Cardinals roster questions, wild cards: Which Year 2 pass rusher takes bigger leap?

Jul 20, 2023, 7:15 PM | Updated: 7:54 pm

The Arizona Cardinals look a whole lot different than they did this time a year ago.

And with a reset in culture, coaching staff and front office comes a reset in the roster.

Each position group has undergone change this offseason, from quarterback to special teams.

There’s still plenty of time for personnel tweaks between now and training camp. But until then, let’s take a deeper dive into how the Cardinals’ roster is currently constructed.

From the trenches to the edges, it’s time to take a look at Arizona’s outside linebackers.

The Arizona Cardinals’ big roster questions: OLB

1. Can Zaven Collins produce as a pass rusher?

Zaven Collins practices

Among the biggest changes hitting Arizona’s defense is Collins’ transition from primarily MIKE backer to edge rusher.

Collins has been seen throughout offseason workouts running with the outside linebackers group in addition to getting some 1-on-1 time in with new OLBs coach Robert Rodriguez.

It’s a switch up in how Collins has operated since coming to the Valley as a 2021 first-round draft pick, though you wouldn’t tell by how the linebacker has approached the new challenge.

“It’s definitely different than preparing for last season but also the defensive philosophies have changed, the defensive schemes have changed,” Collins said during minicamp.

“I definitely want to get after the quarterback a little more than I did last year,” he added. “A lot of sacks would be nice. Sacking the Q is always a good thing on defense.”

It’s not an entirely new position for Collins, either, with the linebacker seeing 182 of his 1,076 snaps coming from the outside.

And given the room is without any concrete starters in addition to Collins being one Arizona’s best defenders, the linebacker has a real chance at earning a starting pass rusher role.

2. Who takes the bigger Year 2 jump, Cameron Thomas or Myjai Sanders?

Myjai Sanders

With Collins on the inside track to land a starting gig, that leaves just one other starting spot to fill.

Two players vying for that role are second-year pros Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders.

Despite seeing 30% or less of the available defensive snaps last season, the two linebackers still walked away with a trio of sacks and 11 combined QB hits.

Of the two, Thomas looks noticeably different, bulking up this offseason while coming into workouts much leaner than he has in past practices.

“This year with the time we had off, I took advantage of it. I got my weight up and my body fat down,” Thomas said during organized team activities in May. “I think I got faster and I think I got stronger.

“I’m really, really excited to see what I’ll be able to do this year and just key into the playbook and work with JG and the rest of the staff.”

The wild Card

BJ Ojulari at Cardinals rookie minicamp

2023 third-rounder BJ Ojulari makes this section due to the fact of how little we’ve seen from the rookie so far this offseason and the potential he has at making an impact early on.

Since Arizona took the linebacker out of LSU, defensive coordinator Nick Rallis and Gannon have done nothing but rave about Ojulari’s football character and his ability as a playmaker.

Racking up 128 tackles and 16.5 sacks across three seasons at LSU and earning the illustrious No. 18 jersey will have that effect.

But for all the talk of Ojulari’s abilities, he was largely a nonparticipant for nearly all of Arizona’s offseason work outside of rookie minicamp.

The linebacker is also the last remaining rookie from the 2023 draft class still unsigned.

Gannon said in June that the decision to limit Ojulari’s field work was due to an undisclosed injury and not his contract situation.

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