Cards on Pace to Finish Defensive Transition

The Cardinals' transition to the 3-4 scheme was not easy, but it was necessary under last season's grim circumstances. One Cardinals coach gave's Michael Lombardo the inside scoop on what lies ahead for the Arizona defense.

With a year of preparation and practice under their belt, the Cardinal's will finalize their transition to the 3-4 defense in 2008. The coaching staff was hesitant to implement the schematic change too abruptly, but the coaches believe that a second-year transition will be much more efficient.

The Cardinals version of the 3-4 will be tailored to the team's personnel with a modernized twist. Unlike other versions used by current NFL teams, the Cardinals scheme will feature a relatively undersized front seven. The coaches envision firmly defined roles for each player, with the exception of DT Darnell Dockett. Dockett possesses the quickness and versatility to be used in a variety of ways up front.

One key factor to the transition will be the status of potential free agent LB Calvin Pace. The Cardinals and Pace have been in negotiations since the season ended and are both hopeful to have a new deal in place soon.

Pace, a first-round draft pick in 2003, was widely considered a disappointment coming into this year but thrived under the new coaching regime. The breakout season couldn't have come at a better time for Pace, who will cash in with a lucrative long-term deal. Pace split time between defensive end and linebacker this season but will be used exclusively at linebacker next year.

At least one member of the Cardinals coaching staff wondered if Pace's breakout year was the result of the 3-4 scheme or pending free agency.

Another player to keep an eye on is DT Alan Branch. Branch was a possible top-ten pick heading into last year's draft, but slipped into the second round due to character issues. The coaching staff expects Branch to push second year DT Gabe Watson for the starting spot in the middle of the new 3-4 defense.

Branch has the ideal size (6'5", 332 pounds) to thrive in the new scheme, much like Ted Washington has done for a number of teams, most recently the Cleveland Browns. However, don't count Watson out, as he's still in the Cardinals' plans for the future and will be a major part of the team's rotation up front.

With a season's worth of practice and an off-season to finish fine-tuning, the Cardinals look to be in the perfect spot for a smooth transition. The current group of personnel should be a great fit for the 3-4 defense. The players will have had ample time to learn the system and the coaches have been able to evaluate how players can contribute to their full potential.

All things considered, the change could do wonders for the Arizona defense next year.

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