Pace Gone But Not Forgotten?

With a key loss at linebacker this offseason, the Cardinals made it clear that they hope to improve that unit entering the 2008 season. The team drafted three defensive ends, one of which they hope to convert to outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.'s James Jones delves into how this unit might fare as well as where they rank against the rest of the NFC West.

Losing starting linebacker Calvin Pace to free agency signified changes that would be forthcoming for Arizona entering this offseason. Last season's three main men were Pace, Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby. GM Rod Graves realized he would be unable to keep both Pace and Dansby, so he elected to concentrate on the latter in this year's free agent race. Barring injury, Dansby will almost certainly man his linebacker spot as he did last year.

Hayes and Monty Beisel should fight for the other middle linebacker spot with Bertrand Berry taking the right outside linebacker position. Look for David Holloway, Clark Haggans and undrafted rookie Ali Highsmith to battle for playing time on the outside as well. If the team decides to continue its transformation to the 3-4 defensive alignment, Chike Okeafor and Haggans will fight it out for playing time at left outside linebacker. Look for newly drafted Chris Harrington out of Texas A&M to convert from defensive end to outside linebacker as well.

Berry and Dansby are the leaders of this unit and head coach Ken Whisenhunt will undoubtedly look to these two for veteran leadership needed to help mold their younger counterparts. Okeafor has also been through his fair share of battles and should be counted on for a strong defensive presence. If linebackers coach Bill Davis and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can shape the linebacking corps to their liking, it could make the loss of Pace seem like a molehill instead of a mountain.

Against the West

Ranking the Cardinals linebackers against those of the other West teams was not difficult as this division boasts some top-notch units. With questions arising as to how they will fare in 2008 without Pace as their anchor, Arizona comes in towards the end of the pack.

Seattle and San Francisco are a wash in regards to their linebackers. The Seahawks boast two of the best in the game with Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu manning the outside and middle respectively. Peterson is well removed from his Achilles injury from a few years back and Tatupu continues to bring a mix of speed and power that is much needed in today's game.

San Francisco has made some welcome changes entering 2008 as they released middle linebacker Derek Smith after years of lackluster play. They bring back not only Defensive Rookie of the Year Patrick Willis but also starter Manny Lawson who finished last season on injured reserve. Couple that with newly signed free agent Donntarius Thomas and the 49ers could make life very difficult for opposing offenses.

St. Louis comes in ranked last and the Rams most notable name at this position, Will Witherspoon, failed to prove why he was signed to a lucrative free-agent contract before last season. Pisa Tinoisamoa and Quinton Culberson round out the starting three for the Rams. The team didn't see this as a position of need as they waited until the seventh round of last month's draft to select a linebacker, taking David Vobora out of Idaho with 252nd overall pick.

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