Can the Cardinals Mirror the Bolts?

Gerald Hayes (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The Cardinals visions of transforming to an attacking 3-4 defense are coming to fruition. The Cardinals' scheme will emulate that of the Chargers, with a with key differences. Comparing the young Cards to the proven Chargers is a good way to gauge Arizona's progress. CardinalInsider.com does exactly that, with the help of some Cardinals coaches.

There will be many similarities between the 3-4 defenses in San Diego and Arizona, and it is not a matter of coincidence. Ken Whisenhunt studied the 3-4 scheme under Bill Cowher, who learned it from Marty Schottenheimer. It was Schottenheimer who first installed the scheme in San Diego back in 2004.

Let's take a closer look at how the two defenses match up.

Chargers Projected LDE: Igor Olshansky - 6'6", 309 pounds

Olshansky is one third of a Chargers defensive line where all three starters weigh more than 300 pounds. This allows the front three to occupy blockers and let linebackers flow to the ball.

Cardinals Projected LDE: Antonio Smith – 6'4", 282 pounds

Smith falls in line with the Cardinals' approach of employing a faster and more agile front-seven. A Cardinals coach confirmed to CardinalInsider.com's Michael Lombardo that Arizona prefers smaller but more agile players than those used in San Diego's scheme.

Chargers Projected NT: Jamal Williams – 6'3", 348 pounds

Williams is widely recognized as one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. He has the size to stuff the run and the strength to collapse the pocket.

Cardinals Projected NT: Gabe Watson – 6'3", 332 pounds

Watson might be the one player on the Cardinals' defense who closely resembles his San Diego counterpart. Watson and Williams are similar in size, although Williams has managed to put up better numbers in regards to tackles and sacks.

A Cardinals source tells CardinalInsider.com that Alan Branch is expected to push Watson for the starting nose-tackle job next season.

Chargers Projected RDE: Luis Castillo – 6'3", 290 pounds

Castillo rounds out the front line for the Chargers defense with a suddenness that is not bestowed upon his line-mates. His totals were down somewhat last season, although, that is mostly attributed to his missing six games with a knee injury.


DE Darnell Dockett (right)
Harry How/Getty

Cardinals Projected RDE: Darnell Dockett – 6'4", 285 pounds

With his size and speed, Dockett has the ability to move inside and outside on the defensive line. He has the intangibles that are needed for this defense and he will be used in different ways as next season progresses.

While the other Cardinals defenders inherit more defined roles in their second year under Coach Whisenhunt, Dockett will continue to move all over the line in an attempt to maximize his burst and pass-rushing ability.

Chargers Projected LOLB: Shawne Merriman – 6'4", 272 pounds

There are some who call Merriman the best linebacker in the NFL. Notching 17 sacks in only 12 games in 2006 will have the effect on a player's reputation. He came back in 2007 to post 12.5 sacks, earning a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Cardinals Projected LOLB: Calvin Pace – 6'4", 272 pounds

Prior to last season, Pace was operating under the "first-round bust" tag. However, he had a stellar season in 2007 and will look to continue that production moving forward. The biggest question remains if the team can re-sign him since he is now a free agent.

One Cardinals coach at the Senior Bowl wondered aloud is Pace's renaissance season was because of the 3-4 scheme or because of his pending free agency.

Chargers Projected LILB: Stephen Cooper - 6'1", 235 pounds

Cooper, in his fifth year, was an integral part of the team's defense last season. He recorded 108 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He benefited from a scheme designed to funnel ball-carriers his way.

Cards Projected LILB: Gerald Hayes – 6'1", 249 pounds

Hayes had his best season in 2007, recording career-highs in tackles (98) and sacks (four). He will be counted on again to produce from his inside linebacker position. He is not as fast as Cooper but he can still sift through traffic and sniff out running backs.

Chargers Projected RILB: Matt Wilhelm – 6'4", 245 pounds

The Chargers feels that Wilhelm can give them the inside presence that is necessitated by their 3-4 scheme, which is predicated on stopping the run first and foremost. In 2007, Wilhelm proved his worth with 97 tackles and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.

Cards Projected RILB: Monty Beisel – 6'3", 244 pounds

As of now, Beisel is penciled in as the starting inside linebacker. However, the team will look to upgrade this position through free agency or the draft. Beisel played sparingly last season, finishing with 42 tackles.

Chargers Projected ROLB: Shaun Phillips – 6'3", 262 pounds

Phillips is a dominant edge rusher who posted 20 sacks over the last two seasons. His speed complements Merriman beautifully, as the Chargers can pinch quarterbacks from both edges. However, Phillips is a liability in coverage, as the New England Patriots exposed in the AFC Championship Game with the help of Kevin Faulk.


LB Karlos Dansby
Stephen Dunn/Getty

Cards Projected ROLB: Karlos Dansby – 6'4" 250 pounds

Dansby, while not as adept at rushing the passer, is a ball-hawking linebacker who can cover tight ends and running backs in the flat. Dansby had a very good year with a career-high in tackles (97); he also tied his career-high with three interceptions, a testament to his ability to play in pass defense.

One Cardinals coach sited Dansby as a key factor in Arizona's scheme. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast does not want two 'tweeners at outside linebacker, for fear of spread offenses (such as the Seattle Seahawks) picking on their mediocre coverage skills.

Chargers Projected CB: Quentin Jammer – 6'0", 240 pounds

What Jammer lacks in ball skills (only one interception in the regular season) he makes up for with outstanding technique and tackling ability. Jammer rarely gives up the big play -- a lesson the Cardinals' corners sorely need to learn.

Cards Projected CB: Rod Hood – 5'11", 198 pounds

Hood proved to be an integral component to the defense after signing as a free agent. He paid off with 57 tackles and five interceptions (both career-highs) and looks to continue to help the team make the conversion it is seeking.

Chargers Projected SS: Clinton Hart – 6'0", 205 pounds

Acquired off of waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, Hart enjoyed a breakout season in 2007. He finished with 85 tackles and five interceptions all while playing a significant role in locker room. He gained 10 pounds prior to the season in an effort to become more of an in-the-box safety and managed to post one sack.

Cards Projected SS: Adrian Wilson – 6'3", 230 pounds

Wilson is a big play waiting to happen, with 16 sacks and 16 interceptions over the last seven seasons. He has more big-play ability than any safety on the Chargers' roster, so Pendergast may move him around, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers do with Troy Polamalu. Chargers Projected FS: Marlon McCree - 5'11" 202 pounds

McCree is a veteran who leads the secondary and makes sure all the young defensive backs know their assignments. However, he lacks range and is a liability in pass coverage.

Cards Projected FS: Terrence Holt – 6'2", 204 pounds

Another free agent signee, Holt made little noise with 69 tackles and one forced fumble. He did play and start in all 16 games but gave up far too many plays. He is a liability in coverage much like McCree, expect without the veteran savvy.

Chargers Projected CB: Antonio Cromartie 6'2", 203 pounds

Cromartie is the preeminent play-making defender in the NFL today. He intercepted 12 passes between the regular season and the playoffs, and he scored three touchdowns off turnovers.

Cards Projected CB: Antrel Rolle – 6'0 208 lbs.

Taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rolle had been somewhat of a disappointment. He intercepted five passes last season but struggled to hold up in man coverage.

A Cardinals coach confirmed that Rolle will play some safety next season, which will open up a need for more more help at cornerback.

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