Training Camp: What to Watch on Defense

SS Adrian Wilson & Antrel Role (Getty)

With multiple players returning from injury and many promising newcomers, the Cardinals defense is poised for a dramatic turnaround this season. GM Rod Graves has assembled an excellent stable of savvy veterans and talented youngsters. Brad Wilbricht breaks down what to watch on the defensive side of the ball during training camp in this AZRedReport.com exclusive.

How will the revamped secondary perform?

The Cardinals secondary struggled through numerous injuries last year and as a result allowed 232 yards per game passing. However, the team should benefit from the return of SS Adrian Wilson and CB Eric Green. Wilson is back from an Achilles injury and will look to return to his Pro Bowl form. Although Green has only one career interception, he's poised for a breakout season. If Antrel Rolle can successfully transition to free safety, he should be an upgrade over last year's starter Terrence Holt. Furthermore, the addition of first-round draft pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie provides depth and long-term security. The Cardinals secondary should experience significant improvements this season and could hold the key for team's defensive success in 2008.

How will Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry rebound from injury?

Cardinals' coaches have raved about Okeafor's ability to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Okeafor is fully recovered from a torn biceps tendon and should help fill the void left by former Cardinals OLB Calvin Pace. Okeafor totaled 16 sacks in his first two seasons in the desert before suffering a season-ending injury in training camp last year. Look for Okeafor's sack total to reach double digits this year in the Cardinals renovated defense. Berry's future with the team is a bit more uncertain. The 10-year veteran accepted a restructured contract to avoid becoming a salary cap casualty. Berry, who racked up 26 sacks between 2003 and 2004, could be utilized in a situation role this season. He still displays a tremendous burst off the edge and has a knack for rushing the passer.

Which defenders will emerge from this year's rookie class?

Rookie defensive ends Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema will likely have the best opportunity to emerge this season. Both players are well rounded and compatible in defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's aggressive style. Rodgers-Cromartie will see the field in the nickel package, but lacks the necessary upper-body strength to be a major contributor this season. OLB Chris Harrington of Texas A&M could be a sleeper. Harrington will make the transition from defensive end to linebacker and exhibits the ability to thrive as an edge pass rusher. Undrafted free agents LB Ali Highsmith and DL Bryan Robinson could also surprise. Highsmith's greatest contributions will likely come on special teams while Robinson provides youth on the defensive line.

Which free-agent acquisition will make the biggest impact?

Although there were multiple key free-agent acquisitions this offseason, DE/OLB Travis LaBoy should make the biggest impact. While he's played exclusively in the 4-3 defense, LaBoy is best suited for the Cardinals 3-4 scheme. He's been fairly inconsistent up to this point in his career, but will continue to develop his skill set under linebackers coach Bill Davis. Other candidates include LB Clark Haggans, LB Matt Stewart, and DT Bryan Robinson. Haggans and Stewart provide excellent leadership and will be frequently used in situational packages. Although Robinson is past his prime, he still demonstrates the ability to play all positions on the defensive line. His versatility will be a luxury for the Cardinals defense.

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