1. Beanie Wells – The phenom from Ohio State showed throughout the season just why the Cardinals drafted him. Possessing a beautiful blend of size, speed, and power, Wells finished the season with 793 yards and seven touchdowns. The season wasn’t all pretty for Wells, who coughed up the ball four times (only losing two). Ball security—not only for Wells, but for the whole Arizona ground game—should be a point of emphasis this offseason.
The 2009 first-round pick technically did not supplant Tim Hightower as the starting running back, but he did indeed get more of the workload in the latter part of the season. Wells should be No. 1 on the depth chart going into training camp. As long as he stays healthy, he should have no problem breaking 1,000 yards and becoming one of the best young backs in the league.
2. LaRod Stephens-Howling – The spark plug for Arizona’s return game was none other than its seventh-round pick in last April’s draft. The 5’7”, 180-pound Stephens-Howling showed his electric ability throughout the season as the kick returner. He scored a touchdown in the return game and added another one receiving.
It is hard to find much wrong with Stephens-Howling’s performance in 2009, and the rookie showed that he should be the kick returner for years to come in the desert. Stephens-Howling will be looking for a bigger role as third-down back next season, and the Cardinals might try to get more out of their punt return game by putting the little dude back there.
3. Will Davis – The outside linebacker from Illinois enjoyed a decent season while only seeing limited action. He played mostly on special teams, but saw some time on defense, where he picked two sacks. With veterans Chike Okeafor, Clark Haggans, and Bertrand Berry getting most of the reps at OLB, Davis didn’t get many chances.
Expect that to change for Davis in 2010. Berry will not be with the team next season after retiring, and both Haggans and Okeafor are slowing down. If Davis can have a strong offseason, he should get more playing time in 2010. At the least, the Cardinals will be able to rely on Davis in passing situation, where he is most comfortable attacking the quarterback.
4. Rashad Johnson – There was a lot of talk about the athletic ability of incoming rookie safety Rashad Johnson last offseason. The Cardinals were comfortable enough with Johnson and veteran Matt Ware that they released Aaron Francisco before the season. Johnson saw time mostly on special teams, but was cast into a more significant role when Ware landed on Injured Reserve.
Johnson failed to show that he can be a playmaker at the next level. He struggled most noticeably in pass coverage late in the season, as did most of the rest of the Cardinals secondary. Look for Johnson to grow and learn this offseason. Although 2009 was learning experience for the former Alabama star, he still carries tons of potential.
5. Reggie Walker – This inside linebacker from Kansas State made the most noise when he made the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Walker was an undrafted free agent who only saw action in seven games this season. Besides spot duty on defense, Walker was a mainly special teams participant, ending the season with just six tackles.
Walker could see an expanded role in 2010, should the Cardinals fail to resign free agent Karlos Dansby. There is also the chance that Walker will fall short of making the team next season, should the team acquire good depth at inside linebacker. At this point, Walker is an unknown, and will continue to be until he establishes himself.
6. Greg Toler – The Cardinals’ fourth-round pick was buried on the depth for almost the entire 2009 season. With four veterans ahead of him, Toler didn’t get much experience expect on special teams. The former star from Div. II St. Paul’s, Toler was called upon in the final game against New Orleans. He replaced the injured Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie and looked lost.
It was certainly a tough position for Toler to be put in, after only seeing action in games that weren’t close. Toler still has much to improve with his technique and positioning. With less than stellar play from Arizona’s nickel and dime corners, and even Bryant McFadden, Toler will be given the opportunity to show he deserves a more prominent role in 2010.
7. Herman Johnson – The big man from LSU was merely a bench warmer for the entire season. With the interior of Arizona’s line staying healthy, Johnson didn’t see any action.
Right guard Deuce Lutui is due to become a free agent. The Cardinals will try to resign him, but if they aren’t able to, Johnson should be the front runner for the job. If Johnson has a strong camp this summer, he could replace one of the tackles that struggled last season as well. Most importantly for Johnson, he needs to use his size and become the punishing run-blocker the Cardinals thought he could be.
8. Cody Brown – Brown was possibly the Cardinals’ most talked about draft pick in the offseason because he was so quick off the edge and could disrupt the quarterback. Unfortunately for Brown, his season was over before it started, landing on Injured Reserve with a wrist injury.
Arizona has to be excited about Brown this upcoming season. He should be boiling with energy and passion as he gets his first crack at NFL action. Brown will surely be a little raw, but he holds all the tools a team needs from a 3-4 linebacker. The youth movement for the OLB position should be happening this offseason.
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