The Arizona Cardinals made significant changes during the offseason. The offense has received the bulk of attention, but the moves to the defense are just as important. One such group receiving a face-lift are the outside linebackers. Today we continue our preview of the Cardinals roster. Arizona added a familiar name, but will it make a difference? Let’s take a look at the outside linebacker position.
OLB: Chandler Jones
OLB: Terrell Suggs
Ball So Hard University
For three seasons in Tempe, Arizona (2000-2002), football fans bore witness to the most dominant defensive player to ever wear an Arizona State uniform, Terrell Suggs. Nearly 20 years later, Suggs returns home. The veteran pass rusher signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals (second year voids just days after Super Bowl). It was a surprise signing for a team that looks to be rebuilding. However, Suggs will serve as both a contributor and mentor for the Cardinals.
Suggs is entering his 17th season in the NFL. This is the first time he has played for anyone other than the Baltimore Ravens. While Suggs is near the end of his career (turns 37 in October), he remains an above average edge player. In the six seasons since turning 30 years-old, he has totaled 50 sacks. To put things in perspective, one of those seasons (2015), Suggs played in just a part of the season opener before an injury ended his year.
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Suggs has shown the ability to play at a high level consistently. It is something the Cardinals have been lacking for the last few seasons. Ideally, Suggs would be the primary starter at the beginning of the season, while working with rookie Zach Allen. It is likely that the Cardinals see Allen as someone who can play off the edge, in addition to playing the end role in the 3-4 scheme. A rookie would do well to learn from T-Sizzle.
The outside linebacker group for Arizona is a lot like the NCAA’s Atlantic Coast Conference in football: Top heavy, with major question marks everywhere else. The Cardinals have Suggs and Jones as the starters, with a group of fliers behind them. Brooks Reed is the true veteran of the group, entering his ninth season in the league. Dora, Malveaux, and Taumoepenu, each have two seasons under their belts. Reed is also the only one of the group who has started a game in the NFL.
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Arizona is taking a significant risk with their lineup at outside linebacker. Suggs turns 37 years-old in October, and there is no guarantee that his body will hold up to another full season. The Cardinals hope that Jones continues his iron-man streak for the franchise. Since arriving in a trade with the Patriots in 2016, Jones has played in every game possible. The key for the unit will be the health of the starters. If either Jones or Suggs miss anything more than a game, it could be disaster for the defense.
At the end of the day, the Cardinals have an impressive starting linebacker group. Between Jordan Hicks in the middle, and both Suggs and Jones outside, the Cardinals should see a significant uptick from a unit which struggled in 2018. However, as mentioned earlier, the quality of the players behind Suggs and Jones leave reasons for worry. Arizona needs their edge players to be stout against the run while making things difficult for opposing quarterbacks. On paper, the Cardinals have promise. Time will tell if the results can match the potential.
PS: For my Sun Devil faithful, I have a gift for you: