My main reservation for the Arizona Cardinals heading into the 2013 NFL season, oddly enough, was that this defense could devolve quickly. Feels weird saying this after Arizona turned in one of the league’s worst offensive performance last year.
Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes had provided one of the better safety tandems in recent years but saw their play drop off in 2012 and eventually were allowed to walk in free agency. Defensive end Darnell Dockett similarly saw his play drop from an extremely high level to a shockingly low one, and leaves a question mark on the defensive line. Then there’s the four-game suspension to Daryl Washington, who was playing a Defensive Player of the Year level through the first quarter of 2012 season.
However, one versatile player that’s quickly making me reconsider devaluing this defense is rookie Tyrann Mathieu, who apparently is even outshining Washington in Cardinals training camp.
“Daryl has been playing lights out,” Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians said, via the team website. “He’s probably the second-most dynamic player in practice to Tyrann as far as interceptions and getting balls out. His rare athleticism and speed sets him apart. He’s been practicing hard, got a smile on his face and is doing everything asked of him. He knows where he stands.”
If Washington can successfully reduce get his suspension reduced to two games, then Arizona could have four blue-chip defensive players on the field come Week 3: DE Calais Campbell, Washington, Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. Hard to bet against a defense that can boast this many difference-makers.
We’ll get more of an idea if Mathieu is indeed a blue-chip draft steal as reports from the team website suggest he could play much earlier in Week 2 of the preseason, with strong safety Rashad Johnson recovering from a mild knee sprain.
“It just gives me an opportunity to go help my team,” Mathieu said. “Of course I wish Rashad a speedy recovery because he was one of those guys who showed me the ropes from a safety standpoint. But it gives me the opportunity to go out there and be there for my teammates.”