL.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of quality depth behind Berry and Okaefor and they are not necessarily known for their stout play against the run.

Calvin Pace, a former first round pick out of Wake Forest, is the lone "star" behind the two starters.  Even though he's a first round talent, Pace has yet to realize his potential (hence why Berry was signed in 2004 and Okaefor was signed in 2005 after Pace was drafted in 2003).  He has been frequently injured and largely ineffective against the run, showing most of his promise in situational pass rush.  While it's good to have a specialist on the depth chart at defensive end, I'm sure the Cardinals had hoped Pace would become more than a "situational guy" when they drafted him 18th overall in 2003.

After Pace, the waters begin to get very, very murky.  After Pace, Okaefor, and Berry, are Kenny King, Tyler Kind, Antonio Smith, and Anton Palepoi.  These four men have a combined 7 seasons of NFL experience and have tallied 69 tackles 9 sacks all together (which is a bad season for Berry).  While the Cardinals may be okay for the moment, provided that neither starter goes down with an injury (which happened to Berry last year), Berry and Okaefor are definitely not spring chickens at 31 and 30, respectively.  The statistics notwithstanding, is anyone out there familiar with King's body of work (including college)?  Smith's?  Palepoi's?  King's? 

Which is my point exactly.

When you couple a lack of depth at defensive end with a lack of ability to support the run at the position, you get a screaming need for good, strong, run-stuffing defensive tackles in the middle.

The DT depth chart reads like this:  Kendrick Clancy, Gabe Watson, Tim Tullman, Darnell Dockett, Jon Lewis, and Langston Moore.  Heard of any of these guys?  I've heard of two of them and I do this professionally.

Gabe Watson is one of the gentlemen that I've heard of.  He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 4th Round this year.  He's a stout man (6'3", 340) out of Michigan with first round talent and a sixth round attitude/work ethic.  That's why they were able to get him in Round 4.  Whether or not Defensive Line Coach Larry Brooks can motivate the young man to realize his lofty potential is anyone's guess.  However, if he can, the Cardinals will be remarkably strengthened up the middle.

I literally only know of Clancy and his background because he's been cut and signed by so many teams (three) in such a short period of time (six seasons).  He has a history of injury, lackluster performance, and inability to adjust to a specific position (which might be a side effect of the fact that he also played for the Steelers and Patriots).  As someone who follows both of his formal teams, I know only one thing for certain in this uncertain world: Never, under any circumstances, trust Kendrick Clancy.  This is an especially unsettling review given that Clancy is expected to compete for a starting job in Training Camp.

As for the rest, they have a combined four seasons of experience at the NFL level.  None has distinguished himself as a playmaker, run-stuffer, or someone worthy of headlines.

And, while this may seem like a good time to climb up to the top of the tallest building in your corner of the world and throw yourself towards a concrete grave because your team has age or ineptitude at the top of its depth chart and little else behind said age or ineptitude, fear not. 

There's a reason there are four defensive lineman in a 4-3 front.  There's a reason very few teams have a line-up stacked with talent across the depth chart.  It's very difficult in the era of the salary cap to invest as much as the Cardinals have at the wide receiver, tailback, quarterback, cornerback, and defensive end positions to be deep and talented at every position, including defensive tackle.  Therefore, the onus falls upon Brooks and Defensive Coordinator Clancy Prendergast to scheme their system around the holes that exist in the middle of the defensive line.

Hopefully, they'll be able to patch things together, because Seattle and San Francisco certainly do like to run up the middle.


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