Training Camp Battles to Watch: Defense

The Cardinals defense should see fierce competition during this year's training camp, something that was severely lacking last season. With numerous spots on the depth chart still in question, it should make for an interesting summer. Brad Wilbricht analyzes the Cardinals defensive positional battles in this AZRedReport.com exclusive.

Defensive End

With a host of newcomers and capable returning players, various combinations at the defensive end position will be used this year. Antonio Smith is currently slotted as a starter, but rookie Calais Campbell will push Smith for playing time. Campbell, a second-round pick, features excellent size and versatility.

Fourth-round draft pick Ken Iwebema will also fight for playing time. Iwebema experienced a break-out year as a sophomore at Iowa, but struggled due to injuries during his junior and senior seasons. Cardinals defensive line coach Ron Aiken recruited and coached Iwebema at Iowa before coming to Arizona prior to last season. If Iwebema can return to his form while under Aiken at Iowa, he could prove to be one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Defensive Tackle

Although Gabe Watson should be fully recovered from a broken kneecap by the beginning of the season, second-year DT Alan Branch should see an expanded role along the defensive line. Branch played well in limited action last year, and has been touted as a potential break-out star by the Cardinals coaching staff. Branch is an ideal fit for the 3-4 defense, demonstrating the quickness and versatility defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast craves.

Former Cincinnati Bengals DT Bryan Robinson was signed as a free agent and will provide great depth and veteran leadership. Throughout his career, Robinson has played almost exclusively in the 3-4 defense and should help the Cardinals finalize their defensive transition.

Outside Linebacker

The Cardinals starters are set at inside linebacker, but the outside linebacker position is much more uncertain. Bertrand Berry enters the season as the starter at DE/OLB but could be replaced by free-agent acquisition Travis LaBoy. LaBoy displays similar characteristics of former Cardinals OLB Calvin Pace.

Veteran Chike Okeafor returns from a season-ending injury in 2007, but will find new competition. Rookie Chris Harrington and former Pittsburgh Steelers LB Clark Haggans follow Okeafor on the depth chart. Harrington played defensive end during his college career at Texas A&M, but will be moving to outside linebacker. If his transition goes smoothly, he could immediately contribute as a situational pass rusher.

Cornerback

While rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie exhibits the technique and instincts to immediately start, he severely lacks upper-body strength. He'll push returning starters Rod Hood and Eric Green, but will likely be utilized as the Cardinals nickel back in 2008. Hood and Green are established veterans who can be depended on in man coverage, while Rodgers-Cromartie must add bulk to combat against NFL caliber receivers.

Competing with Rodgers-Cromartie for the third cornerback spot will be Michael Adams, Ralph Brown, and DeMario Minter. All three are unproven but could emerge as viable backups. In addition to the current Cardinals cornerbacks, look for GM Rod Graves to bring on additional help in the secondary heading into training camp.


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