Cardinals coordinator tinkers with potent defense
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Todd Bowles created a powerhouse defense in his first season in Arizona.
Maintaining it, let alone improving on it, is a big challenge for 2014.
The Cardinals defensive coordinator is a master strategist, although he downplays how much that factors into the team's success.
''I'm one of the first guys to say you've got to have players to win games,'' he said. ''If you don't have the players, you've got no shot. The Heat without LeBron, Wade and Bosch, if they ran a scheme, they wouldn't win anything.''
It's the combination of talent and strategy that impresses quarterback Carson Palmer, who faces that defense every day in training camp.
''You can just keep talking about the talent and the veteran guys that are back there, but more than anything it's the scheme,'' Palmer said. ''Coach Bowles puts in a new defense every day, a new blitz every day. You can't get a bead on what you think is coming. ... They do a ton and it's very well built, very well-orchestrated.''
Veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote signed with Arizona as a free agent and discovered what a no-nonsense approach Bowles brings.
''In your face, very blunt,'' Foote said. ''They expect plays every play. You can have 10 good plays, but you have one bad one, he's going to remind you about it for two days.''
Foote came from another demanding defense in Pittsburgh.
''A very aggressive style, a defense I'm used to,'' he said of the 3-4 Arizona set. ''As a linebacker, you should be geeked up to play in this style of defense.''
Foote and second-year pro Kevin Minter are replacing the anchors of last year's defense, inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. Both are gone, Washington suspended for a season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and Dansby off to Cleveland via free agency.
Their absence will clear the way for others to make the big plays, defensive end Calais Campbell said.
''The best thing about Coach Bowles is that he knows how to put his players in the best position to win,'' Campbell said. ''He utilizes our talent.''
The Cardinals ranked sixth overall in defense in the NFL last year, first against the run. That's brought a swagger to the unit in this training camp.
''There's no doubt there's a ton of confidence left over from last year,'' coach Bruce Arians said.
But that was last year, and Bowles said there's no reason for the defense to be all puffed up by its statistics.
''We on defense don't really call it successful,'' he said. ''We didn't go to the p layoffs and win any Super Bowls.''
There is, he acknowledges, a comfort level between the returning players and the coaching staff.
''We're confident as far as getting to know each other,'' Bowles said. ''We got to know each other through last year. We know what to expect of each other. They're comfortable in more of the things that I'm trying to do and I'm comfortable in hearing some of the things they have to say.''
Bowles said that players have to be good to be at this level, and that's where the scheme fits in.
''We had a good run last year, but every year things change, as well as the people and some of the schemes you have to tweak,'' he said. ''You have to find out how that fits in training camp and that's what we're trying to do.''
Although the defense carried the team for most of the season, it was always a work in progress.
''They didn't really have a grasp of the scheme,'' Bowles said. ''We were in the right places doing the right things, but now that they have an understanding of each other a little better, hopefully we can improve. It's not about being No. 1, it's about getting better than you were.
''We need to get better than what we were because last year we didn't make the playoffs, so obviously we weren't good enough.''
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