Arizona Cardinals: Why Fans Should Be Excited About Their Linebacking Corps
One of the things that many Arizona Cardinals fans and writers have been talking about over the past six months is their defense. This is a unit that has many talented individuals and a great coordinator that can bring them together.
A key component of the Arizona D this season will be their linebacker corps. While there are no big names like Darnell Dockett or Adrian Wilson, there will be plenty of reasons to watch them play.
Arizona has not always had a group like this one. The front office has done a solid job over the past couple of years to fill the needs that they had after guys like Chike Okeafor and Karlos Dansby left.
Here are four reasons why Cardinals fans should be excited about the linebacker corps this season.
Aside from Joey Porter, who retired this past offseason, Arizona has all of their main linebackers returning in 2012. O’Brien Schofield, Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington and Sam Acho are expected to start this year. These four all put up solid numbers given the amount of playing time they received.
Daryl Washington led the pack with over 100 tackles, followed by Lenon at 93. Despite only starting 10 games, Sam Acho got to the quarterback seven times, while the other three combined for 12.5 sacks.
Largely due to this group of players, Arizona tied the Tennessee Titans with the 18th best defense in football last season, allowing just 355.1 yards per game. This was their best defensive finish since 2007, when they finished 17th.
While Lenon is a seasoned veteran and may slow down with age, the other three are just getting started. They have all proven that they can be great players and there is no reason for them to take a step back this year.
One thing different about this year’s group is that they have higher quality depth this season. As evident by his performance in the Hall of Fame Game, Stewart Bradley is not going to hold back this year. He will be ready to go if there is an injury and could challenge Lenon for the starting job.
The Cardinals also picked up Quentin Groves in free agency. He is a player that fits right in with the defense Arizona is trying to run. If he can pick up the system early on, then Ray Horton and company will be able to use him in a variety of different packages.
In addition to these two players, Clark Haggans will also be returning for another year. He has been with the team for four seasons and started in all 16 games in 2011. The 35-year-old is entering his 13th year in the NFL and having him around will greatly benefit some of the younger players.
Which backup linebacker will have the biggest impact for Arizona in 2012?
As displayed in the previous slide, the Cardinals already have four solid linebackers. This season, however, they will have three quality players fighting for playing time off of the bench.
Getting these players into the game will keep the starters fresh throughout the season. It should be fun watching a game where the defense isn’t worn out by the fourth quarter.
The Arizona Cardinals have a very young group of linebackers. Aside from Paris Lenon (34) and Clark Haggans (35), all of their linebackers are under 30 years of age.
Entering 2012, the three projected starters other than Lenon have been in the league for a combined five years. This will be the third season for both Daryl Washington and O’Brien Schofield, while Sam Acho is only in his sophomore year.
Last offseason was shortened due to the lockout. Looking at the numbers and the overall performance, this had a major impact on the younger players.
It was during the second half of the season when you could see it all starting to click. Daryl Washington had 61 of his 107 tackles over the final eight games of the year. Between Acho and Schofield, 11 of their combined 11.5 sacks came after the bye week as did all six of their forced fumbles.
Having a full offseason to work with the team and become comfortable with the playbook will greatly benefit this group. They will be ready to go by Week 1 and it should be very exciting to watch.
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