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Time To Find Out

Posted May 29, 2012

Behind Acho and Schofield, Cards look for outside linebacker depth

New Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves (54) talks with Paris Lenon during Tuesday's OTA.

Sam Acho was a revelation. O’Brien Schofield will get his chance to start, his potential still encouraging.

As the Cardinals transform their outside linebacker crew to a much different group, however, coach Ken Whisenhunt summed up his situation plainly: “We’ve got some young guys we have to find out about.”

Joey Porter is long gone. The door isn’t closed on Clark Haggans to return as a reserve, but he’s not on the roster either. The Cards had spent at least one draft pick every year since 2008 on an outside linebacker prospect, but that streak ended in April. While the focus will be on Acho and Schofield heading into training camp, it is the depth behind them that may make an even more intriguing story.

The Cards signed veteran free agent Quentin Groves last week, a 2008 second-round pick of Jacksonville who managed just 2½ sacks as a rookie and hasn’t been able to notch one since with either the Jaguars or the Raiders, with whom he played the last two seasons.

Brandon Williams is another candidate, signed to the practice squad in late November last season after a couple of seasons with the Cowboys. Antonio Coleman played a handful of games with the Bills the past two seasons, plus there are undrafted rookies Zack Nash and Broderick Binns.

The expectation is that Stewart Bradley, originally signed as an inside linebacker, will also get some work on the outside in some packages. The scheme of defensive coordinator Ray Horton can also go in different directions with defensive backs. But eventually, the Cards will have to sort out who works best behind the starters.

“You always have to show coaches what you can do, even as a vet, because they still have to have faith to put you out there,” Williams said.

Groves knows he hasn’t performed as planned, and that includes his own plans. Not surprisingly, he is hoping that will change in Arizona.

“Anytime you are a high draft pick, you expect things to go smoothly,” Groves said after his first workout with the team Tuesday. “You expect to make an impact, you expect to get a lot of sacks. Sometimes God has a different plan. Sometimes that is staying with one team, sometimes that’s going to a lot of places to see where He wants you.”

The outside linebacker role is one that gets the “you can never have enough of them” designation, especially while waiting for one to develop. Acho, who had seven sacks as a rookie, looks like he can indeed be one of those guys. Schofield is confident he can be too, saying how much he wants to be a playmaker and “a problem for the other team when I am on the field.”

Whisenhunt said Groves has the tools for the role – speed, a big frame. Whisenhunt also believes Groves fits well in the Cards’ defensive scheme. He wanted to get Williams some playing time in the final two games of the year after he was promoted to the active roster, but it just didn’t make sense on game days and Williams was left sidelined.

Like Groves, Williams seems to fit the part, Whisenhunt said, “but until you’ve done it in the scope of the defense …”

Those answers won’t come until training camp. Without answers, the questions remain.

“It’s good to be flying up under the radar,” Groves said. “We can be a young, fast corps that can turn some heads.”


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