Cardinals coaches don’t believe there is such a thing as having too many cornerbacks. That became more apparent on draft day when they selected Jamell Fleming in the third round instead of addressing a bigger need, such as offensive tackle or outside linebacker.
Fleming became the ninth cornerback on the roster. He is one of at least four who will compete for the starting job on the left side, opposite Patrick Peterson. Free agent William Gay, Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson are also in the mix.
The selection of Fleming’s is a reflection of how the NFL is changing. Offenses are putting more receivers on the field, and defenses are responding with more cornerbacks.
Article continues below ...
In addition, the Cardinals had depth issues at the position last season, and they don’t want to go through that again.
“If offenses are going to be in some form of a sub package, where they have three or four receivers on the field 60 percent of the time, you are going to be running eight or nine defensive backs on the field,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt. “We saw tremendous value in players that were able to move around and play different spots and make it more difficult for offenses to get a feel for what we were doing. That’s why we had some success.”
The Cardinals appear to have specific physical requirements in mind in drafting corners. Not many of the ones they on the roster are small. Most, like Fleming, range from 5-foot-10 to 6-2 and are around 200 pounds.
That’s because, in Ray Horton’s system, cornerbacks need to be able to provide run support and be willing tacklers.
Horton brought his scheme from Pittsburgh. He played under Dick LeBeau and coached seven years on his defensive staff. By midseason last year, the Cardinals players had adapted to Horton’s system, and the unit performed well down the stretch.
Adding a veteran such as Gay to the system will help compensate for losing Richard Marshall in free agency. Gay would like to start, but he’s also been around long enough to know that starting isn’t the be-all, end-all for a cornerback.
“At the end of the day, this league requires a good, solid four corners, maybe five,” Gay said. “My thing is if you’re stuck on just trying to be a starter, and that’s it, you’re really not focused on the right thing.
“It’s a ‘W’ at end of the day that counts. I don’t care what 11 (players) are out there. When I was a nickel (corner) in Pittsburgh, I got roughly 40 plays. That’s the way the offenses are starting to attack. You are going to get playing time either way. You just want it to be competitive as possible, and that’s what we’re going to make it be.”
Toler has more physical ability than any of the other cornerbacks vying for the starting job. He’s also about 85 percent recovered from a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of last season.
He’s added 11 pounds, up to 198, and is noticeably bigger in the upper body. Toler would like to test his knee in voluntary work, but coaches likely will be careful with him throughout the summer.
Toler said he will be ready for competition by the starting of training camp in July.
“There’s nothing wrong with competition at any position,” Toler said. “Me, I always know if someone is on my heels, it brings the best out of me. Just bring it on. Let’s just play ball.” NOTES, QUOTES
— Defensive lineman Nick Eason told azcardinals.com that he has lost 40 pounds this offseason.
The key to his offseason workout regimen: boxing. Eason is down to about 290 pounds and said he feels much better than he did a year ago.
— Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has attended every one of the team’s offseason workouts. And he doesn’t just go through them silently. He constantly challenges teammates to do more.
“(Larry Fitzgerald) keeps telling me he’s going to take me up top,” cornerback Greg Toler said. “He’s like, ‘you know I’m going to test that knee out.'”
— The Cardinals remain interested in re-signing veterans Clark Haggans and Vonnie Holliday. Both would be valuable reserves, Haggans at outside linebacker and Holliday at defensive end. The cost would be about $1 million apiece. The Cardinals were about $2 million under the cap but freed up some additional space by signing end Calais Campbell, their franchise player who was set to make $10.7 million in 2012, to a long-term deal Thursday.
— The Cardinals expect 40 or so players to attend their rookie minicamp over the weekend. Some will be there on a tryout basis, and the team has not yet released a list of names. Coaches would like to have two deep at every position, but that’s not going to be the case on either the offensive or defensive lines. The hope is to get the rookies up to speed enough that they can contribute in practices later this summer.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “They’re giving us (cornerbacks) jobs but just making our jobs harder.” — A.J. Jefferson on the NFL becoming a passing league. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
— Rookie Bobby Massie, the team’s fourth-round choice, is going to get every chance to win the starting job at right tackle. The Cardinals gambled in the draft, going with receiver Michael Floyd in the first round instead of taking an offensive lineman, such as tackle Riley Reiff or guard David DeCastro.
The Cardinals had Massie rated higher than a fourth-round selection, and the hope is that he arrives in camp with something to prove.
— The five-year contract for defensive end Calais Campbell, a 25-year-old coming off a career year, continues the Cardinals’ recent trend of re-signing its key young players. They’ve done that in the past several years with players such as Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett and Larry Fitzgerald.