Rookie Playing Time Projections: Defense

With the Cardinals roster stacked full off talented young players and savvy veterans, the rookies won't be depended on as much as previous years. However, the door will be open for first-year players to perform when given the opportunity. Brad Wilbricht projects which rookies have the best chance to contribute in this AZRedReport.com exclusive.

The Cardinals most glaring needs heading into this season are on the defensive side of the ball. In 2007, Arizona allowed 232 yards passing and 25 points per game. While GM Rod Graves used four of his seven draft picks on defenders, they won't be pressed into action. Multiple players returning from injuries and key free agent acquisitions allow this year's rookie class a longer learning curve than normal.

SS Adrian Wilson, DE/OLB Bertrand Berry, and OLB Chike Okeafor are all coming off season-ending injuries last year. Berry and Okeafor should boost a lackluster pass rush from a year ago. If Wilson can return to his Pro Bowl form, he should continue wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Furthermore, DE/OLB Travis LaBoy, LB Clark Haggans, and LB Matt Stewart provide additional depth to the Cardinals defense.

While the rookies have no pressure to immediately see the field, the Cardinals plan on several players contributing during their first season in the NFL. First-round draft pick CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely be the teams starting nickel back. If he's able to add bulk to his fragile frame, he could push incumbent starters Eric Green and Rod Hood for playing time. Given Rodgers-Cromartie's inability to match up with physical receivers, the latter scenario will likely have to wait until 2009.

The major contributions from this year's rookie class could come along the defensive line. DE Calais Campbell and DE Kenny Iwebema have been impressive during minicamp and OTA's. Both players are expected to be utilized in situational packages this season. If either player can continue to progress, they could end up as a starter by years end.

At the linebacker position, sixth-round draft pick Chris Harrington and undrafted free agent Ali Highsmith will compete for a roster spot. If either can secure a spot on the active roster, they could push for playing time in a reserve role this season.

Harrington is a converted defensive end that could develop into a pass-rushing specialist. He's an excellent fit in the Cardinals 3-4 defense due to his versatility and burst of speed off the edge. Highsmith was an extremely productive player during his college career at LSU. While he lacks ideal size at linebacker, he could develop into a core special teams player.


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