Cards notebook: Inside linebacker up for grabs

Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton can point out the entrenched starters on his unit.

There are ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Outside linebacker Sam Acho. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.

But Horton can’t tell you if Paris Lenon or Stewart Bradley is going to be the starter at the strong inside linebacker position. Lenon held onto the job last season, starting 16 games. Bradley, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract in free agency, never seriously threatened to change that.

Bradley’s struggles were in the mental part of the game. He’s bright, but he had spent his previous four NFL seasons with the Eagles in a 4-3 defense. What the Cardinals were asking him to do in a 3-4 was drastically different. Techniques for pass drops and filling run gaps were different, and that position has the added responsibility of calling defenses.

Lenon, who had played nine years, was accustomed to the system. He proved reliable, and with a defense that already had questions at numerous other spots, the Cardinals needed a steady influence on the field.

But the spot is up for competition again. Lenon turns 35 during the season, and while he’s in supreme condition, the Cardinals need to look to the future. Lenon didn’t miss a game last year but did struggle through some muscle strains and other maladies. Bradley had a history of injuries in Philadelphia, including a concussion and a torn ACL, but he stayed healthy last season. He just couldn’t beat out Lenon.

Bradley’s role on defense was limited last season. He played inside linebacker only when Lenon was forced out of the game, and he occasionally was used as a pass rusher off the edge.

His limited production, especially given his salary, made him a target of fans’ criticism. The Cardinals paid him a $5 million signing bonus, so they obviously didn’t get their money’s worth.

The two sides reached a compromise in the offseason. Bradley took a 50 percent salary cut for the upcoming season, dropping from $5 million to $2.5 million. The remaining three years of the deal weren’t changed (salaries of $5 million, $5.5 million and $5.5 million). Those salaries aren’t guaranteed, however.

This obviously is a critical year for Bradley, who turns 29 during the season. If he doesn’t beat out Lenon, his future in Arizona is in doubt. And with Lenon turning 35, the Cardinals will have to search for a replacement.

There is not an heir apparent on the roster. Reggie Walker has shown some potential, but he’s never performed consistently or had a real chance to take the starting job. Quan Sturdivant, a sixth-round pick in 2011, spent last season on the practice squad, so he has a lot of ground to cover.

The ideal scenario for the Cardinals would be Lenon and Bradley both staying healthy and Bradley at least closing the gap between the two. If Bradley at least makes some progress, he should be able to step in for Lenon in 2013. Lenon is in the last year of his contract, and it’s hard to see the team committing significant money to him in 2013.

But Lenon has defied the odds before. This is his 10th season, not bad for a guy who once had to play in the XFL to keep his career alive.

NOTES, QUOTES

— Jay Feely hates the cliche that kickers are not athletes. Feely is an excellent golfer and often helps out in practice by catching passes from the quarterbacks.

Feely showed off his athleticism recently by catching six punted footballs in succession, not putting any of them on the ground in between. He would like to reach seven, but that’s going to be difficult because it will require putting four in one arm, two in the other, and one between the legs.

Feely likes to tease Patrick Peterson about the feat. Peterson has caught as many as five and is shooting for Feely’s record. Peterson said kickers have one advantage.

“They have a lot of time on their hands,” he laughed.

— Wide receiver Stephen Williams wants to make a big impression in the preseason, but he realizes he’s done that before only to ride the bench in the regular season. Williams led the team in receiving during the preseason last year and was a phenom in 2010. But he hasn’t been able to get on the field because he plays behind Larry Fitzgerald and isn’t a proven special-teams player.

“It’s hard to put a 6-5 dude somewhere on special teams,” Williams said. “But I need to find some type of role there.”

— The Cardinals are exploring the idea of practicing against the Chiefs during training camp. The Cardinals play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5 and then at Kansas City on Aug. 10. Rather than return to training camp in Flagstaff and then travel to Kansas City, the team could go directly to Chiefs camp.

Both Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt are in favor, assuming the logistics can be worked out.

“I’m certainly hopeful,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re still in the process of figuring all those (logistical) things out.”

— Outside linebacker Clark Haggans re-signed with the team Tuesday, agreeing to a one-year deal that pays him a salary of $1 million if he makes the team. Haggans, 35, is expected to move from a starting role to a reserve one, although he’s not ready to concede that point.

“It kind of makes you feel old in a way,” Haggans said of his role as mentor. “But there’s no rocking chair in front of my locker yet, so I just take it and roll with it.”

QUOTE TO NOTE

“If you see his notes, it’s like penmanship 101. You say, ‘Oh my goodness, look how nice this is.’ It trickles down. Here’s a guy who has been in this defense forever and he’s taking notes.” — Defensive coordinator Ray Horton on outside linebacker Clark Haggans.

MEDICAL WATCH

— RB Ryan Williams is participating in individual drills as he returns from surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon. The Cardinals’ medical staff has raved about Williams’ work ethic, and he is expected to be ready for training camp.

— G Blake DeChristopher has not participated in voluntary practices after suffering a back injury in rookie camp.

— T D.J. Young missed some voluntary practices with a right knee injury. The severity of the injury is unknown.

— RB Beanie Wells is not practicing in OTAs while he rehabs from knee surgery. He is expected to be ready for training camp.