Doug Farrar: Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby aside, there doesn't seem to be a lot of star-power in the Cardinals' defensive front seven. Who are they expecting to perform at a new level, and where are the sleepers? How does second-round pick Calais Campbell fit in?
AR: The Cardinals are expecting Travis LaBoy to make an effortless transition into Calvin Pace's former role. LaBoy appeared in 13 games for the Tennessee Titans last season with zero starts. He compiled 13 tackles with six sacks. Those numbers and previous years' contributions have the Cardinals grooming LaBoy for the starting role in Arizona.
Arizona's second-round pick Calais Campbell is ready to come in and make an immediate impact, but he has some players to get around. Bert Berry's days seem to be numbered and Campbell could prove to be a No. 2 guy in his freshman campaign. He definitely won't break past Darnell Dockett for a starting role, but could give Antonio Smith a run for his money.
DF: The secondary was problematic for Arizona last year -- Antrell Rolle found himself transferred to the free safety position, and the Cards drafted the tremendously athletic Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the first round. Where does the improvement come from?
AR: With Rolle's move to safety and Adrian Wilson ready-to-go the Cardinals last line of defense is looking better than ever, also less expensive than ever. Last season Arizona was holding on to two of the top-five paid safeties in the league. Now that Terrence Holt is out of the picture, the Cardinals are feeling lighter in the pockets.
The addition of DRC, Ro'Cro (whichever nickname sticks) is exactly what Arizona needed to balance out the ridiculously talented safeties and the sub par corners. CB Eric Green left much to the imagination last season, but should step-up his game this season with a Cromartie in town.
DF: We've talked about the first three draft picks -- give us a thumbnail sketch of the remainder of Arizona's 2008 draft. What do the new kids have to offer?
RB Edgerrin James
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
With every passing round Cardinals fans were waiting for a running back pick. They didn't get one until the fifth round, Hightower. Originally, I was skeptical. But this is a player who didn't fumble in more than 700 carries and rarely goes down on contact. I think he is going to surprise a lot of people. Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington need to step-it-up big time.
DF: Coming into the second Cardinals season under Ken Whisenhunt, what changes have you seen in the team overall since Dennis Green was fired?
AR: Whisenhunt is offensive-minded through and through. He knows that the offensive line needs to be stronger before anything else falls into place. Whisenhunt followed through by picking up Levi Brown as the fifth-overall pick in the 2007 last draft. With the offensive line coming along nicely, he went back to his Steelers roots and remembered that the defensive wins ball games. So in the 2008 draft he loaded up on the defense.
Whisenhunt has a certain level of comfortableness and swagger that he didn't have a year ago. He brought in familiar faces throughout his coaching staff and lineup, and he has the Cardinals headed in the right direction. Question is how long they have until they reach their destination.
DF: Every year, this is the team that seems to be everyone's chic pick to win the NFC West and make the playoffs. What will it take for the Arizona Cardinals to make their first postseason appearance since 1998?
AR: This year isn't any different. The buzz surrounding Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin's contract situations, Matt Leinart's offseason spotlight, the addition of DRC and the sophomore season for Whisenhunt has people looking toward the desert. While not all of the attention is positive, at least they are looking. Arizona needs to continue to be focused on the offensive line. The Cardinals are starting to build the continuity with the big guys up front that will carry next season's offense.
Arizona also needs to hit the books, a lineup that leads the league in penalties is not championship material.
The Cardinals need to figure out what to do with all those defensive ends they've picked up. They brought in a lot of competition to fully implement their hybrid 3-4 scheme, now its time to decide who goes where. The defensive front seven will likely be what takes them to the next level next season or is their downfall.
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