Cardinals Scout a Contingency Plan at LB

Due to pending free agents and the switch to a 3-4 defense, upgrading the linebacker position has become a priority for Arizona this offseason. CardinalInsider.com identifies a potential sleeper whom the Cardinals scouted during Senior Bowl week -- one who could excel in Clancy Pendergast's defense.

One of the most versatile linebackers in this year's draft is Georgia Tech LB Philip Wheeler. Wheeler started 39 consecutive games for the Yellow Jackets and was an All-ACC performer in 2006 and 2007. He was incredibly productive over his college career, racking up 247 total tackles, 34.5 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks.

Wheeler (6'2", 235 pounds) had a solid showing at this year's Senior Bowl, but knows he still has much to prove heading into the NFL draft.

"I'm one of the best linebackers in the nation. I'm very confident of that and I'll prove it to anyone who doesn't believe so."

By most NFL standards, Wheeler is undersized to play inside linebacker. However, the Cardinals' new 3-4 defense plans on utilizing an undersized front seven that features speed and versatility.

"I can play more than one position," Wheeler said. "I can play inside and outside. I feel like I can fit in any defense."

Wheeler primarily played inside linebacker in college but also has experience lining up on the outside. Two major assets for Wheeler are his ability to blitz and his closing speed. Wheeler is known as a relentless pass rusher and certainly looks to fit in well with Cardinal's aggressive approach on defense.

During Senior Bowl week, Wheeler had the opportunity to work with the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff. Learning new schemes and catching a glimpse of life in the NFL was very beneficial for him and the rest of the players.

"It's very big (working with the 49ers coaching staff). It gives us a head start at the next level and lets us know what to expect from a new coaching staff."

Another plus for Wheeler is that he is a high-character player. He was a captain at Georgia Tech and expressed his desire to become a leader in the professional ranks as well.

"I want to earn respect from the players and become a leader," Wheeler said.

Along with his physical skills, Wheeler's personality and demeanor will make him a hot commodity this April in the NFL Draft. If he's on the board when the Cardinals make their second-round selection (No. 50), he will be difficult to pass up.


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