Notes from the Cardinals' pass-rush drills

August, 2, 2009
8/02/09
11:06
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Pass-rush drills are always a highlight at NFL training camps, not for the poor guys participating, but certainly for those watching.

One offensive lineman and one defensive lineman get into their stances across from one another. Four other offensive linemen stand in formation, awaiting their turns. The offensive line coach stands behind the defensive player so he can relay the snap count to his offensive lineman without the defensive player seeing his hand signals. The line then coach barks out signals, testing both players' discipline, before the center snaps the ball on the appropriate count.

All hell breaks loose, with pride on the line and offensive linemen at a disadvantage without the double-team blocks they use in games. The offensive linemen awaiting their turns congratulate or console their linemates, depending on the outcome. Same for the onlooking defensive linemen. Sometimes a desperate player will resort to borderline dirty tactics -- a slap to the head or a blatant hold of the facemask -- adding tension when the combatants line up against one another later in the drill. Smack talk between onlooking offensive and defensive linemen sometimes enlivens the experience.

If you are an offensive lineman at Cardinals camp, Darnell Dockett is one of the last people you want to see lining up across from you. He is 290 pounds of attitude, with ample quickness and strength to embarrass the best interior offensive linemen. Dockett did meet his match in the Saturday drills. Right guard Deuce Lutui engulfed and controlled him both times they faced one another, impressive work for Lutui.

The Cardinals' offensive linemen generally held up well. Perhaps that says something about the state of the pass rush in addition to the protection. There were exceptions. Nose tackle Gabe Watson repeatedly steamrolled Ben Claxton with such force that I felt bad for the backup center, particularly with so many fans watching. This was a matchup he could not win.

"You gonna take that?" one fan yelled after a particularly lopsided encounter between the two. Part of me wanted offensive line coach Russ Grimm to drag the heckler from the stands by his collar and force him to line up against the 6-foot-4, 329-pound Watson. "You try it, sir."

A few other notes and observations from the Cardinals' pass-rush drills Saturday:

Tackle Elliot Vallejo had some problems stopping inside rush moves. Kenny Iwebema and Rodney Leisle beat him to the inside. Iwebema also beat Brandon Keith to the inside.

Rookie pass-rusher Cody Brown beat starting left tackle Mike Gandy to the inside, an encouraging sign for the Cardinals. Gandy generally holds up well in these drills. The Cardinals need Brown to help their pass rush.

Nose tackle Alan Branch looked impressive working against backup center Donovan Raiola. Backup centers often have a tough time in these drills. They're often smaller and rely more on finesse, a bad combination when isolated against massive interior rushers for extended periods without help.

The Cardinals would love to see 6-foot-7, 382-pound rookie Herman Johnson develop into a starting-caliber tackle over the next couple of seasons. Johnson's initial punch appeared strong, but pass-rushers sometimes used their speed effectively to beat him around the outside. Johnson would then retreat and try to force them wide, hopefully allowing the quarterback to step up.

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