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Sergio May “Kindle” Cards’ Defense in 2010

kindleThere’s been a flurry of roster moves by the Arizona Cardinals over the past few weeks.  Rolle, Dansby, and Boldin have all flown the coupe, but Hadnot, Rhodes, Lenon, Baggs, and Porter will all make their nests in the desert this season.  A new crop of players will make their debut not only with the Cardinals, but in the NFL.  I’m talking about the future Cardinals of the 2010 NFL Draft.  We don’t know exactly who these players will be, but we can certainly make some prognostications.

First, it may be helpful to determine whether the Cardinals should focus on offense or defense this year.  Despite the recent outbreak of defensive signings, the Cards will most likely use their round one pick on a defensive player for two main reasons.  First, Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, and Kerry Rhodes are not a long-term solutions.  Second, shoring up the defense for the 2010 season and beyond is still the number one priority.  Some may say that because Warner retired and Leinart is unproven, it’s more important to focus on offense, rather than defense.  I believe this is incorrect.

Whether Leinart is a capable quarterback or not, we must accept that the Cardinals will most likely not be the offensive juggernaut we are used to.  It will most likely take time for the offense to turn over, which means the Cards can’t be counted on to score 20-30 points per game like they did under Warner.  As a result, the Cardinals defense that gave up 90 points in two playoff games will not get the job done.  This year, it must be defense, defense, and more defense.  With that in mind, the Cardinals will likely pick the most talented LB, DE, or DT left on the board when they are on the clock with the 26th overall pick.

Unfortunately, big-time names like Nebraska’s DT Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma’s DT Gerald McCoy, Georgia Tech’s DE Derrick Morgan, and Alabama’s ILB Rolando McClain will be off the board before the Cardinals get their turn.  Instead of focusing on who won’t be available, let’s take a look at some possibilities for the Cardinals.

First, let’s consider OLB Sergio Kindle from Texas.  Kindle (6’3”, 250 lbs.) ranks 2nd among outside linebackers in this year’s class.  Frank Cooney of  CBSsports.com describes Kindle as an “instinctive, athletic play-maker at outside linebacker in the 3-4.  He is tightly wound and competitve, yet has natural balance and athleticism to play under control.”  Kindle started 24 of 49 career games, including 13 at defensive end in 2009.  He is a two-time All-Big 12 selection with career stats that include 168 tackles, 16 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, 56 pressures, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

Kindle, however, has some off-field issues, including a driving while intoxicated incident in July of 2007; Kindle served a three-game suspension.  In addition, Sergio suffered a concussion when he drove his car into an apartment building while texting in June of 2009.  Kindle left the scene of the accident, but no charges were filed in relation to that indiscretion.  On-field negatives include knee, neck, and ankle injuries during his collegiate career, though none are thought to be serious.

Overall, Kindle is a hybrid that can play OLB or DE in the NFL.  He has not become any less attractive in light of Porter’s signing; Porter is aging and can’t be counted on in the future.  Kindle (along with Will Davis and Cody Brown) studying under Porter, however, could ensure an excellent young linebacker core for years to come.

Defensive tackle Dan Williams from Tennessee is another possibility.  Williams (6’3”, 327 lbs.) was a three year starter for the Volunteers, where he achieved All-SEC honors in 2009.  He complied 160 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss, and 7.0 sacks in 45 collegiate games.  Most scouting resources have Williams ranked 3rd among DTs in this year’s class; only super-talents Suh and McCoy rank higher.  Williams had an impressive Combine where he ran a 5.19 forty-yard dash, pushed out 27 bench press reps, posted a 32” verticle leap, an 8’ broad jump, andrecorded a 4.87 second shuttle run.

The former Volunteer is particularly appealing to the Cardinals because he would be a tremendous step forward in allowing Arizona to run an effective 3-4.  He is a big monster with excellent bulk, good quickness, adequate athleticism, and natural strength to spare.  This combination would allow Williams to be a dominant run stopper while disrupting an interior blocking scheme.  This dynamic is essential in affording the linebackers the freedom to make plays.  In addition, if the Cardinals continue to rely on the 35-year old Bryan Robinson, they can expect to be gashed by running up the middle.

Williams, of course, does have his weaknesses.  It’s reported that he is inconsistent in terms of effort, doesn’t use proper leverage at times, and will not offer much as a pass rusher.  The good news, however, is that the Cardinals would not necessarily need Williams to be a pass rush threat.  Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and now Joey Porter are all excellent one-on-one pass rush threats.  Overall, Williams would be a safe pick, if available, and could anchor the nose tackle spot for years to come.

A third option is Brandon Graham of Michigan (6’2”, 268 lbs.).  Graham is also attractive to the Cardinals because he could potentially play DE or OLB.  The former Wolverine was a 2 ½ year starter, was named Second Team All-Big Ten in 2008, and First Team in 2009.  In addition, Graham led the nation in tackles for a loss in 2009.  In 47 collegiate games, Graham compiled 138 tackles, 56 tackles for a loss, and an impressive 29.5 sacks.

CBSsports.com reports that Graham is “a player that finds a way to overcome larger opponents with a relentless attack.  He uses just enough speed and surprising power that comes from his understanding of using leverage from his 6’1” frame.  Despite only average footwork, he shows enough awareness to help underneath zone coverage.  Graham became a vocal leader in 2009.”  In addition, Graham had a “great performance in Senior Bowl practices and the game, were he was named MVP after collecting five tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.”

Unfortunately, Graham strained his hamstring while running his second attempt at the 40-yard dash at the Combine.  As a result, he was credited with a 4.72 on his first attempt.  In addition, Graham put up 31 reps on the bench press.  While Graham did not participate in any other drills, he will hold an individual pro day on April 8th on the Michigan campus.

Finally, OLB Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri) and OT Vladimir Ducasse (Massachusetts) roundout the most likely round one options for the Cardinals.  Weatherspoon (6’1”, 239 lbs.) was named first-team All-Big 12 after posting 111 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception in 2009.  In addition, Weatherspoon has been described as a great instinctual player, a very good run defender with quality tackling skills, and a blitzer that can find holes and explode through them.

Ducasse (6’5”, 332 lbs.) did not play football until high school, but is reported to be a reliable pass protector and an agile run blocker that is able to fire out quickly and get up into the second level and beyond if necessary.  Scouts report, however, that he needs a considerable amount of work before he can be successful at the NFL level.  If Ducasse, however, is available in the second round, the Cardinals may want to go in that direction.  If the Cards are going to take an offensive player early in the draft, an OT is definitely the way to go.

As of now, the most likely first round pick seems to be either Sergio Kindle or Dan Williams.  Kindle is the safer bet because Williams may have to fall a few spots to be available for the Cards.  Some mock drafts, however, have TE Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma falling to the Cardinals.  Even if Gresham is available, it’s doubtful the Cardinals would take him in light of Ben Patrick’s recent re-signing; the Cardinals now have three TEs under contract and their needs are on the defensive side of the ball.

With the exception of perhaps Ducasse and Gresham, any of the other players mentioned would be fine solutions to the Cardinals’ most pressing needs.  As we all know, however, anything can happen on draft day.


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