Cardinals pre-camp preview: OLBs Jones, Suggs expected to attack
The Arizona Cardinals report to duty on July 24 and open 2019 training camp with their first practice the following day. To preview the storylines heading into head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first year on the job, let’s take a look at the roster by position groups.
For the third installment, we enter into outside linebacker territory, where returning star Chandler Jones moves back to a more familiar role and future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs joins his hometown team.
Chandler Jones, Terrell Suggs
Brooks Reed, Cameron Malveaux, Vontarrius Dora, Pita Taumoepenu
Personnel changes throughout the Cardinals’ 2018 regular season signaled problems regarding the roster talent. What didn’t change were the packages that former head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb deployed.
Arizona led the NFL in the percentage of snaps taken out of nickel packages, where now-free safety Budda Baker lined up in the slot. The Cardinals were in a 4-3 base defense just 10% of the time and lined up with five defensive backs 85% of the time, according to Football Outsiders.
Those rates are expected to flip upside down under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Last year, his Denver Broncos led the NFL with a base 3-4 defense playing 45% of their snaps. Joseph went nickel 27% of the time and dime (six defensive backs) 28% of the time (Wilks went dime just 5% of Arizona’s snaps in 2018).
That means the Cardinals in 2019 expect a whole lot of pass-rush attacking from a duo of outside linebackers — Jones and Suggs should see the field with one another quite a lot.
There’s not much to say about Jones other than to complain about his Madden 20 rating (82), which was worse than Suggs’ (83) despite piling up 41 sacks, 56 tackles for loss and 72 quarterback hits in three years with Arizona. Jones goes from defensive end back to the outside linebacker spot that he played in 2016-17 under former defensive coordinator James Bettcher, allowing him to stand up now and again rather than playing with his hand in the dirt.
There’s no doubt the humble-as-ever Jones has motivation as always, and there is no reason the 29-year-old shouldn’t record a double-digit-sack season again.
“Year in and year out, I feel like I approach it with that same exact thing,” Jones told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station in June. “My first year here, I was trying to impress Bruce Arians. My third year here, I was trying to impress Coach Wilks, and now I have a new coach. … I know what it feels like to get traded. I know what it feels like to get kicked off of a team. Not that I wasn’t good enough, but I know what it feels like for a coach to say, ‘Hey, you’re not on our roster.’ … I don’t ever want to feel that rejection ever again.”
Jones and Suggs might argue about which one of them will be more helpful to the other.
Jones has done it and is doing it now. Suggs has the clout.
The 36-year-old could realistically climb from a 13th-place tie on the NFL’s all-time sacks leaderboard to sixth with 9.0 sacks in 2019. He played 72% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season and recorded 34 tackles with 7.0 sacks in 16 games played.
Will durability be an issue in his 17th NFL season? And will the Hamilton High School and Arizona State product still be able to compete if teams continually attack him with screen passes or rushes to his side to take away the pass-rush? Suggs was asked multiple times at his introduction in March just what he’s expecting to do on the field in 2019.
“I guess we’ll see,” he said.
Under the radar
— Veteran Brooks Reed, 32, joins Suggs as an Arizona-bred addition to the outside linebacker group. The Sabino High School grad has been a dependable reserve over the past three years with the Atlanta Falcons (29 starts in 47 games played). He has experience with Joseph as a member of the Houston Texans in 2011-13 — Joseph was defensive backs coach — and appears as the favorite to be the third OLB.
— Last year’s preseason star, Vontarrius Dora, is still on the Cardinals’ roster. Can the uber-athletic pass-rusher show improvement and a more well-rounded game in a 3-4 defense? He, Malveaux and Taumoepenu, a waiver-wire pickup formerly of the 49ers, will compete to make the roster.
He said it
“Even before T-Sizzle was even on the team, he’s close to my brother Arthur, they played on the Ravens together,” Jones told Doug & Wolf. “I actually got his phone number from Arthur. Art’s like, ‘Stop being a fan, stop being a groupie.’ But I wanted (Suggs’) number because I wanted to know, how did he rush the passer so well for so long?
“So I’ve been picking his brain before he even got on the team. So now that he’s on the team, oh yeah. His locker’s right next to mine. So every second I get, every chance I get, I am picking his brain. And he’s been doing it for a while.”