Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Cardinals' youth movement is old news
By Mike Sando
If the headline above this item sounds confusing, that was the point.
The Arizona Cardinals are at once a young, emerging team and an old, declining one.
As discussed earlier Wednesday in the Arizona section of this item, the Cardinals have the 15th-oldest players on offense and the second-oldest players on defense. No team in the NFL has older defensive backups in terms of average age. But that is only part of the story.
The Cardinals' five youngest players are starting. Their eight youngest players all own at least two starts this season. Their ninth-, 10th- and 11th-youngest players -- David Carter, LaRod Stephens-Howling and O'Brien Schofield -- are getting significant playing time and making positive contributions.
By my calculations, the Cardinals would go from third-oldest to roughly 15th-oldest in average age (not counting specialists) simply by replacing Vonnie Holliday, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Paris Lenon with players averaging 25 years old.
Haggans and Lenon remain productive players, but the team hopes to replace them with younger players. Schofield could realistically step in for Haggans next season. Free-agent addition Stewart Bradley, 28, will presumably play more next season as well.
Porter appears on his way out now that rookie Sam Acho is starting and producing (two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery against St. Louis). Acho has started the last five games. He has four sacks in those five starts, plus a fifth sack one game before he replaced Porter in the lineup. The 2011 fourth-round draft choice looks like a keeper.
The Cardinals will also get younger next season by welcoming back Ryan Williams from injured reserve. The team signed 32-year-old Chester Taylor as an emergency replacement when Williams, still not yet 22, landed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Nose tackle Dan Williams, 24, went on injured reserve more recently. His return will also make the Cardinals younger on average.
The goal should be to get better, not just younger. But if you're going to suffer through losing seasons, it's best to develop young talent along the way. The Cardinals are doing that. They could still stand to add young players throughout their roster.
For example, Arizona's backup offensive linemen are 28, 29 and 31 years old when 27-year-old Brandon Keith is healthy enough to start at right tackle. That gives the Cardinals the oldest backup offensive linemen in the league, by my calculations.
Plugging in an experienced player can be more comforting than turning to a raw rookie, but teams hire coaches to develop talent, not just manage it. Drafting for the offensive line (there's a thought) and defense would go a long way toward changing the overall makeup of the Cardinals' roster.