Arizona Cardinals: One Question for Every Player on the Defense

Jesse ReynoldsContributor IOctober 17, 2016

Arizona Cardinals: One Question for Every Player on the Defense

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    After taking a look at the Arizona Cardinals offense and poising questions to many of the players, it is now time to look at the defense. 

    Outside of the QB competition, the biggest story this offseason for Cardinal fans was, is the defense legit? With youth at the core, established veterans and an aggressive defensive coordinator, many are anticipating an improved defensive unit.

    The start of the season instilled some doubt.

    The Cardinals defense looked sloppy against the New Orleans Saints, as they missed a ton of tackles that led to big plays. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has already promised to make tackling a bigger emphasis this week. 

    With practice being held in Missouri this week and a combined practice with the Kansas City Chiefs, hopefully the Cardinals will regain their confidence by hitting someone else other than teammates. Fans are looking forward to a strong defensive outing this weekend.

    Now on to the defensive line.

The Defensive Line

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    Darnell Dockett

    With a year in Horton's system and an entire preseason to go, will Dockett return to his Pro Bowl ways?

    A pretty well-chronicled story was Dockett's reluctance to accept Horton's defense. After some back and forth with Coach Horton, Docket finally decided to buy in, and at about the same time, the defensive really started to fire on all cylinders.

    With Calais Campbell getting more attention, the emergence of Daryl Washington and Sam Acho, Darnell Dockett could be in for a big season, as the offense will not be able to focus on just him.

     

    Calais Campbell

    Will Campbell live up to his contract?

    So far, Campbell has said the right things, but we know that talk is cheap. Campbell obviously knows that too, as he walked the walk against the Saints. Against the first-team offensive of the Saints, Campbell caused several disruptions in just the first serious alone.

    If this is a sign of things to come, good luck, NFL QBs.

     

    Dan Williams

    After two seasons of coming in overweight, Williams has finally shown up in shape. Are we seeing the new and improved Dan Williams?

    With David Carter emerging, the pressure is on Williams to perform. He must have gotten the memo because so far, he has looked good, coming into camp at just over 300 lbs. 

    Before Williams broke his arm late last season, he had begun to improve his play and was becoming a force in the middle of the defense. If he can pick up where he left off, the Cardinals defense will have the best 3-4 defensive lineman in the NFL.

     

    David Carter

    After turning heads last season with his surprisingly high level of play, will Carter take the next step and become the heir apparent to Darnell Dockett?

    At some point, you have to wonder if the Cardinals should just trade their top picks for just late-round picks, as the front office has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Carter is no exception to the rule.

    Carter has shown versatility and can easily sub in for any of the starters. If there is one thing the Cardinals coaching staff loves, it is a versatile football player.

     

    Vonnie Holliday

    At one point, Holliday was contemplating retiring when he found out he was being traded to the Cardinals. A year later, he is back for his second season. Does he have one more year left in the tank?

    When fans heard the Cardinals had signed another aging veteran, many of us were disappointed. After the failed experiments with players like Joey Porter, the last thing we wanted was another old guy on the roster.

    Holliday's play and leadership quickly changed fans' feelings. With the emergence of Carter, Holliday is not going to be asked to do much, but when he is called upon, he will need to perform.

     

    Nick Eason

    Eason isn't a name you hear much, which, for a lineman, can be a good thing. With Vonnie Holliday coming to the end of his career, will Eason be able to step into the veteran's shoes and help lead the young guys?

    Anybody who has played in the National Football League for a decade deserves respect. Despite not being a starter, a veteran with his experience can be a valuable asset in the locker room and on the practice field. We will see if Eason is up to the task.

     

    Ricky Lumpkin and Ronald Talley

    Both young players face an uphill battle. If they want to stick around on the active roster, one of them will need to emerge and take Eason's roster spot.

The Linebackers

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    Outside Linebackers

     

    Sam Acho

    After a stunning rookie year, will Sam Acho avoid a sophomore slump?

    You can't run a successful 3-4 defense without good OLBs. In order for the defense to become an elite unit, players like Acho have to step and continue to improve.

    So far, Acho has continued to impress the coaching staff with his understanding of the defense and his relentless play. The team will need Acho to become an anchor for the defense to be successful.

     

    O'Brien Schofield

    So far, a knee injury and a lockout have impaired Schofield's development. With a full offseason under this belt, will Schofield become the pass-rushing menace the team needs? 

    At one time, Schofield was considered a first-round talent by scouts and professionals. His knee injury in the Senior Bowl hurt his stock, and he fell to the fourth round, where the Cardinals took a chance on him.

    Schofield, now in his third season, has supposedly learned the defense and should be able to play the game at full speed. Schofield is poised for a breakout season.

     

    Clark Haggans

    Now that Haggans is no longer a starter, how will he do as a veteran backup?

    Despite Haggans' age (35), he was a solid contributor for the Cardinals last season. With limited reps, he can still contribute and fill in case of an emergency.

     

    Quentin Groves

    Groves had a good game against the Saints and made several plays. Now that Groves is a 3-4 outside linebacker, will he be able to live up to his potential? 

    Quentin Groves thus far has had a disappointing career. Outside of his rookie season, he hasn't lived up to his second-round draft status. It has been speculated that moving to a 3-4 defense will put Groves in position that he is better fit for.

    If Groves can continue to play well, the Cardinals will have made a great signing and added valuable depth to an important defensive position.

     

    Inside Linebackers

    Daryl Washington

    Will Washington go to the Pro Bowl this year? 

    When Washington slipped to the top of the second round of the 2010 draft, the Cardinals jumped all over him. With Carlos Dansby defecting in free agency, the Cardinals had a big need.

    Washington hit the ground running and has improved in each year of play. Last season, Washington was a beast, making plays all over the field. With another year under his belt, he could put up numbers that no one will be able to ignore.

     

    Paris Lenon

    After two years of exceeding expectations, will Lenon be able to overcome a strong showing by Stewart Bradley?

    Lenon has been rock solid for the Cardinals since signing in 2010 as a free agent. He has been a tackling machine and is a captain on defense. However, Lenon is 34 years old, and father time is going to catch up to him.

     

    Stewart Bradley

    With a year of experience in the 3-4, will Bradley be able to take Lenon's position?

    If Bradley continues to play like he did against the Saints the rest of preseason, it will be hard for the coaching staff to not play the younger talent. Before getting injured in his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bradley had over 100 tackles his first year starting.

     

    The Rest

    Guys like Quan Sturdivant, Reggie Walker, Brandon Williams, Zack Nash, Antonio Coleman, Marcus McGraw, Paul Vassallo and Colin Parker are fighting for just one or two roster spots.

    Walker and Sturdivant are known names, but being a known commodity isn't always a good thing.

The Defensive Backs

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    Cornerbacks

    Patrick Peterson

    Peterson wowed NFL fans across the nation with his four punt returns for touchdowns. Peterson, however, struggled in coverage most of the season. Will he take the next step towards becoming a shut down CB?

    Watching a Peterson interview is like listening to a veteran interview. The man is confident and has a very professional demeanor. He is a hard worker and has immense talent. Truly, he has everything needed to be elite.

    Peterson has already conceded that the punt returns will become a smaller part of his game, as he wants to focus on being a CB first. While this is disappointing in a way, it also is an indication of how serious Peterson is about being the best.

     

    William Gay

    Coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers, will Gay be an effective CB for the Cardinals?

    Right now, the Cardinals coaching staff has Gay starting across from Patrick Peterson. Watching him miss a few tackles on Sunday against the Saints, his play hasn't been inspiring.

    However, it is just preseason, and with the CB depth on the roster, it will be interesting to see who emerges as a starter this season.

     

    Michael Adams

    Will the 5'8", 181l lb. CB continue to overachieve for a roster spot?

    Many believe that "Money" Mike Adams is one of the best tackles on the team. However, a report from Pro Football Focus has stated that Adams actually misses a high percentage of his tackles. Of the 30 tackles he made last year, he whiffed on seven.

    If you compare his stats to the rest of the defense, he is actually the worst tackler from last year. Again with the CB depth this year, Adams will have to have his best offseason yet to stick on to the roster.

     

    Greg Toler

    After missing last season with a knee injury, will Toler come back to his old form?

    A healthy Toler adds tremendously to the defense. In 2010, Toler raked up 82 solo tackles, two INTs, two FF, one FR, one sack, nine passes defended and a touchdown. Not too bad for a second year player.

    Toler, now entering his fourth year, has a tough road ahead. However, everyone knows what he is capable of. If Toler plays at his former level this year, he should quickly overtake Gay on the depth chart.

     

    A.J. Jefferson

    When Toler went down last season, Jefferson was asked to fill in. He had an up-and-down season; will he be able to play consistently this season?

    At 6'1", 190 lbs., the now third-year veteran has the size and athleticism to be good in the NFL. However, he has not been able to piece it all together. With a full offseason and tons of competition, we will see if Jefferson will be able to rise to the occasion.

     

    Jamell Fleming

    When the Cardinals drafted Fleming in the third round over Bobby Massie, collectively, Cardinals fans questioned the coaching staff's sanity. Another CB, really guys?

    However, he has quickly justified his draft status by having a strong camp showing. Will Fleming become a contributor this year?

    With the depth above him and below him, Fleming is actually in a great position. He will most likely make the roster, but won't be forced into the action too early. With his skill set, he could quickly become a very good Nickel CB.

    Crezdon Butler, Marshay Green, Blake Gideon, James Nixon, Larry Parker and Eddie Elder are all competing for just a few spots on the roster.

    So far, Gideon and Parker have flashed some ability. With a strong preseason, either one could make the roster. At the least, they may be able to get on the practice squad.

     

    Safeties

    Adrian Wilson

    Wilson surprised many fans last season with a very strong year. Now that Wilson is an Arizona Cardinal for the rest of his career, will he be able to continue to perform at a high level?

    Despite Wilson being 32, he is one of the scariest DBs in the NFL. At 6'3", 230 lbs. and massive hops, Wilson is a force. In 2010, many of us believed he finally lost a step, but redeemed himself in 2011.

    Wilson is a class act, a ridiculously hard worker and is a leader on and off the field. After watching Wilson for the last decade, it is hard to imagine him not being one of the most dominating safeties in football.

     

    Kerry Rhodes

    How will Rhodes adapt to the new Cardinals defense?

    2011 was the first time in Rhodes' eight-year career he didn't play a full season. Coming back from an injury at the end of the 2011 season, he flashed his ability quickly with two fumble recoveries and 34 tackles.

    Look for Rhodes to have one of his best seasons as an NFL player this year. With an improved pass-rush and being creatively used by Ray Horton, Rhodes will be in position to exceed his former level of play.

     

    Rashad Johnson

    Johnson missed two tackles last season. With Adrian Wilson getting older, will Johnson be able to take some snaps from him and establish himself as the heir to the SS position?

    Whether you like Johnson or not, the fact that he missed only two tackles last season is pretty remarkable. In his three years with the Cardinals, Johnson has been a steady and consistent player.

    However, while Johnson hasn't given up many big plays, he also hasn't made any big plays. In three years, Johnson only has one FF, one FR and only one INT. He will need to step up his game sooner or later; here is hoping it is sooner.

     

    James Sanders

    Will Sanders fit in Ray Horton's defense?

    With seven years of experience in the league, six with the New England Patriots and one with the Atlanta Falcons, Sanders has been a consistent player. However, he, like Rashad Johnson, struggles from a lack of big-play ability.

    In seven years in the NFL, Sanders has only eight interceptions. Sanders now steps into a defense that creates ample opportunities for big plays. Sanders will need to make a few plays to help this defense and to find himself playing time.

     

    Justin Bethel

    Another late-round, small-school prospect drafted by the Cardinals, Bethel has immense talent. Will he be able to transition that talent to the NFL?

    Blocking a kick on special teams is definitely a way to get yourself a roster spot. With four safeties ahead of you on the depth chart and a ton of defensive backs that can also play special teams, it is going to be hard for Bethel to stick around.

    However, as a draft pick with tremendous talent, Bethel has everything it takes to start in the NFL. He will need a strong preseason to stick around.