Cardinals' hidden treasure: Defensive backs

June, 27, 2012
6/27/12
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Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Arizona Cardinals might wind up releasing a player they now or recently considered as a starting cornerback. They also have reason to expect more from safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson as both players operate nearer to full health.

Those and other factors made the Cardinals' defensive backfield a worthy choice for this exercise, particularly after cornerback Richard Marshall's departure in free agency raised concerns about the secondary's strength early in the offseason.

Third-round choice Jamell Fleming was arguably the Cardinals' most impressive rookie during organized team activities and minicamps. The non-contact sessions offered only limited glimpses of what players have to offer, but Fleming's quickness stood out to the coaching staff. The Cardinals want to see how he operates as the nickel. William Gay was a veteran addition in free agency.

Patrick Peterson is locked in as the starter on the left side and should be primed to take a big step forward after finishing strong as a rookie first-round choice in 2011. Former starters A.J. Jefferson and Greg Toler join Gay as candidates to start on the opposite side. Fleming is in the mix. Michael Adams, who played a third of the defensive snaps last season, offers veteran depth (he is 27).

The backup safeties, Rashad Johnson and free-agent addition James Sanders, each played 450-plus snaps on defense last season.

Tight end was another position I considered here. Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler and Jim Dray give the Cardinals variety, depth and upside.

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