Cardinals Free Agency Focus: Defensive Line

TEMPE, Ariz. – There are plenty of question marks along the Cardinals’ defensive line heading into the 2015 season. There were before Darnell Dockett’s departure to the San Francisco 49ers, and with him gone, there are even more now.

Dockett was sorely missed last season, as he sat out the entire year after tearing an ACL in training camp. Head coach Bruce Arians threw down the “Next Man Up” mantra, which spoke directly to the men manning the front line on defense.

Arizona was able to strike gold when they signed defensive tackle Tommy Kelly on the final day of training camp. Kelly was worth the investment. He started 13 of the Cardinals’ 16 games last season, including 12 of the team’s final 13 games. Kelly had 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, two blocked field goals, two passes defensed and 15 quarterback hits.

Kelly played in 134 games prior to joining the Cardinals and never blocked a field goal attempt. He blocked two last season, which illustrates the impact he made even more.

Even a knee injury couldn’t keep defensive end Calais Campbell away from the football field and ultimately the playoffs and the Pro Bowl. Campbell was the victim of an illegal chop block in Week 5 in Denver, Colo., against the Denver Broncos, and missed two games as a result. Campbell was able to come back and dominate. Case in point: Campbell had 3.0 sacks on Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson in their Week 12 game at Century Link Field. Arians thought Campbell could’ve had five in that game.

Campbell finished the season with 59 tackles and 7.0 sacks. It was his sixth straight season with at least 50 tackles and 6.0 sacks, extending his franchise record.

Campbell also earned second team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press for his performance last season.

Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker also came up big in 2014. In 15 games [eight starts], Rucker had 37 tackles, a career-high 5.0 sacks, a team-high 14 tackles for loss, he tied a career high with two forced fumbles, a pass defensed and he had nine QB hits.

Defensive tackle Dan Williams had arguably his best season as an Arizona Cardinal. Williams played in all 16 games last season [nine starts]. He also started at nose tackle in the Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers. He ended up with 45 tackles [seven for loss], 1.0 sack, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, seven quarterback pressures and two quarterback hits. Williams’ strength has always been stuffing the run, and he was strong in that department again last season, helping the defense become one of the most feared defenses to run on in 2014.

With the injuries to Dockett and Campbell, Arizona needed to look to their three rookies – Ed Stinson, Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro – as a source of depth, and they all stepped up and delivered.

Stinson saw action in the first nine weeks of the season. He even got the start at nose tackle against the St. Louis Rams on November 9. Stinson fought through a toe injury in the back half of the season. The team eventually placed him on injured reserve, as Stinson couldn’t shake it off.

Martin rotated in and out for 11 of the first 12 games of the season. He was deactivated for the final five games and the playoff game in Carolina.

Mauro came on the scene late in the season and turned heads. 10 days after signing with the Cardinals, Mauro got the start at defensive tackle against the Seahawks at Century Link Field. He was in on 22 snaps that day and had two tackles. Mauro would get the start the following week in Atlanta, Ga., against the Atlanta Falcons.

Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu played in nine of the 16 games last season. He was very effective against the run in 2013, but tore his ACL against the 49ers in Week 17.

Williams is going to be one of the most sought after defensive linemen once the free agency period begins on March 10. Kelly is an unrestricted free agent and Ta’amu is a restricted free agent as well.

On top of losing Dockett, the Cardinals could lose Williams, Kelly and Ta’amu to free agency, which would be a tough pill for them to swallow. It would make things that much harder for Arians, new defensive coordinator James Bettcher and defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.

 

 

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