Cards May Capitalize on DE's Sliding Stock

Arizona must rebuild its front seven to complete the transition to the 3-4 defense. The Cards are in the market for a defensive end with the size to command double-teams and the speed to make plays off the edge. Cards coaches saw the perfect prospect at the NFL Combine, although a red flag has since arisen. Will Rod Graves pull the trigger?

Phillip Merling out of Clemson is one of the few true defensive ends in the draft. He is a tackle-end tweener, which makes him the ideal fit in the 3-4 scheme. His body (6'5", 272 pounds) and sure tackling make him ready for the Big Leagues.

Merling's draft stock took a hit at the NFL Combine, where he was only able to participate in the bench press due to a groin injury. It didn't help that he only put up a modest 17 reps.

"I haven't really paid attention to that," Merling said. "I'm glad there are people out there saying I'm a good player."

LB Phillip Merling
Grant Halverson/Getty

The news only got worse for Merling when he was forced to undergo surgery for a sports hernia, causing him to miss Clemson's Pro Day. Merling's camp remains positive that he can workout for teams individually before the draft. However, with about an eight-week recovery time, that may be unrealistic.

If teams are scared off by Merling's injury, the Cardinals could steal him with their second-round pick, No. 50 overall.

Merling has no reservations about playing in Arizona's 3-4 scheme. He just wants to play.

"I wouldn't mind playing (inside)," Merling said. "Anyway I can get on the football field, I just want to find a place to play. But playing defensive end or tackle, it doesn't really matter. I think I could do a good job at both of them.

"We played a couple of defensive fronts where I played inside and I got some pressure on the quarterback on third-and-longs."

Merling Family Tree

The decision to opt out of his senior year wasn't about going after the big bucks or fulfilling his NFL dream a year early.

"I decided to come out early because I have a little [1-year-old] daughter, and for my fiancée – she's about to graduate from the University of South Carolina, so this was a perfect time," Merling said.

Another member of Merling's family who influenced his career is his uncle, Chris Rumph, who is a former South Carolina linebacker/defensive end. Rumph was hired this year to be the defensive line coach at Clemson. Merling was raised by his uncle and aunt since junior high. His appreciation to both of them transcends football.

"My uncle Chris Rumph was really good for my college career. He's always been there to tell me what to do and what not to do. He's been really important in my growth as a football player.

"When I needed somebody to really look after me and show me the way in high school, he started looking after me. He showed me a lot of things in life. There were a lot of things I could do. He just showed me the right way."

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications.

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