Head coach Steve Wilks is a week away from his first training camp with the Arizona Cardinals. Last time we took a look at the offensive players to keep an eye on during training camp. This week the focus shifts on to the defense. It was the best unit in 2017 and is the strongest heading into 2018, even with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. The list of three may feature a surprise to some, but their success will be a catalyst for how well the unit will play during the season.
Baker is looking to build on an impressive rookie season. He started the season primarily on special teams duty but soon found himself getting regular snaps on defense. His play steadily improved throughout the season, and many feel his growth was a major factor in the team letting Tyrann Mathieu go in free agency. Baker will need to continue to improve as his role in 2018 will greatly increase. Training camp will give the first signs of whether the second year safety is ready for the challenge.
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Golden flashed amazing potential in 2016. He led the team in sacks and was a force coming off the edge. In 2017 he struggled early to get a sack, but continued to get consistent pressure. That was until he suffered a season ending injury against the 49ers in early October. Golden registered 12.5 sacks in 2016. Removing the 2017 season, he totaled 16.5 sacks in two seasons. If healthy, Golden will greatly benefit from playing opposite 2017 sack leader, Chandler Jones. Training camp will be the first test for both Golden and the pass rush. Getting the team’s 2016 sack leader back healthy will mean problems for opposing offenses.
The free agent addition is the latest in the line of cornerbacks playing opposite Patrick Peterson. Benwikere spent 2017 with the Dallas Cowboys, playing in 12 games, starting none of them. Benwikere may not be the starting cornerback to begin the season but he is perhaps the most experienced of the bunch vying for the second cornerback position. In his four seasons, he has played in 39 games, starting 14 of them. Playing across from Patrick Peterson means you will be targeted throughout the season, early and often. Peterson is one of the top cornerbacks in the league and is rarely tested. The job Benwikere is trying to fill has been a revolving door for the Cardinals. If the young corner can fill that spot, Arizona and the defense will be tough to beat in 2018.
At the end of the day, training camp will give the defense the time to learn and implement the new schemes. Wilks utilized the blitz often as the Panthers defensive coordinator in 2017. That aggressiveness is something the Cardinals defense is familiar with. The defense is the leading edge for Arizona, if the playoffs are the goal, the team will need their defense to make plays and take over games. Training camp will tell what is in store on the defensive end.