Arizona Cardinals: Dontay Moch
Backups: Marcus Benard, Dontay Moch
Under contract in 2014: Abraham, Alexander, Acho, Dontay Moch and Alex Okafor.
Cash committed in ‘13: $7.39 million
Cap committed in ‘13: $5.75 million
Recap: Any plans defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had for the Cardinals’ outside linebackers were blown up in New Orleans. Within the course of one game, Arizona lost Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and rookie Alex Okafor. The fretting over who would fill the roles of two starters and a seldom-used substitute lasted a week when John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy filled in at left and right outside linebacker, respectively, and never looked back. Abraham added to his impressive résumé with 11.5 sacks in 2013 -- all coming after Week 6. That gave him 133.5 for his career and moved him into ninth on the all-time sack list. Healthy, Shaughnessy flourished as a 3-4 linebacker with is hand in the dirt, finishing with 62 tackles and three sacks. The Cardinals got a brief spark from Moch, who was promoted to the 53-man roster after Week 3 and then played well at Tampa Bay with two tackles and a sack. But he finished the season inactive for nine of the past 10 weeks. And Benard was signed after Week 4 and played a solid role coming off the bench with 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks. With Alexander, Acho and Okafor back, Arizona’s depth is set for 2014, but it’s unlikely that Alexander regains his starting spot with the kind of season Abraham is coming off.
“I can definitely add on some things,” Moch said. “I know a couple of his little secrets, a couple little things that he do here and there. Definitely going to help the key for us.”
But what does Moch know that no one else does?
“I ain’t going to put it out there,” he said with a laugh.
From 2007 to 2010, Moch and fellow defensive lineman Kevin Basped contained the edge in Reno, not letting Kaepernick, still years away from his Super Bowl fame, break loose.
“He couldn’t get outside of us, but it’s different when you’re going against a person every day versus once a week,” Moch said. “Seeing it all the time versus playing him is two different things.”
Moch didn’t have a stat in Arizona’s first meeting against San Francisco this season, but he hopes that will change Sunday if he’s given a chance to play.
Even if he’s in street clothes watching Kaepernick from the sideline, it’s still hard for Moch to wrap his head around everything Kaepernick has accomplished.
“I definitely saw that he had great potential and he was going to be something,” Moch said. “I didn’t know he was going to be this good, leading Super Bowl teams and breaking records and stuff.
“It’s great to see an alum going after it, but also he’s in my conference, so I get to actually get a shot at him every once in a while.”
But this week was an exception. Because they played Thursday night, the Cardinals began the week with fresh legs and a rare extra practice. It gave the coaches an opportunity to evaluate their young talent while not sacrificing preparation time. With the influx of issues on offense, the Cardinals are also giving their young players on the 53-man roster and practice squad an opportunity to prove they are worthy of playing time. And with the recent rash of injuries spreading across the league, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wants to be prepared if the injury bug hits his team.
“I really liked the way some of the young players stepped up and took the opportunity to have some exposure rather than get exposed,” Arians said Monday afternoon. “It was a good practice.”
With the rare opportunity to get on the field, and with the window on the season starting to close with just nine games left, rookies and second-year players are trying harder to prove themselves. But the motivation to play well Monday didn’t begin with the goal of getting on the field. It was rooted in pride.
“I don’t want to be a waste of a draft pick,” rookie guard Earl Watford said. “I want to be valuable to this team. It’s another opportunity for me to get better, get comfortable and just work hard. I can’t think about my mistakes.”
Watford is getting more of a look than the rest of his younger teammates because he’s filling in for veteran left guard Daryn Colledge, who missed practice Monday with a lower back injury. When he’s filled in for Colledge before, Watford admitted he wasn’t ready but this time he feels he is.
“I got to take this opportunity and run with it,” Watford said. “That’s my chance. I don’t know what’s going to happen if Daryn’s going to play or not. I got to be ready. I’ve been preparing myself every week. This is a chance to actually play and I gotta, whatever happens, be ready. That’s the biggest thing.”
Arians has liked what he’s seen out of Watford thus far.
“Earl has gotten better,” Arians said. “He had a real good day today.”
In addition to Watford, Arians said he’s specifically looking at the practice squad linebacker Dontay Moch, and tight ends D.C. Jefferson and Darren Fells.
Moch, who’s in his second season, was given a chance after being promoted from the practice squad in Tampa Bay. He had two tackles and a sack but was inactive Thursday. Moch wouldn’t say why he was inactive and all Arians would say is the linebacker won’t be ready for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
But Moch is still preparing like he can win playing time.
“I’m just warming up,” Moch said. “I need to get back in the flow of things, to get back from Cincinnati to here. It’s more of getting comfortable. I showed them a burst of a few different things I can do at the same time. There’s a lot more left in my tank that I can give them.”
Jefferson feels like he’s picked up the Cardinals’ offense mentally and that he’s physically ready to play in the NFL. He’s been active for three of the seven games this season and said his goal is to get the Cardinals to trust him.
Jefferson will have to turn a lot of heads this week in order to see the field on a regular basis, but he knows what he has to prove.
“That picking me up was the best thing that could ever happen,” he said. “That I’m going to give them my best all the time and I’m going to have fun with it.”
On the Cardinals’ second play of the game, Mendenhall missed an easy swing pass from quarterback Carson Palmer in the flat. Then on the team’s next drive, he dropped a ball but was ruled down. And on the very next play, Mendenhall fumbled and Tampa Bay recovered.
“It’s unlike him. He’s not a fumbler,” Arians said. “We need to practice him a little bit harder. I think we’ve been too easy on him in practice because of his injuries and we need to hone him up more because he’s not game ready.”
Moch produces in debut: He only saw the field for 25 plays, but recently promoted Dontay Moch made the most of them. Moch had a critical sack on third-and-10 with just under 3 minutes left that forced the Bucs to punt and allowed the Cardinals to hit a game-winning field goal.
“I saw it open up, I was rushing in and I kept baiting him the whole day, just showing the speed, just showing the speed and eventually it opened for me and I just took it,” Moch said. “I tried to get the safety but [mostly wanted] just to get the defense out.”
Arians talked all week about Moch’s speed and said after the game the linebacker proved himself.
“I had him on the table for two sacks going into the game,” Arians said, “and I knew he would show up.”
Arians finds success in Tampa: At least this time, the Cardinals won in Raymond James Stadium. Arians is used to leaving Tampa Bay a victor. He’s won his past three appearances in the home of the Bucs, culminating with Sunday’s 13-10 win as coach of the Cards.
His two previous wins in Tampa came as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, once during the regular season in 2010 and another in Super Bowl XLIII in 2008 -- against the Cardinals.
“Wouldn’t have any other ending at Raymond James Stadium,” Arians said. “Kind of used to those kind [of endings]. Haven’t been on the losing end yet, for a while, at this place.”
The key: Bold -- My projected starters.
Here’s my best shot:
DE: 93 Calais Campbell, 96 Ronald Talley
DT: 90 Darnell Dockett, 98 Frostee Rucker
ILB: 52 Jasper Brinkley,
ILB: 56 Karlos Dansby,
WILL: 91 Matt Shaughnessy, 55 John Abraham
LCB: 21 Patrick Peterson, 35 Javier Arenas
RCB: 25 Jerraud Powers, 20 Antoine Cason, 31 Justin Bethel
SS: 37 Yeremiah Bell, 22 Tony Jefferson
After losing two starting outside linebackers and one backup Sunday in New Orleans, Arizona has spent the week restocking its roster, reshuffling its defensive game plan and simplifying its playbook. But an overhaul wasn’t needed.
“It’s just a matter of having the right people outside doing the right things at the right time,” Bowles said. “Some of the guys are inside guys. They can’t play outside. It’s a good mix.”
This week, Bowles will mix up the defenses more often than in the first three games, while Arizona coach Bruce Arians just hopes his playbook can accommodate the new styles at outside linebacker.
But for this week at least, Arizona won’t try to move their inside linebackers – Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley – outside. The Cards added Vic So’oto and promoted Dontay Moch and Kenny Demens from the practice squad to fill in at outside linebacker.
John Abraham entered the league as a 3-4 linebacker with the New York Jets, Bowles said, so he’s expected to see more time on the edge this game. Matt Shaughnessy has been an outside rusher before, most recently with the Oakland Raiders, so he’ll also provide some relief for Arizona.
Next week, however, may be a different story when Daryl Washington returns from a four-game suspension. He gives the Cardinals another option, with the possibility of Brinkley or Dansby moving outside.
It’s a challenge Dansby welcomes.
“The future’s bright,” Dansby joked. “I know I’m up for the challenge. I had done it before, so if that’s my role that’s what I’ll have to play. I’m able to do it. It ain’t like it’s new to me, so I’d be cool.”
But Dansby, who was wondering who’ll move over, hasn’t been asked yet.
“It’s such a different transition to play outside backer versus inside backer,” Arians said. “I like the four guys we have right now. It’s not the end of the world.”
Arians would know. Last year, as the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Arians watched two running backs go down on the same play. Not just in the same game, but on the same play. So three linebackers in one game? No problem for Arians.
But he didn’t try to rally the troops with the story of last season. No one wants to hear that, he said.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust in this league,” Arians said. “It’s going to throw you curveballs all the time. You got to be able to hit the curveball.”
Bowles hasn’t had time to pay attention to Moch’s underwhelming two-year stay in Cincinnati. He remembers Moch coming out of the University of Nevada as an undersized pass-rusher who made up for whatever he lacked with sheer speed. He ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL scouting combine and hasn’t slowed down.
“He’s fast. He came in fast,” Bowles said. “I remember him coming out he had a lot of production in college and he can get on the edge. He’s a tough kid. I haven’t seen much film on him from Cincinnati. It’s been about two years. I can only go by what I’ve seen in practice.”
Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he talked to his counterpart in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis, who didn’t want to lose Moch. As has been a common refrain this week in the Tampa area, football is a business, and Moch gets it.
“It’s tough but at the same time you got to understand it and come ready and be prepared,” he said. “I got the opportunity to come home to my hometown and do something that I as blessed to do with my life and just have to go out there and prove it now.”
And proving himself, he has.
Moch’s long arms and speed were the reasons why Arians wanted him and they’ve been the reasons why he’s been able to make a mark in Arizona. He’s stayed in his playbook since moving back, with the goal to eventually not think when he’s on the field.
“Just react and play,” Moch said. “So far, so good. Just going to go out there and make no errors.
“I’ve been at the SAM and doing my typical rush things and just go to be a factor and really not think and just play.”
For a team that’s been lacking a speed rush, Moch might have found himself in the right place at the right time. The Cardinals have just five sacks this season, due largely in part to a lack of a speedy outside rush.
If Moch can use his speed to get off the edge, the inside can open up for the likes of Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.
And Arians is looking forward to seeing that happen.
“We had a lot of high grades on him,” Arians said. “I think he’s going to bring a speed asset to us, increase our team speed. I’m anxious to see him play. In practice he’s been tough to block. He’s earned this right.”
Moch has been frustrated with how the past couple of years have unfolded. But he’s turned it into motivation, working harder and longer to see the field.
He knows what his strengths are and he’s been playing to those because, above all else, they’ll help him see the field.
“I’m a predator out there,” he said. “I’m not no prey. And that’s for sure.”
If Moch can stay healthy and clean in Arizona, he could find a home in his hometown. Moch grew up in Chandler and attended Hamilton High School, so returning to the Cardinals was an easy choice when they signed him to the practice squad on Sept. 2.
“It was great,” Moch said. “Hometown, you can’t get any better than that. You kill both things with one stone -- I get to be home with family and at the same time do my job.
“Can't get no better than that.”
And that includes Arizona coach Bruce Arians with hair.
But Jones, the Arizona Cardinals'special teams coordinator, had never seen 11 substitutions on special teams in one game, the number Arizona totaled last weekend against New Orleans because of injuries. Jones' previous high was nine.
Already down one special teams starter, rookie linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring injury), Jones lost one of his special teams captains, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who ruptured his Lisfranc ligament, and another stalwart, linebacker Sam Acho, who broke his fibula. If that wasn't enough, backup rookie linebacker Alex Okafor tore his left biceps and is out for the season. He played the second-most snaps on special teams against the Saints.
“I compared it to coaching in the Canadian League or coaching in high school ball where somebody gets hurt, you gotta go,” Jones said. “Same thing in the NFL when you only have 53 men. You just got to be prepared for those scenarios. Luckily our guys have accepted that from Day 1.”
It didn't take long for their losses to impact the Cardinals.
Without Alexander and Acho, Arizona's punt-return defense suffered. It came into Sunday's game allowing 0.8 yards, in large part because of second-year gunner Justin Bethel. But without Alexander, who would command a double team, thus opening lanes for his teammates to streak down field, the Saints could focus more on Bethel and slow the downfield stampede. After their 31-7 loss to the Saints, the Cardinals are allowing eight yards per punt return, still impressive, but 10 times what they were previously giving up.
Assuming the roles vacated by Alexander, Acho and Okafor will be the Cardinals' three most recent additions: Dontay Moch, Vic So'oto and Kenny Demens.
Their first challenge will be a top-10 punt return unit and the third-best kickoff return team. Tampa Bay averages 7.8 yards per punt return and 31.3 per kickoff return. The Bucs have had three players return kicks this season and all averaging at least 25 yards per return.
Arizona, meanwhile, has allowed 17.3 per kick return.
“We [are] ready with the backups,” Jones said. “Some of those backups will be starting this week. We went out and acquired three guys that have unique skill sets so we'll utilize them the best we can.
“So, it'll be a bunch of unselfish guys who'll step up and fill in. Some guys will get a little bit more playing time at other positions, and some of these guys we just acquired will come in and put a hand in the pile.”
Alexander was the NFC's Pro Bowl special teams representative last year with the Washington Redskins and Acho was starting to hit a stride on special teams, but it's not their physical skills Amos will miss most.
It was their leadership, their dependability, their experience. Amos could look at Alexander and bounce ideas off him.
“Those guys had great presence in the room,” Jones said. “We have other guys. We're not just about one or two guys, that's not how we're built, but it was always a pleasure.”
It started Monday, when Arizona placed OLBs Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) and Sam Acho (fibula) on injured reserve, and promoted OLB Dontay Moch from the practice squad.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals signed LB Vic So'oto to the 53-man and added LB Bruce Taylor to the practice squad.
Then came Wednesday, when the Cardinals relegated LB Alex Okafor (biceps) to injured reserve and promoted LB Kenny Demens from the practice squad.
The flurry of signings came to a close Thursday morning, when Nash was re-signed to the Cardinals' practice squad. That gave Arizona eight practice squad players and 53 active-roster men.
Chances are the Cardinals aren't done wheeling and dealing just yet. This was all mostly a stopgap until Daryl Washington returns Monday, and Arizona's braintrust will determine what spots need to be filled and by whom. If Moch can hold his own against the Bucs, he could stay up. But don't expect this bunch to be the linebackers for the next 13 games.
Breaking down the linebackers:
ILB Jasper Brinkley
ILB Karlos Dansby
ILB Kenny Demens
LB Vic So'oto
OLB John Abraham
OLB Dontay Moch
OLB Matt Shaughnessy
ILB Bruce Taylor
OLB Zack Nash
OLB Kenny Rowe
OLB Sam Acho
OLB Lorenzo Alexander
OLB Alex Okafor
ILB Kevin Minter
Having to rebuild an entire position because of injuries, well, that might have been coach Bruce Arians’ "Welcome to the NFL" moment. And how he responds could spell out the rest of the season for the Arizona Cardinals.
A depth chart is built with this type of situation in mind. Both of Arizona’s starting outside linebackers, Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) and Sam Acho (fibula), left Sunday's 31-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints with season-ending injuries. It was a blow to the defense, but it’s not the end of the world. Enter the backups. Rookie Alex Okafor filled in for Acho, but saw only five plays. Which, Arians said on national radio Tuesday night, was all he needed to tear a biceps tendon.
Okafor is out for the season, too.
Enter … well, nobody.
Teams aren’t built to back up the backup. Anyone who posits otherwise simply doesn’t understand the dynamics of football. With a 53-man roster, 22 spots are slotted for starters. Give each one a backup and that’s 44 players, with nine openings left for special teams and specialists.
Losing three of a unit’s five players, no matter what team it is, can bring panic. But the Cardinals have reacted swiftly, trying to piece together a competitive outside-linebacking unit.
They filled out the roster with a couple of internal promotions, Dontay Moch and rookie Kenny Demens, from the practice squad (the latter move according to Arians) and signed Vic So'oto to the active roster. It’s a solid start to a process that may last the rest of the season. The outside linebackers could be liability until at least two of the injured players return next year.
Arians likes Moch’s speed, which can help this defense improve its pass rush. Arizona has recorded just one sack off the edge this season, by Acho, against the Saints.
The Cardinals have three primary options at this point: Stay with the new outside linebackers, revamp the entire unit -- inside and out -- when Daryl Washington returns Monday or change the defense, putting more men at the line of scrimmage and keeping the inside guys at their natural position.
If Arizona stays in a 3-4 with its current players, there’s a good chance the outside backers will be rotated throughout the season because of general manager Steve Keim's penchant to comb the waiver wire. If Moch produces, he can earn himself a consistent starting job because of how Arians operates. Arians works with who’s in front of him, and if Moch can prove he’s worthy of staying on the field, Arians will leave him there.
But if the Cardinals decide to revamp the entire unit, the new faces on the roster may be relegated to the sideline. There’d be a learning curve, however. With Washington returning, Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could play him, Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley together. Herein lies the problem. All three are inside backers -- and so is rookie Kevin Minter, who’s out with a hamstring injury and isn’t expected back for a few weeks. If one is willing to convert to outside and the Cardinals want to keep their 3-4 scheme, they could move Moch or another addition to the outside until Minter returns.
If Arizona decides to change schemes, it could keep Washington, Dansby and Brinkley as the linebackers, although two would have to learn outside-LB tendencies. Then the Cardinals could bring Abraham off the edge more often, especially against pass-happy offenses -- of which the NFC West is full. According to Pro Football Focus, Abraham led Arizona with five quarterback hurries on 29 pass rushes.
There’s a lot to be decided in the next couple weeks, although most of the major decisions that would affect the rest of the season won’t likely happen until Washington returns.
This is the equivalent of a vacation gone wrong but you can’t leave. The weather is bad. Nothing seems to go right. But the Cardinals are just trying to get through this week, miles away from home, and salvage their trip by getting back to .500.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Arizona Cardinals announced Monday afternoon that outside linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (foot) and Sam Acho (leg) were placed on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season.
Later, outside linebacker Dontay Moch was promoted from the practice squad.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Moch in the third round in 2011, but the Arizona native played in just one game last season and was inactive for all 16 games in 2011.
This leaves the Cardinals with one open spot on the 53-man roster. GM Steve Keim and vice president of player personnel Jason Licht will likley look churn over the waiver wire, don’t be surprised to hear about a few tryouts or a signing quickly.
Practice squad linebacker Kenny Rowe said Monday that he played some defensive end at the University of Oregon in a 4-3 system and could play outside linebacker if needed.