Bill Davis Unveils Defensive Schemes
Bill Davis (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Bill Davis (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Posted Aug 24, 2009
scout.com


One of the biggest questions for the Cardinals entering this season is whether they can produce a consistent pass rush. They lack an elite rusher on the roster or any guy who could be penciled in for double-digit sacks. If two preseason games mean anything, the Cardinals are going to attempt to get a pass rush from multiple sources using a variety of blitzes.

That's what the Cardinals did in the second preseason game against the Chargers, with the starters sacking Philip Rivers four times in less than a half of work. Four different players had sacks, including both ends, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, nose tackle Bryan Robinson and linebacker Karlos Dansby.

"This is what we try to establish, team defense," Dansby said. "We don't try to put a lot of pressure on one guy. We just try to do it together and we did a good job of that (against San Diego)."

New defensive coordinator Bill Davis has unveiled a variety of blitzes in the two preseason games, even bringing a cornerback a time or two, something the Cardinals have rarely done in recent years.

Davis has versatile players at his disposal. Outside linebacker Bertrand Berry plays in the sub packages as a rush end. Outside linebacker Chike Okeafor can move to the middle in dime schemes and rush up the middle. Ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett sometimes move inside where their quickness can cause problems for centers and guards.

Dansby is a capable blitzer, as is strong safety Adrian Wilson, who is trying to become the 10th player in NFL history with 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career.

Wilson needs two interceptions and 1.5 sacks to reach those marks.

At this point in the season, defenses are generally ahead in their progress opposed to the offensive side of the ball. Nonetheless, RB Tim Hightower continues to display explosiveness and could be in line to lock up the starting running back spot with Chris Wells slowed by injuries.

QB Kurt Warner and Arizona’s talented wide receivers received little playing time in the preseason opener but will likely see more action against the Chargers. Developing chemistry and timing is vital this time of year with game situations proving as the most beneficial preparation tool. WR Steve Breaston is expected to be held out of action but the Pro Bowl tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin could be on the field for the entire first half.


Karlos Dansby, Bryan Robinson
(Getty)

If the Cardinals can consistently pressure the quarterback, they will have one of their best defenses in years.

The addition of cornerback Bryant McFadden should bolster an improving secondary. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie displayed elite cover skills last year, and Antrel Rolle improved steadily after making the transition from cornerback to free safety.

Wilson already is one of the best strong safeties in the game.

Davis has placed a heavy emphasis this preseason on third downs, red zones and limiting big plays. The Cardinals allowed 36 touchdowns passes last year, the most in the league.

The reasons for that were varied, but a lot of it was breakdowns and other miscommunications in the secondary. If that group improves, as expected, and the Cardinals can get a pass rush, the club will be vastly improved on defense this season.

--It appears running back Beanie Wells' sore right ankle is going to prevent him from challenging for a starting job to open the season.

Wells suffered the injury on his first day of practice, Aug. 1, and aggravated it during a team drill two weeks later.

He's hardly carried the ball in practice and has yet to play in the preseason. Coaches hoped to give Wells a few carries against the Chargers in the second preseason game, but he didn't appear to be running smoothly in warm-ups.

Wells is frustrated by the injury, which happened when a lineman rolled into the back of his leg. He left Ohio State with questions about his toughness and durability, although he missed only three games in three seasons.

But there was a reason he fell to the Cardinals at No. 31 in the draft. And the Cardinals likely would have taken Connecticut's Donald Brown instead had he been available.

With Wells out, Tim Hightower has strengthened his grasp on the starting job. Hightower has looked quick and decisive in the preseason, and he also can play on third down.

Wells has yet to prove he can pick up the blitz and catch the ball.


Chris Wells
(Getty)

Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't worrying over Wells' lack of work. If Wells is able to return to practice soon, as expected, he'll get enough snaps to at least play a backup to begin the season.

If the ankle continues to bother him, however, the Cardinals will have depth problems at running back. Jason Wright is the third back right now, although he's being pushed by rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh-round pick.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp broke on Aug. 20. The Cardinals returned to their training facility from Flagstaff and will resume a normal once-daily practice schedule.

NOTES, QUOTES --Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling might have made the roster with kick returns of 89 yards and 63 yards against the Chargers last week. The Chargers have had one of the best kickoff cover teams in the league. But Stephens-Howling, only 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, can be hard to find behind blockers and he has great quickness.

"That is one of the things that they made clear, that I had to excel on special teams in order to make the team," said Stephens-Howling, a seventh-round pick out of Pittsburgh. "That is one of the things I have been working hard at, so it feels good to see it paying off right now."


LaRod Stephens-Howling
(Getty)

--Nose tackle Alan Branch had game-day fashion in mind when he dropped 25 pounds in the offseason. Inactive for 12 games last year, he was tired of watching games in street clothes.

"I don't want to watch a game in a polo (shirt) this season. This is the longest I've gone without playing in my life."

--Cornerback Bryant McFadden has wanted to be an NFL player since he was a toddler. He remembers at age 3 telling is grandmother he was going to be a pro football player.

"It started before kindergarten," he said. "I just knew I wanted to be a football player. That's how I learned how to walk, by chasing after a football."

--Compared to its NFC West rivals, the Cardinals' training camp was tame. There were only five two-a-days, and the hitting was very limited. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is a bit sensitive to the idea that his camps are soft. It's the same system the Steelers used when he was an assistant under Bill Cowher.

"This system has worked pretty good for the last seven, eight years I've been around," Whisenhunt said. "We've been to two Super Bowls -- won one, lost one -- been to three or four (conference) championship games."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yes, sir, I have a lot of little kiddie backpacks. Notebook and pencils, that's all I need." CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the "Toy Story" backpack he carried at training camp.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Coaches are going to face some tough decisions in shaping the final roster unless injuries play a factor.

They have five tight ends, with one, Ben Patrick, suspended for the first four games. Veteran Leonard Pope could be in a bind as he is clearly behind Stephen Spach and Patrick. Veteran Anthony Becht is the best blocker of the bunch.

--The loss to the Chargers in the second preseason highlighted the club's lack of depth at safety. Ralph Brown, starting in place of Bryant McFadden, was burned for a long gain on the Chargers first play. Rookie Greg Toler struggled, as did Wilrey Fontenot, who is in his second season.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The top four receiving spots are set with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban. There is a tightly contested competition for the final two spots, assuming the club will keep six.

Sean Morey, a Pro Bowl special teamer, would be hard to cut. Lance Long, Early Doucet and Onrea Jones are the contenders for the other open spot. Long and Jones have had excellent camps, while Doucet hasn't practiced much because of a sprained shoulder. Long and Jones could go on the practice squad, but they might not clear waivers. Chiefs coach Todd Haley is familiar with both, and his club needs receivers.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Quarterback Matt Leinart has played well in his two preseason appearances and likely will hang on to the backup job. Brian St. Pierre, given a chance to compete with Leinart, has struggled in both games. Leinart has looked poised and accurate, but he's also had better protection than St. Pierre.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh-round pick out of Pittsburgh, had kickoff returns of 89 and 63 yards against the Chargers. He's also been effective at times as the third-down back. It's going to be hard for the Cardinals to cut him after the preseason he's had, and there might be more work available at the RB spot if injuries become a factor.

ROOKIE REPORT: RB Beanie Wells has yet to play in the preseason because of a sprained right ankle. He's hoping to make his debut this week against Green Bay. ... OLB Cody Brown, the second round pick, suffered a wrist injury against the Chargers. The severity of the injury is unknown. Brown has displayed some pass rush skills in practice but is learning the position after playing defensive end in college. ... OL Herman Johnson, a guard in college, continues to impress at right tackle. He likely will make the team but it will be hard for him to be active on game day. ... CB Greg Toler, a fourth-round pick, has the physical tools to develop into a solid player. He is struggling at this level right now, after playing at Saint Paul's, a Division II school in Virginia.

INJURY REPORT: RB Beanie Wells (right ankle). He is expected to practice this week and play against Green Bay.

--OT Elliot Vallejo (dislocated kneecap) likely is out a few more weeks.

--DL Keilen Dykes has a quadriceps strain that could cause him to miss a few weeks. Dykes is the backup to starter Calais Campbell so his continued absence would have an impact.

--S Dennis Keyes suffered a calf injury in the preseason opener and was waived/injured.

--WR Steve Breaston suffered a bruised knee and sprained PCL against the Steelers. The injury is not believed to be serious, although Breaston didn't play against the Chargers.

--CB Bryant McFadden missed the Chargers game with a sprained ankle. His injury isn't believed to be serious.

--ILB Ali Highsmith has a right ankle injury and missed the Chargers game.

--WR Michael Ray Garvin underwent surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his knee and could miss a couple of more weeks.

--OLB Cody Brown suffered a wrist injury against San Diego. The club doesn't yet know how serious it is.



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