Linebackers key to Cardinals' run defense
Gerald Hayes (Getty)
Gerald Hayes (Getty)

Posted Apr 8, 2011


Arizona's defense struggled in 2010 in large part due to a suspect linebacking corps. That group's resurgence will be key to a bounce back season.

There were many reasons the Cardinals defended the run poorly last year, yielding an average of 145.2 yards a game to rank 30th.

The defensive line wasn't great. The secondary didn't tackle well. The offense couldn't score, so opponents often had a lead late in games.

But the absence of a stout, run-enforcing inside linebacker hurt, too, and the club will need to find one in the draft.

Gerald Hayes, an eight-year veteran, started at the Mike linebacker position from 2006 to 2009. He missed the first six games last season after undergoing back surgery in the summer.

Hayes wasn't a great player, but the Cardinals missed his heft (6-1, 250 pounds) inside. Paris Lenon, 240 pounds, took over for him with rookie Daryl Washington, 230 pounds) playing the weak side.

Lenon gave great effort and became a team leader, but the Cardinals needed size inside. When he returned, Hayes started four games, with Lenon moving to the weak side.

Hayes, however, didn't produce much, and coaches returned to the Lenon-Washington combination.

It's not a bad duo, especially if Washington continues to improve as he did over the last month of the season. But the Cardinals will seek to add some bulk to the position this offseason.

Even though Hayes is under contract for 2011, the team is expected to release him when the lockout ends.

There's little depth on the roster at this position. Reggie Walker, who made the team two years ago as a rookie free agent, is the only reserve with the exception of Hayes.

Walker has shown flashes of ability but hasn't received any consistent playing time.

The team would not have been in this position had it been able to re-sign Karlos Dansby, who left for Miami in free agency a year ago. Dansby played the weak side, but his presence would have allowed Lenon to play the strong. Together, they could have formed a solid inside linebacking corps.

Dansby, however, was intent on leaving after spending more than two years in negotiations for a new deal. Looking back, the Cardinals should have done more in the preceding years to sign Dansby.

While he's never been a Pro-Bowl player, Dansby's versatility is hard to replace. He had some pass-rush skills, was very fast and made an impact in coverage.

The Cardinals aren't against addressing the position high in the draft. If a player with the capabilities of Patrick Willis were available at No. 5, the Cardinals would be enticed.

But there's not, so the Cardinals are expected to look in the mid to late rounds for help. Martez Wilson of Illinois would make sense in the third round or so. Nearly 6-4 and 250 pounds, he has ideal size.

Maryland's Alex Wujciak isn't as athletic as Wilson, but he was more productive in college. He likely will be available in the later rounds, where he would be a good value for the Cardinals.

Wujciak doesn't project as someone who will play much on passing downs, and the Cardinals have Washington and Lenon who can do that.



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