Cardinals 2009 Breakout Stars: Defense

While the Arizona Cardinals offense garners most of the headlines, the defense is just as important to the team's overall success. Several players emerged last season in route to the franchise's first ever Super Bowl berth and the Cardinals are expecting the same scenario in 2009. Brad Wilbricht predicts which defenders might be in store for a similar rise during the upcoming season.

With uncertainly surrounding DT Darnell Dockett, one of the Arizona Cardinals younger defensive linemen will more than likely get an opportunity to emerge in 2009. Two prime candidates are DT Gabe Watson and DE Calais Campbell. Watson was positioned for a breakout season a year ago but a broken kneecap prior to the season derailed that possibility. Now at full strength, Watson is once again expected to be a key fixture along the defensive line.

Meanwhile, Campbell was eased into the Cardinals' rotation in the trenches but showed improvement throughout his rookie season. Like Dockett, Campbell is extremely versatile due to his ability to play multiple positions. Campbell's explosiveness allows him to get up the field and be disruptive in the backfield. With fellow second-year teammate Kenny Iwebema recovering from surgery, Campbell is expected to make a greater contribution during the upcoming season.

Ali Highsmith

Although Arizona lost backup linebacker Monty Beisel to the Kansas City Chiefs via free agency, reserve linebackers Ali Highsmith and Pago Togafau may be able to pick up right where he left off. Beisel was a jack-of-all-trades in the Cardinals' linebacking corps and supplied the Arizona defense with tremendous value. Highsmith's 2008 campaign was cut short due to injury but he was making strides as the season went on. If Highsmith can remain healthy he should develop into a reliable backup.

Togafau came to the desert after a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles and made an immediate impact in Arizona. Togafau has been a weapon on special teams and will continue to excel in that role. If and when he's called upon at linebacker, he demonstrates the ability to contribute both in run support and pass defense. Togafau will be one of the first called upon if injuries occur and he seems poised to be up for the challenge.

In the secondary, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's stellar play turned heads a year ago and multiple new players will be out to duplicate that effort. Like Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Greg Toler is another small-school prospect but he's a few years away from being reliable in pass defense. However, safety Rashad Johnson is already a seasoned performer thanks to playing in the SEC, arguably the top conference in all of college football.

Johnson arrived at Alabama as a running back and developed into one of the top safeties in the college ranks. His incredible transformation exhibits his resourcefulness as a football player. Like he did for the Crimson Tide, Johnson will find a way to make an impact during his rookie season with the Cardinals. Whether that impact will come on special teams, the nickel package or even possibly as a starter is still to be determined.

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