Improvement has been made in Cards' secondary

Greg Toler (Getty)

The Cardinals believe they've gradually bolstered their secondary over the past couple years and are not expected to invest a high draft pick on a cornerback or safety.

The Cardinals believe they've gradually bolstered their secondary over the past couple years, so it seems doubtful they will use a high draft pick on cornerback or safety.

All but one of the starting four spots in the secondary is set, and the team has plenty of candidates for the one that's open: left cornerback.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson and free safety Kerry Rhodes are entrenched as starters. Patrick Peterson is solid at the right cornerback spot, although that's really only a job title.

Over the course of the season, Peterson increasingly lined up wherever the other team's best receiver was. Peterson struggled at cornerback through the first half of the season but gradually improved. Coaches are confident he will emerge as one of the better cover men in the NFL.

The opposing cornerback's position is open.

The favorite entering the offseason is Greg Toler, who missed all of last season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason.

Toler's rehabilitation is progressing normally, and he expects to be able to participate at least part-time in offseason drills. The expectation is that he will be 100 percent by the start of training camp in July.

Coaches think Toler has similar athletic ability to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was traded away last year. That's high praise because Rodgers-Cromartie is among the faster players in the league.

Toler might be better, however, because he is willing to tackle, unlike Rodgers-Cromartie.

While the favorite, Toler won't be handed the job. A.J. Jefferson, who started the first seven games last season, returns. Jefferson has good size (6-1, 190) and the physical skills to be a starter.

What coaches think he needs, however, is increased awareness that he doesn't know everything about the position. That means preparing diligently, both on the practice field and off.

Jefferson lost his starting job last season to Richard Marshall, even though Jefferson has more physical gifts. No one is ready to give up on Jefferson, however. Last year was the first time he had played, so coaches will give him time.

The team made a key acquisition in free agency, signing former Steelers cornerback William Gay. He will compete with Toler and Jefferson for the job. Gay started the last two seasons with the Steelers, who play the same defensive schemes as the Cardinals.

Coordinator Ray Horton came from Pittsburgh, so he knows Gay and vice versa. Gay has just three interceptions in five seasons, but he's a solid pro. He's also physical, which is key in Horton's system, which emphasizes cornerbacks' ability to play the run.

The club has additional depth at corner with Michael Adams, Crezdon Butler, Korey Lindsay and Marshay Green.

The safety position was bolstered this offseason with the signing of veteran James Sanders.

The biggest challenge this secondary faces is replacing Marshall, who played key roles both as a starter, nickel corner and backup safety.

His versatility was valuable down the stretch when the team had to scramble to compensate for losing Rhodes to a foot injury. Marshall played safety in many passing situations and did an admirable job.

Sanders might not be able to do all that, but he and the other backup defensive backs give the team some options.

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