Cardinals' Secondary: For Better or Worse

As the new season approaches, Cardinal fans across Arizona are wondering if 2008 will be the year that potential and production finally collide. Injuries decimated the secondary last season, but with a clean bill of health a breakout campaign is on the horizon. Have the Cardinals finally obtained the necessary players to batten down the hatches on opposing quarterbacks?

Five players are looking to make a valuable contribution this season. Adrian Wilson and Eric Green need to rebound from injuries. Antrel Rolle is switching positions while Dominick Rodgers-Cromartie is striving to make an impact as a rookie. Roderick Hood, an unheralded veteran, is attempting to build on a solid season and secure his spot as a starter. With an abundance of up and coming talent, the heat won't be the only reason to stay indoors on Sundays.

Wilson Will Win Ball Games

Having an athletic freak Adrian Wilson (6'3 230) getting sacks, interceptions, and tackles at a frenzied pace creates a monumental foundation for the defense. Built like a linebacker with the speed of a corner, his presence produces a mismatch heaven for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

As a third round draft pick out of NC State, Wilson had to work his way up the depth chart. It did not take long for his skills to ratify the fact that he deserved to be on the field. With an incredible vertical leap, he is one of the few safeties in the league that can successfully cover offensive juggernauts like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

Last season Wilson recorded 44 tackles and two interceptions before succumbing to a calf injury that ended his year. Healthy and motivated, Wilson is going to be a vital cog in the defensive scheme. With Rolle as a new partner in crime, Wilson will be able to gamble even more, allowing him to wreak havoc on the opposing offenses.

Rolle Rovers To New Position

Miami graduate Rolle enters his third season with high hopes. After struggling to find a niche early on, he needs to hit his stride as the free safety. Last year he showed flashes of brilliance in route to 52 tackles and five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.

As an oversized corner (6'0 208) Rolle labored to keep up with the speed of the receivers. He has unquestionably showed promise and as a top ten draft pick the pressure is mounting for him to realize his potential. While the shift in positions should facilitate his progress, the onus is on Rolle to possess the tenacity crucial to competing at a high level in the NFL.

Hood (5'11 196) came out of nowhere to make a substantial impact on the quality of the defense in 2007. Following his graduating from Auburn, Hood showed the ability to contribute at a NFL level. Although he played for the Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons, he never found a consistent role on the team. As a free agent acquisition by the Cardinals his impact was immediately felt. He started all 16 games and tied with Rolle for the team lead in interceptions with five.

As the most seasoned of the cornerbacks Hood has a definite advantage. However, if Rodgers-Cromartie progresses quicker than expected Hood could find himself enjoying the view from the sidelines. The extent of Hood's playing time this season will be determined by two factors, the time it takes Rodgers-Cromartie to become NFL ready and the competence of Green after an inconsistent year.

Is it Ro'Cro Time?

Rodgers-Cromartie is to the Cardinals what the Red Ryder BB Gun was to Ralphie Parker in "A Christmas Story". In need of elite cornerback play since the departure of Aeneas Williams in 2001, the Cardinals believe they finally have the answer to their troubles. Blessed with speed, size, and agility, Rodgers-Cromartie has the makings of a lockdown corner. At 6'2 185 he has the height to cover any receiver in the league. His scorching speed is evident as he ran a stellar 4.29 40 at the combine.

The main concern with Rodgers-Cromartie is the rawness of his talent. It will be difficult for him to start immediately over either Green or Hood, but given an adjustment period to grow accustomed to the NFL he could be shutting down receivers for the Cardinals in no time. With the expectations of a first round draft pick hanging over his head it will be interesting to see how Rodgers-Cromartie responds to the stress.

Will Green be Green With Envy?

Green (5'11 194) has to bounce back after an injury derailed his season after 11 games. While he has showed proficiency as a cover corner, there are areas that significantly need to improve if he is going to hold off Rodgers-Cromartie from slicing into his playing time. First and foremost, he has to show a true nose for the ball. In 38 career games he has intercepted one pass. That is simply not acceptable for a corner who is expected to strike fear into the opposing quarterback.

Paper-thin adequately describes the secondary from last season. Fortunately for Coach Whisenhunt and Cardinal faithful, it is now a different story. The addition of Rodgers-Cromartie and the return of Wilson and Green from injury have bolstered a unit that was once teetering on the brink of oblivion.

Now that a quality secondary is available in support of the linebackers and linemen, be prepared for a season full of thrilling blitzes and elaborate packages. Pendergast is chomping at the bit to see how this new and improved unit will tear apart offenses. Led by the jaw-dropping Wilson, expect this unit to storm the NFL and propel the Cardinals to the top of the NFC West.

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