Coming into the offseason, the middle linebacker position was a big question mark for the Cardinalss after the losses of Paris Lenon and Stewart Bradley in free agency. Now, the middle linebacker position, from top to bottom, may be the most interesting and intriguing position heading into training camp this year for the Cardinals.
Starting at the top, Daryl Washington was named a Pro Bowler for the first time in his very young career last year and looked as if he was quickly becoming a superstar in the NFL. However, after violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Washington was suspended for the first four games.
Then, after vowing via Twitter to his fans and team that he would be on his best behavior going forward, Washington was arrested in May on accusations of aggravated assault by his ex-girlfriend. The future of Washington remains a big concern for a team that is transitioning to a new defensive coordinator, and needs their superstar linebacker to be on the field.
Adding to the intrigue at middle linebacker is second round draft pick Kevin Minter. Minter was supposed to be a guy who the Cardinals could plug next to Daryl Washington and solidify the middle linebacker position for the Cards for years to come. However, with Washington’s legal status up in the air, Minter will be relied upon to help replace some of the missing production without Washington on the field.
After Washington’s suspension and arrest, the Cardinals went out and addressed the position by bringing back fan favorite Karlos Dansby. Dansby had a good year last year in Miami with 101 tackles including a sack. Dansby will start out by playing Washington’s position while Washington is suspended for a currently unknown amount of time. It is unknown, however, what Dansby’s role will be when (if) Daryl Washington returns. Dansby has said that he feels confident playing both sides, but we will have to wait and see if that ever has to come to fruition.
The Cardinals also added Jasper Brinkley to provide depth at the middle linebacker position. Brinkley was a starter for the Minnesota Vikings last year and had a solid year with 99 total tackles including three forced fumbles. Brinkley will compete for one of the starting middle linebacker jobs in camp, but most of all Brinkley will provide solid depth and a solid starting candidate if one of the starting linebackers goes down due to injury.
Then comes returning special teams ace Reggie Walker. Walker is not a candidate to be a starter on defense, but Walker has been one of the Cardinals best special teams players for the past three seasons. Will his stellar play on special teams be enough for Bruce Arians to consider keeping five middle linebackers on the roster? Or will the additions of players like Lorenzo Alexander, Bryan McCann, and Tyrann Mathieu, be enough to make Walker expendable? These are just two of the many questions around the linebacker position heading into training camp.