Defensive Outlook: The Front Seven

It was an up and down season for the Cardinals' defense in 2009, and it ended in ugly fashion when the team gave up 45 points in consecutive playoff games. To make matters worse, the front seven took a big hit with the departure of Karlos Dansby. The front office has worked to add a few pieces to this unit, but there are still several needs at various positions. Andy Bishop explains.

Linebackers

There is no doubt Arizona will miss the presence of veteran Karlos Dansby. He may not have been an elite linebacker, but he was consistently making plays all over the field. The Cardinals still have Gerald Hayes at one of the ILB spots, but who will replace Dansby. It could be Reggie Walker, an undrafted free agent from last year. The team also has players like Monty Beisel, Ali Highsmith, and the recent acquired veteran, Paris Lenon.

But none of these potential replacements is outstanding, which leads one to believe that the Cardinals might look to the draft to solidify the position. This is a position on defense that surely won't be as strong in 2010.

On the outside, the Cardinals look to be in a good position. While the team won't bring back free agent Chike Okeafor, it did land former Pro-Bowler Jerry Porter. It may worry Cardinals fans that the team will likely start two guys 33 years of age—Porter and Clark Haggans—at outside linebacker. But they are proven veterans and still have something left in the tank. They can still get to the quarterback.

Arizona should also be excited by the prospect of seeing its 2009 second-round pick at full health. Cody Brown has the talent, and should be a regular in the rotation. Another second-year man, Will Davis, got some valuable experience last year and will provide depth in 2010.

Although the Cardinals seem to have playmakers at the position, they can still boost their pass rush. The team needs to get younger at the position and will most likely target a pass rusher in the early rounds of April's draft.

The Line

The Cardinals boasted one of the better rushing defenses early in the 2009 season, but it got worn down towards the end as the team finished 17th in rushing yards allowed per game. While it isn't solely the defensive line's responsibility, everyone knows the success of a team starts in the trenches.

Bryan Robinson played well, but his age seemed to catch up with him. He is a free agent and the Cardinals won't bring him back. Arizona has nose tackles Gabe Watson and Alan Branch, but they're both better suited as role players in a rotation. The team may be comfortable with Branch, who had a solid season, but it seems an upgrade is in order at the position. This year's draft is deep in nose tackles, so watch for the Cardinals to make a move.

The Cardinals are set at defensive end. They have the disruptive Darnell Dockett, who will continue to show that he deserves a new contract. Calais Campbell enjoyed a successful season in his first full year as a starter in 2009.

Behind Campbell is fellow 2008 draft pick Kenny Iwebema, who performed adequately in his spot duty last season. In addition to roster hopefuls like Jason Banks and Keilen Dykes, the Cardinals can use Watson at defensive end. Out of all the positions on the front seven, defensive end is the least in need of change.


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