Look for Sacks Galore from Cardinals Linebackers
Projected starters: OLB Chandler Jones, OLB Devon Kennard, ILB Jordan Hicks, ILB Isaiah Simmons
Solid backups/special teams: OLB Haason Reddick, ILB De’Vondre Campbell, ILB Dennis Gardeck, ILB Evan Weaver, ILB Ezekiel Turner
On the bubble: OLB Kylie Fitts, OLB Reggie Walker, ILB Tanner Vallejo
This group has the ability to make headlines: Chandler Jones wants the single-season sacks record. Devon Kennard is a hometown favorite. Isaiah Simmons the freak. Jordan Hicks missed no snaps. De'Vondre Campbell is an overproducer and tackling machine.
Get the picture? Linebackers coaches Bill Davis and Charlie Bullen, along with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, are licking their chops waiting to unleash this talented group on opposing offenses.
Jones had 19 sacks in 2019, second-most in the league behind Shaq Barrett’s 19.5 with Tampa Bay. He is intent on accumulating at least 20 this season and potentially breaking the league record of 22.5. Kennard had 7.0 sacks in Detroit and that was in a 4-3 defense. That duo will be flying off the edges, while Simmons could also be utilized in pass-rush situations.
Call it a takeoff on 'The Invasion of the QB Snatchers.'
Campbell is intent on keeping Simmons off the field and while he won’t be able to completely do that, there will be plenty of opportunities to make plays, especially in the run defense. He had 129 tackles and six tackles for loss with the Falcons last season.
Simmons should be fun to watch. He will be mostly learning the inside spot, but don’t think for a second that the creative coaches won’t find certain matchups he will be able to exploit. Improvements in tight end coverage should be expected as he gets more comfortable.
Oh my, it took until now to go in-depth on Hicks, who merely had 158 tackles and 11 for loss in 2019, to go with seven quarterback hits and three interceptions. Of course, he accumulated those numbers by never missing a snap the entire season. That’s a total of 1,133, but who’s counting? Heck, he even found time to play 93 special-teams snaps.
It will be curious to see what role is carved out for Reddick. He lost his starting job last season to Joe Walker, who has since departed to San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent.
Gardeck led the team with 10 special-teams tackle (nine solo) last season and Turner tied for second with seven. Weaver just might overtake everyone on those kick coverage units.
Next up: DEFENSIVE LINE