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LB may be key position on Cardinals defense

July 18, 2012: Q&A with linebackers coach Matt Raich

The Cardinals hold their first practice of training camp in Flagstaff one week from today.

And today, we conclude a two-day look at two of the team’s main positions—other than the obvious position of quarterback, heading into the 2012 season.

Here now is a Q&A with linebackers coach Matt Raich, entering his 6th season on staff:

What is it about Paris Lenon that’s allowed him to stay in the league for so long despite—it seems, every year a player is brought in to compete to take his job?

“All the places he’s been—he’s been at Detroit, he’s been at Green Bay, he’s been at the Rams and then now he’s here. I think when he first came into the league he wasn’t a draft pick. What happens is you get free agents that come in and you always want to give them (and draft picks) more plays. Well, he started beating out everyone. He’s been bounced around. He was out of football for a year (in 2000) and back in.
“He’s a smart guy and he’s a tough, tough guy and he stays healthy. Since he’s been here for two years he’s played every game even though he got hurt a few times. The one time the trainer said, ‘Ah, he’s going to probably be out two weeks’ and by Thursday he was out practicing. He takes care of his body. He’s the leader of our team right now.”

Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield came on strong at the end of last season. Both lined up as starters during the mini-camp and OTAs. Is that how you see them this season?

“We’re basing everything on last year. Obviously, we have to come into camp and they have to perform like they did last year to get to that point but last year when Joey Porter’s knee kept bothering him and we were starting to slowly get him out of the game because he couldn’t play at the level we were asking him to do then they were the next in line.
“Sam. He was great for day one. He stepped in and he just kept getting better and better and better. And then O’Brien was really like a rookie. He had his knee injury coming in January before the draft and then he had his shoulder injuries, so he’s been injured and then we didn’t have the offseason so at the end of the day he was a rookie coming in last year. As he got the reps and he started to figure out what he needed to do, his reps actually increased.”

Now with a year under everyone’s belt, is the defense reacting rather than thinking?

“We definitely are. That’s why I think our defense is so confident right now. We didn’t have that offseason and some people don’t understand—sometimes it’s not that big of a deal. If we’re in Indianapolis and Peyton Manning doesn’t have an offseason, it doesn’t matter. They’ve been running those same plays for years and years. But here we get a brand new coordinator and we change most of the terminology and we change a lot of the coverage in what you do on certain coverages so we couldn’t actually give that to the guys until the end of July. I think when we first started we had the most free agents come in and they weren’t allowed to practice until August 5th. So, all of the new guys didn’t get their chance until a week-and-a-half after. And most guys are rep guys. They learn more when they get practice on the field. They don’t learn as much as when they’re in the classroom. Some guys do, some guys don’t. But most guys–they get better as they’re doing reps and we didn’t get a lot of reps last year and I think it showed early. We had some mental errors and we had some young guys that they didn’t gel yet but once we started winning I think it came easier and they got a little more confident and if you’re playing with confidence and you’re good you’re not going to get beat.”

Former ASU and Hamilton High standout Colin Parker. What are you early impressions of him?

“I tell you what I’m real impressed with Colin. He came in here as an undrafted free agent. He came in here and he’s a smart guy. He doesn’t need a lot of reps on the field. He didn’t know anything of our defense and (during the rookie mini camp) I think he had three errors for the first five practices, which is excellent especially since there were no veterans lining them up right. It was all rookie camp.
“He’s playing our weak side, stack linebacker. We call it the ‘MAC’ linebacker and he’s getting a really good feel.
He looks great in shorts. I just hope in the fall when he puts the pads on he’s going to tackle and he’ll be able to keep up with the speed because the practice sometimes you don’t get that game speed. I’m real excited. I’m glad he’s here. He will compete to be here.”