Upgrade at strong safety among Cards’ draft needs

Defending the tight end was a problem throughout the 2013 season for the Cardinals.

Yeremiah Bell remains unsigned and may be leaning towards retirement, Tyrann Mathieu might not be ready for the start of the season, and the Cardinals have a trio of largely inexperienced players behind veteran safety Rashad Johnson.

A strong safety would seem like a logical choice in the earlier rounds of this year’s NFL Draft, which runs May 8-10. 

"We need more depth going into camp," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said of the position.

But if you’re thinking that means drafting a guy who can cover tight ends — the biggest flaw in a mostly impressive 2013 defensive performance — that’s only part of the equation.

"The strong safety is not necessarily responsible for the tight end," Bowles said. "Everybody had their share of busts. We have to be more aware of the tight end, and I have to prepare our guys better for that this season, but I don’t think that’s just the strong safety’s job. That falls on a lot of positions, including the linebackers."

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Even so, the current personnel don’€™t seem to fill the need, even if undrafted Tony Jefferson (202 snaps in 2013) showed promise in limited duty last season. The bar in this organization is set high after Adrian Wilson roamed the field for 12 seasons, although Wilson wasn’t known for his coverage in his later years.

"We miss that guy in a lot of ways," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Adrian Wilson was a great player and a great leader who could do a lot of things, but we have plenty of other leaders on this team, and guys will have to step up."

Mathieu won’t give in to the probability he will miss most, if not all, of training camp. Both the coaches and Mathieu say his rehabilitation is ahead of schedule, but his injury was significant. He suffered two torn ligaments (ACL and LCL) in his left knee while returning a punt against St. Louis on Dec. 8. The LCL injury lengthened the rehabilitation time, leading coach Bruce Arians to temper thoughts he’d be ready for camp.

"I still anticipate him on (the physically unable to perform list), but he refuses to believe it," Arians told reporters at a recent charity event. "That’s a good thing."

The Cards have been rumored to have interest in Alabama’s 6-foot-1 phenom Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville thumper Calvin Pryor, but they could also may help in the later rounds if they choose to address the need for an edge rusher, a quarterback or an offensive lineman in the first round.

There is also the possibility that Bell comes back on a cheap, one-year deal. Fox Sports 910’s Mike Jurecki reported that the Cardinals have offered Bell a one-year deal, but despite public statements, the Cardinals didn’t seem overly thrilled with his play last season, and he is 36 years old. There is no guarantee that he’d make the team out of camp.

Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is generally regarded as the top safety available in this year’s draft.

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Louisville safety Calvin Pryor