Karlos Dansby (Getty)
While the Cardinals starting linebacker unit is not phenomenal, it is pretty solid. They have a number of capable veterans led by the outstanding Karlos Dansby. The depth behind is not ideal, and was made worse with the loss of Cody Brown. The unit hopes to step up its play especially on the outside where a bolstered pass rush is needed. Andy Bishop examines both of Arizona’s linebacker spots.
ILB Karlos Dansby anchors the Arizona linebacker unit. Along with Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson, Dansby is one of the Cardinals’ defensive playmakers. He is quick to the ball and displays an explosiveness that puts him in an elite class.
Unfortunately for Arizona, 2009 will likely be Dansby’s last in Arizona as he and the team have been unable to reach a long-term contract extension. He was franchised for the second year in a row and is due to make $9.7 million this season. At the least, the Cardinals can expect an outstanding season from Dansby who will be motivated by a potential large pay check this offseason.
Lining up beside Dansby in the middle of Arizona’s base 3-4 defense is Gerald Hayes. After failing to find much of a role in his first three seasons with the Cardinals, the former third-round pick from 2003 has blossomed into a model of consistency. Hayes has recorded at least 88 tackles in each of the last three seasons. As he enters his seventh season, Hayes will continue to remain a force in the middle.
The top backup inside is Ali Highsmith. The undrafted rookie from a year ago has instilled enough confidence in the coaching staff that the team won't miss a beat with Pago Togafau on injured reserve.
Highsmith exudes potential, and while he likely won’t see much playing time, he provides needed depth.
With the backups in the middle having mostly little to no playing experience, it would not be surprising to see Arizona sign a veteran free agent.
Arizona boasts two tenured veterans at the outside linebacker position in the form of Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans. Okeafor finished 2008 with 60 tackles and 4.5 sacks, while Haggans’ had just one sack in his limited playing time as a reserve.
Haggans will be a starter now that the Cardinals have mostly transitioned to a 3-4. During his best years in Pittsburg from 2002-2007, he averaged 5.4 sacks a season. Arizona would like to season that type of number or higher from both Haggans and Okeafor as the two will be rushing more from the edge in the 3-4 alignment.
Arizona was dealt a huge blow when rookie second-round pick Cody Brown was lost for the season with a wrist injury. The Cardinals weren’t expecting Brown to play every down, but they were hoping to give him snaps in sub packages and ease his transition to the NFL. The talented pass rusher’s injury is surely a setback, but it should make him hungrier in 2010.
Brown’s injury opens up the door for a veteran and a rookie alike. Victor Hobson seemed like a lock to be in the mix in Arizona as he can play both inside and outside linebacker. His familiarity with the 3-4 scheme makes him a valuable asset for Arizona. But he was released. With Togafau on IR, Highsmith is the only other player with experience in the Cardinals’ system.
Will Davis has had a solid preseason thus far, notching six tackles and a sack. He should see some time during the season on passing downs as he is clearly one of the most athletic pass rushers on the team.