TEMPE, Ariz. — The topic of Daryl Washington was as unwelcome as it was expected.
Monday, as the Arizona Cardinals began their last week of Organized Team Activities, they did so without one of their starting linebackers, who Friday was suspended for the 2014 season due to violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.
“We obviously hope that Daryl gets his life straightened out, but he also was very unaccountable to his teammates the organization, the fans and everybody else,” coach Bruce Arians said. “From this point forward, after today, I’ve already told the players, there will be no questions answered about Daryl Washington, he’s no longer with us.
“We’ll talk about the guys who are here practicing and are getting ready to play for the Cardinals here, and that’s pretty much it.”
Arians is understandably upset, as any coach would be after losing one of his best players to something like drug abuse — especially after he was already suspended for part of the previous season for the same offense.
But what makes this difficult for the Cardinals — and such a big story, really — is that Washington was expected to help lead one of the best defenses in the NFL. Instead, the team will have to replace someone who has accumulated 261 total tackles 17 sacks, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries over the last three seasons.
A Pro Bowl selection in 2012, Washington’s production will be tough to replace, but the Cardinals will have to try.
Next man up, after all.
“We’ve got a number of guys that are capable,” Arians said. “Larry (Foote) obviously is a veteran with outstanding leadership qualities and has played really good football in the league for a long time. Very similar to picking up Karlos (Dansby) at this point in time last year, except we got Karlos even later.
“But Larry’s very capable. We’ve got a couple young guys; Kenny Demens is having a great camp and there’s a couple young guys that are playing really well out there.”
As of Monday morning, there are 13 linebackers on the team’s roster. Of those 13, just Foote and veteran Lorenzo Alexander have substantial experience playing the inside linebacker position in the NFL.
After those two, there is Kevin Minter, a second-round pick in 2013 who saw just one defensive snap, along with a host of unproven options, including the aforementioned Demens.
Needless to say, the team’s biggest question mark is now at middle linebacker.
“We’ve got guys that can do it,” Alexander said. “Obviously we drafted Kevin Minter, he’s I think taken leaps and bounds from last year. You bring in a guy like Foote, who’s been doing it for years; you’ve got myself, who’s done it a little bit in Washington.”
When asked, Arians said “it’s not imperative” that the team adds more linebackers to the roster, but said he would like to improve the team’s depth at the position. The team will keep an eye on player movement throughout the league, and as roster cuts start happening more options may present themselves.
On top of that, he does not expect the team’s defensive scheme to change much at all.
But that’s what you say in June, when there are still three months to go before the games start to count. Until then, Arians and the team can mix and match players, hoping to find something that works.
And if there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that the team has time to do that. Comparing it to losing someone like Jonathon Cooper to injury, which the team did last year in the third preseason game, the coach said it’s much easier to deal with a suspension handed down during the summer.
“Suspension, we practiced without Daryl last year and got everybody ready to go, so it’s just a matter of he’s gone for the season and you march on,” Arians said. “You’ve got plenty of practice time now.”
The shock worn off, the Cardinals that are left are now tasked with picking up the pieces, so to speak. As disappointing as it is that Washington won’t be around because, “he made a choice and we’re all living with it,” as Arians said, there is nothing left to do but move on with what they’ve got. And if the right player or players become available in the coming days, weeks and months, they’ll be options as well.
But dealing with adversity, in one form or another, is really par for the course in the NFL.
“This is nothing new,” Arians said. “Hopefully this is the biggest thing that happens to our football team this year, but there’s going to be another two or three bumps in the road, guys will be out, whatever.
“You have to march on. You cannot use it as an excuse.”