The lofty goals of the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive line may not align well with their situation.
The team lost nose tackle Dan Williams in free agency, and his expected replacement, Corey Peters, will miss the season after he tore his Achilles last week. That should put a damper on any high expectations, but the unit’s two veteran leaders hardly seem worried.
Defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker are expecting more from their unit than last year.
The positive outlooks likely start with their empirical observation of training camp to this point.
“I see a lot of guys flying around and executing,” Rucker said on Arizona Sports 98.7’s Bickley and Marotta show Thursday. “We’ve spent a lot of time educating guys — not that we didn’t before — honing in on technical things. You know, when we were No. 1 in rush defense last year and we fell apart: What little things we did not do to keep that ranking?”
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians hasn’t been shy using the media to motivate his veterans, especially Campbell.
And maybe it’s working. Rucker said his teammate looks like a different man this year.
“Calais is really stepped up to bat,” Rucker said. “He’s really earning that C that’s on his jersey.”
Campbell, an eight-year veteran, is now feeling like the old man. He said on the Burns and Gambo show that he’s focused on staying in his own lane, not trying to make the home run play on every down. He wants to be consistent and put his teammates in better positions by understanding that he doesn’t need to make the big play.
“This year, the only goals I set are team goals,” Campbell said, being clear not to diminish what he thinks of his individual potential in 2015. “I’ve missed sacks that would’ve gotten me to 15 (for a season). For me, if we win a Super Bowl, I don’t care how many sacks I get.”
Campbell and Rucker are the rocks, but in the middle at nose tackle lies the biggest question mark. Rookie Rodney Gunter has impressed Arians enough that the head coach put his name on the first-team depth chart.
Gunter opened Campbell’s eyes during practice on Wednesday.
“He has a burst,” Campbell said. “I’m getting ready to make a play, I’m getting off a block, I see this lighting pass by me and he’s making a play in the backfield. Watch it on film, I thought he was unblocked the way he came through, but no.”
Alameda Ta’amu, Cory Redding, Josh Mauro and Matt Shaughnessy have provided depth this preseason, as have youngsters Josh Mauro and Xavier Williams.
If you believe the Cardinals, there’s a lot of promise for improvement along the defensive line despite the questions at nose tackle — or the assumption that veterans like Campbell and Rucker can’t improve upon a year ago.
“The energy’s here,” Rucker said. “The will, the want-to is here. We didn’t accomplish anything (last year). It didn’t amount to anything. It left a nasty taste in our mouth.”
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