Training Camp: Defensive Preview

With training camp right around the corner, the Cardinals have numerous question marks that will be answered in the coming months. With spirited positional battles expected on defense, it should make for an entertaining end to the summer. Brad Wilbricht outlines what to look for during training camp in this AZRedReport.com excusive.

Although the most anticipated positional battles may come on the offense, the Cardinals defense should be extremely competitive. Free-agent acquisitions Travis LaBoy, Clark Haggans and Matt Stewart will all attempt to crack the starting lineup. While LaBoy may have the best chance to start, Haggans and Stewart will also be given an opportunity to earn a starting position during training camp.

Due to the Cardinals transition to the 3-4 defense, linebackers will be heavily relied upon from this point on. Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes are firmly planted as middle linebackers in the team's defense but the outside linebacker positions are much more uncertain.

Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry are returning from injury and will look to fill the void left by the departed Calvin Pace. LaBoy features similar characteristics as Pace and will also be depended on at outside linebacker. Okeafor and Berry are aging veterans while LaBoy is entering only his fifth year in the NFL. LaBoy will be given every opportunity to earn a starting position, but could also be utilized in a situation role.

On the defensive line, the Cardinals should benefit from using numerous capable players in the rotation. Along with incumbent starters Darnell Dockett, Gabe Watson and Antonio Smith, the team added rookies Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema. Second-year defensive tackle Alan Branch will also be given an opportunity to show his ability. Brach may have the inside track at the starting nose tackle position as Watson is recovering from a broken kneecap.

With many up-and-coming players, the future of the Cardinals defensive line seems bright. Campbell and Iwebema should continue to develop their skill-set under defensive line coach Ron Aiken while Dockett, Watson and Smith all have plenty left in the tank to contribute. Also, Branch has the potential to develop into an All-Pro defensive tackle.


CB Eric Green
(Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Eric Green and Rod Hood should have a firm grasp on the starting cornerback positions, but rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could surprise if he becomes a physical presence in the secondary. While Rodgers-Cromartie's cover skills are outstanding, his press coverage and tackling abilities are severely lacking. He'll likely spend his rookie season in a nickel back role, with Green and Hood remaining the starters.

While Pro Bowl SS Adrian Wilson and former cornerback Antrel Rolle are solidified as the team's starting safeties, backup safety Aaron Francisco could be a wildcard. Francisco filled in admirably for the injured Wilson last season, and will continue to grow under secondary coach Teryl Austin.


Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at bwill5025@msn.com

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