Play at the safety spot was huge for the Arizona Cardinals last season. The dirty birds finished fifth in the NFL for pass defense averaging 200.8 yards allowed per game (just 15 yards behind the top ranked Pittsburgh Steelers). Pass defense felt like the only bright spot in the Cardinals dark campaign of 2012.
The releases of Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes have left some large voids at safety. Wilson played 12 seasons in Arizona, was a four-time All-Pro pick and just one of six players in NFL history to record at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in his career.
The release of Kerry Rhodes was no surprise as he was due $6 million in 2013. Rhodes was second on the team in interceptions picking off four last year behind cornerback Patrick Peterson’s seven. The exit of Wilson and Rhodes led to the entrance of free agent Yeremiah Bell.
Bell played for the New York Jets last season and recorded 89 tackles and a sack. He also has ties with Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowels when he was with the Miami Dolphins. Bell and the re-signed Rashad Johnson should be the starting safety duo this season.
Third round, 69th overall draft pick Tyrann Mathieu signed a four-year contract with the Cardinals last month. Mathieu was a risky choice after he was dismissed from the LSU football team in August 2012 for multiple violations of team rules and drug abuse.
Looking past his off-field issues, on-field he is a great athlete despite his size and was a Heisman trophy finalist. The 5’ 9” 186lbs. defensive back was an impact playmaker for the Tigers, even when he was a reserve for Peterson who also played at LSU. With Peterson as a mentor, Mathieu has the potential to be a huge asset to the Cards’ defensive backfield.
Joining Mathieu as rookie safeties are former Oklahoma Sooners, Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson. Cornerback Jamell Fleming is also a former Sooner. Special-teams ace Jonathan Amaya and third-year out of LSU Curtis Taylor have also been brought in this off-season to bring depth to the thin safeties.
If the new group can find some chemistry and leadership, they can continue the Cardinals’ success at pass defense. That should not be a problem with so many college connections among the defensive backs.