Cardinals Training Camp Primer: Defensive Line

TEMPE, Ariz. — The defensive line for the Arizona Cardinals is going to look a lot different this coming season. Darnell Dockett is gone, Dan Williams is gone and Tommy Kelly is gone.

Arizona general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians went back to the lab, watched a lot of film, and went back out and reloaded the line in free agency and through the NFL Draft.

The Cardinals Training Camp Primer takes a look at the defensive line:

Calais Campbell
Corey Peters
Cory Redding
Frostee Rucker
Matt Shaughnessy
Josh Mauro
Ed Stinson
Rodney Gunter
Alameda Ta’amu
Xavier Williams

Campbell is the heart and soul of this line. He’s worked hard over his seven years with Arizona, and was rewarded last season with his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Campbell is quiet and efficient, but the work he puts in on the field is loud and boisterous. Campbell had 59 tackles, 7.0 sacks, an interception, 12 tackles for loss, three passes defensed, 17 quarterback pressures and 12 quarterback hits last season. It was his sixth straight season with at least 50 tackles and 6.0 sacks, extending his franchise record.

All that work shot Campbell right up Pro Football Focus’ charts. They had Campbell ranked as the No. 4 3-4 defensive end in the NFL last season.

“I’d like to see a more consistent player out of him,” Arians said. “He went to the Pro Bowl, but he’s not even scratched his consistent level of play.”

Perhaps Peters and Redding can help bring that out of Campbell. They’re two crafty veterans who will bring a lot to the defensive front this season, plus they give the Cardinals a lot of positional flexibility, being that they can play multiple positions on the defensive front.

Arians says Peters will start out at nose tackle, which is a position that’s in need of filling, after losing Williams and Kelly, their two mainstays from last season.

“He’s (Peters) a very versatile player. He’s not coming out of the game. He’s got sacks, he’s disruptive in the middle of the pocket,” Arians said. “Corey can play nose (tackle), play five (technique), play three (technique).”

“Cory Redding might be the best leader I’ve ever been around. He’s got a great knowledge of not just his position, but the entire defense,” Arians said. “He brings a passion and energy, (and) his play hasn’t diminished in the last seven years; he’s still making plays.”

Rucker was a major force for the Cardinals last season. He played in 15 games (eight starts) and had a career-high 5.0 sacks, while leading the team with 14 tackles for loss. His strong play got him at least one more year with the Cardinals after he re-upped in June.

Campbell saw some “All-Pro” play from Rucker toward the end of last season. He’s hoping Rucker brings it even stronger at the defensive tackle position this season.

“You could just see it in his (Rucker) mentality and his movement; he’s going to be a great player for us this year,” Campbell said. “His confidence is high, (and) he’s feeling good. Our whole (defensive) line, we’re going to be able to rotate, and take turns dominating.”

Shaughnessy is moving to his more “natural position” at defensive end, according to Arians. Shaughnessy, like Peters and Redding, gives the Cardinals more flexibility to move players around and give offenses multiple looks.

“He (Shaughnessy) had to really struggle to keep his weight down,” Arians said. “We can always stand him up in run defense if we want to do that. Get him inside and let him get back to his natural stuff.”

If Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher decide to line up Campbell and Shaughnessy opposite each other on the line, it’ll be extremely tough for anyone to run on them. Shaughnessy only played in eight games last season because of a knee injury, but he was still able to make an impact at the SAM and WILL linebacker positions, especially against the run. PFF had Shaughnessy as the 12th best run stopping 3-4 outside linebacker.

Mauro signed on with the Cardinals last November, and finished with six tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass defensed in his five games (two starts). With Kareem Martin switching to outside linebacker, that’s one less person he’ll have to fight with for a roster spot, but he’ll still have four other defensive ends – Campbell, Peters, Shaughnessy and Gunter – to go through in order to stay on the active roster.

Stinson played in 10 games last season (two starts), and had 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed, three quarterback hits and one quarterback pressure. He injured his toe toward the back end of the season, and eventually wound up on injured reserve.

Arians says he wants to keep Stinson at his current weight (287 lbs.), because he feels he can be a really effective nose tackle.

“Eddie (Stinson), he’s got that great flexibility. He showed some really good flashes off the edge last year before he tore (his) toe up,” Arians said. “He should have a good future.”

Keim and Arians liked Gunter so much coming into the 2015 NFL Draft that they made a deal with the Cleveland Browns to move up seven spots in the fourth round to take him; they liked him that much.

Back to the position flexibility: Gunter is another player that can play pretty much every position on the defensive line. He can play the five technique, the three technique, and he can play nose tackle.

“We’ll find a spot because of his (Gunter) explosiveness,” Arians said.

Ta’amu couldn’t stay healthy much at all last season. He was inactive for nine of Arizona’s 16 regular season games. He was also inactive for their Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers.

Arians wants to get Ta’amu some more reps at nose tackle, but it’s going to be tough with so many other healthier bodies around him. If he stays healthy, Arians feels Ta’amu can be a “dominant force.”

“He (Ta’amu) really struggled with his knee; he was not the same guy,” Arians said. “He was not the athlete he was the year before. Hopefully with the brace off now, and his weight down, he can be the guy.”

Williams was high on the Cardinals’ draft board. Arians says they had him rated as a sixth-round pick. He ended up signing with the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.

“Glad we got him (Williams), because I think he’s very active for a big man (6-2, 309),” Arians said. “He’s position flexible; he’s not just a nose guard. He can get into the mix with some other guys.”

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