Arizona Cardinals: Who Will Step Up on the Defensive Line?


Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (90) against the St. Louis Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012 the Arizona Cardinals ran a 3-4 defense under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The defense was confusing and aggressive, as Horton was unafraid of dialing up pressures on apposing offenses. Horton’s scheme allowed players like Daryl Washington to shine, but a player like Darnell Dockett had a poor year because his responsibilities in the scheme did not fit his skill set.

Dockett is the type of player that makes his living in the backfield, and playing in a two-gap defensive front certainly isn’t one of his strengths. Dockett’s age (31) has lead many to believe that he is not the player he once was. Nevertheless, Dockett seems as motivated as ever to prove his doubters wrong and make the 2013 NFL season a successful one.

The Cardinals opened the 2012 regular season against the Seattle Seahawks. According to Pro Football Focus, Dockett registered 10 quarterback disruptions and six defensive stops in the run game  (subscription required). It seemed like the defensive lineman was setting the stage for a monster season, but unfortunately he failed to grade positively for the remainder of the season with the exception of Week 11 versus the Atlanta Falcons.

How can the 2013 NFL season be one of resurgence for Dockett and how can the coaching staff put him in position to be successful?

It all starts with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who plans to install a 3-4 defensive scheme similar to Horton’s scheme. In contrast to Horton’s two-gap scheme, Bowles will implement a 1-gap scheme that will allow Dockett to use his explosiveness to attack gaps and be disruptive. The coaching staff also plans on allowing Dockett to play different alignments along the defensive line and allow him to take advantage of mismatches on passing downs.

Attitude plays a big part in a players success. It is hard not to notice how Dockett attitude has changed since the end of the 2012 NFL season. The new coaching staff and scheme appear to be a fresh air to Dockett and it seems that he is solely focused on the 2013 NFL season. If Dockett can maintain his high level of focus, look for him to bounce back and have a stellar 2013 NFL season.

Aug 5, 2012; Canton, OH, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Chase Daniel (10) runs past Arizona Cardinals defensive end David Carter (79) during the first half of a preseason game at Fawcett Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Another player that could have a breakout season in 2013 is David Carter. Carter doesn’t garnish much attention from fans or the media but he could have an impact on the defensive line as a rotational player. Carter is a versatile player that can play anywhere across the defensive line; he can play nose tackle and defensive end in a 3-4 defense. This type of versatility allows the other starting linemen to rest and it also gives the Cardinals a solid rotation on the defensive line.

Carter, a sixth round pick in 2011 from UCLA, was mostly a backup to nose tackle Dan Williams in his first NFL season. In 2012 he was still the backup nose tackle but he also was able to to start in place of  Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell when they where forced to sit out because of injury. Carter started four games in 2012, his first start was against the Atlanta Falcons. Against the Falcons, Carter registered three quarterback hurries and batted down one pass, while grading positive against the run (stats available by Pro Football Focus).

In Bowles’ defense scheme, Carter will continue to play multiple positions. If the Cardinals employ some 4-3 looks, Carter becomes more valuable as he is capable of playing anywhere on the interior of the defensive line and possibly can play strong side defensive end in certain defensive fronts.

In 2013, I fully expect to Carter to continue progressing as a defensive player.  Carter is going into his third year in the NFL, and this is his opportunity to show the Cardinals coaching staff that he deserves a chance to start in the future. I fully expect Carter to take advantage or his opportunities in 2013 and beyond.