The Breakdown: Defensive Backs

There is plenty of good news and optimism surrounding the defensive backfield of the 2006 Arizona Cardinals.  Antrel Rolle, believed by many to be the most talented player in last year's draft, is back from injury.  Adrian Wilson is a Pro Bowl quality player.  But, most importantly, the 49ers and Rams are suddenly committed to running the ball.  And that is very important. 

There's still the small matter of Seattle and 2005's number one offense, but let's focus on the positives.

Firstly, Rolle impressed and amazed during the off-season practices.  He appears to be fully recovered from last year's injury and ready to step into a dominant role at cornerback.  Without Rolle last year, the cornerbacks struggled mightily against some of the most explosive offenses in the league.

David Macklin is… David Macklin.  He's pretty much known as the "other cornerback" in Arizona's secondary.  While not spectacular, he's also not a glaring weakness.  He's the best option available at his position in an average secondary.

At safety, the ageless Robert Griffith teams up with Adrian Wilson to form a pretty respectable duo.  While it remains to be seen how long Griffith can continue to fulfill the role as "hero" in the NFL, he hasn't shown any obvious signs of slowing down yet.  Wilson was a notable snub for last year's Pro Bowl team.  The defense's only true game breaker, Wilson posted impressive statistics in all major categories (including 108 tackles and 8 sacks).  The only problem with Wilson's gaudy numbers is that when your strong safety finishes the season with more tackles than any of your linebackers, there's a problem.  But the fact remains that Wilson is a Pro Bowl caliber player at a position where playmakers are definitely welcomed and appreciated.

Behind the starting four, the depth begins to run a little thin.  And that's a bad sign in a division where teams like to run a lot of 3 receiver formations.

Wilson is backed up by Aaron Francisco, a second year special teams ace out of Brigham Young and Earnest Shazor… a second year special teams ace and former linebacker out of Michigan.  While I'm sure they're fine human beings, if something happens to Wilson… let's just hope that nothing happens to Wilson.

As far as depth at cornerback is concerned, options are limited.  This is one of the reasons that Rolle's injury was so crippling last season.  Eric Green, a second year player out of Virginia Tech, filled in as well as he could for Rolle last season, but he's no Antrelle Rolle.  He's a strong possibility as a solid nickel or dime cornerback, however, and players with those abilities are always important to have on a roster.

Robert Tate is another solid option for nickel or dime formations as an eight year veteran with some ball skills.  Dyshod Carter is, not surprisingly, a special teams guy in his fourth year out of Kansas State.

While they do have a number of solid sub-package guys, the Cardinals basically have Rolle and a bunch of corners that would be good in nickel and dime situations.  And, unfortunately, everyone's estimation of Rolle is tied solely to potential, not performance.

The bright side, as I said, is that the other teams in the division and the NFC as a whole seem to have moved towards a greater commitment to running the football.  Therefore, Wilson and his mates simply need to register a bunch of tackles, as opposed actually covering receivers.  This points to a larger issue with the front seven.  So, let's hope everyone decides to pass on the Cardinals this season.

The onus, once again, falls on Clancy Pendergrast.  A number of players in the secondary have had two full seasons of experience in Pendergrast's system.  If he puts them in the proper position to make plays and takes advantage of their strengths while hiding their weaknesses, they could be very productive.


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