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O'Brien Schofield is expected to play a large role in the Cards' defense in 2012.
Since Coach Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007, Arizona has relied heavily upon aging veterans to be team leaders.
But with the recent success in the draft the team has had, a younger crop of players is beginning to take hold on the starting spots on both offense and defense.
Greg Toler, CB
Coming off a season lost to a torn ACL, Toler may be behind in on-field knowledge of Ray Horton’s defense, but he should be well-versed in all things pertaining to the complicated and dense scheme considering the unfathomable amount of time in which he had it to study.
As I stated in a previous article, no one should be surprised if he falters early on in 2012, as translating the scheme from film study to on-the-field work will take some getting used to.
William Gay may begin the season as the No. 2 corner, opposite Patrick Peterson, but scheme-wise, it may be best to play Toler on the outside and have Gay in the slot covering speedy receivers.
Rob Housler, TE
Among tight ends with at least 20 passes intended for them, no one in the NFL dropped more passes than Housler in 2011. His six drops were second-most among rookie tight ends (Rams’ Lance Kendricks had 9), and he was a non-factor the entire season.
The Cardinals signed veteran Todd Heap following his release from Baltimore, the team that drafted him in the first round (No. 31 overall) of the 2001 draft. He was expected to be the go-to guy among the group of tight ends; however, injuries interrupted that idea.
Housler did not take advantage of the opportunity, as he, himself, was hampered with a nagging groin injury for parts of the season.
Entering his second season—his first containing an official offseason—Housler is expected to progress to the level that he can be a difference-maker down the field as a primary target for his quarterback.
He certainly possesses the speed and leaping ability to make big plays when his team needs him.
Dan Williams, NT
As a first-round pick, and a large one, at that, Williams has not yet lived up to the expectations many have placed on him.
He was just coming into his own as a disruptive force in between two of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the NFC last season, when he broke his arm against arch-rival San Francisco.
Veteran Nick Eason and rookie sixth-round pick David Carter filled the hole left by Williams nicely. If he is unable to become an offensive lineman-magnet in the upcoming season, Williams may soon find himself as a backup.
Having a 6’3”, 327-pound heaping man in the middle of a 3-4 defensive line should create open lanes through which linebackers can rush the passer and stuff running lanes—not to mention the running lanes such a presence fills just by being on the field.
O’Brien Schofield, OLB
It took a while for Schofield to learn the playbook Ray Horton established. He had to resort to wearing a wristband with a list of defensive plays written on it in order to keep up in practice and throughout games on Sunday.
Toward the end of the 2011 season, however, the wristband was not needed as often—if at all.
“He was frustrated early on, and he got tired of coaches getting on him,” teammate and fellow linebacker Daryl Washington told AZCardinals.com. “I told him, ‘Hey, when the coaches stop coaching you, that’s when you should be worried.’ I think he took a different approach then and really started getting into his playbook.”
Schofield has not started a game in his two-year career thus far, but that will change in 2012.
He is expected to be the starting left outside linebacker, a position held by 36-year-old veteran Clark Haggans in every game he’s played but two since 2009.
As of now, Haggans remains unsigned by anyone; however, Arizona has shown interest in re-signing him—strictly as a backup to Schofield.