Cards' Positional Battles to Watch: Defense

Thanks to a handful of defections, the Arizona Cardinals are expecting fierce positional battles to take place on the defensive side of the ball. While most of the starting positions are all but locked up, the Cardinals will be searching for capable backups on the depth chart. With training camp rapidly approaching, Brad Wilbricht breaks down the potential tussles to watch heading into 2009.

Although DT Bryan Robinson is currently atop the depth chart, he's expected to relinquish his starting duties to one of the younger options on the Arizona roster. Gabe Watson and Alan Branch are both waiting in the wings and at least one is expected to emerge during the upcoming season. Watson was positioned to accomplish that feat a year ago but suffered a broken kneecap prior to the season. Meanwhile, Branch has been a career disappointment but the Cardinals are still hopeful he realizes his potential.

As training camp progresses, look for Watson to take a firm grasp on the starting position. In addition, if Branch can improve his awareness and work ethic he could take over the second spot on the depth chart. Robinson's best playing days are behind him but will continue to provide veteran leadership and solid depth at defensive tackle. Similar to last season, if Robinson is called upon chances are he'll step in without missing a beat.


Darnell Dockett
(Getty)

Another battle along the defensive line will be the race to succeed departed DE Antonio Smith who left for the Houston Texans. As of now, DE Calais Campbell seems poised take over at the position. Campbell will be squaring off against fellow second-year DE Kenny Iwebema for the starting spot. However, if DT Darnell Dockett continues to hold out for a new contract, Campbell and Iwebema could both find their way into the starting lineup.

In the secondary, Bryant McFadden will start opposite of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback but the competition is wide open behind the two starters. Last year's opening day starting tandem consisting of Eric Green and Roderick Hood is no longer with the Cardinals and their depth is limited. Journeyman Ralph Brown excelled as a nickel back last season and will be depended on to play that role again in 2009.

Competing with Brown in the nickel package will be rookie CB Greg Toler. Additionally, given Arizona's tendency to move FS Antrel Rolle inside on passing downs, the Cardinals' safeties could also see a prominent role in nickel coverage. Rookie safety Rashad Johnson has an excellent chance of seeing the field due to his experience and resourcefulness. Given SS Aaron Francisco's struggles toward the end of last year, Johnson could end up securing a backup spot at safety.

On the surface, the Cardinals' defense appears to be in much better shape entering this season than in previous years. Nearly every position has an expected starter and outside of the secondary there is adequate depth across the board. Arizona will attempt to pick up where it left off during last season's playoff run, and seems to have the players in place to accomplish that goal.


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