NFC West: Zack Nash

Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield might still be healthy and playing for the Arizona Cardinals if his Week 9 opponent hadn't suffered a hip injury Sunday.

The man assigned to block Schofield, Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga, was out of the game when Schofield rushed upfield on a second-and-6 play early in the third quarter.

Schofield had beaten Bulaga's replacement up the field on the play that would end Schofield's season. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, working against a replacement guard after Green Bay moved its regular one to tackle in response to Bulaga's injury, also got good push on the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sensed their pressure and broke from the pocket to his right. The chase was on.

Dockett launched his 290-pound body into the air and was horizontal to the ground as Schofield turned back to the quarterback and accelerated right into Dockett's path. The athletic Rodgers pulled into the clear as Dockett's body, now spinning like a helicopter blade, chopped down Schofield from behind in the lower left leg.

The force of the impact dropped Schofield to the ground instantly, contorting his body. Dockett's weight briefly pinned Schofield's leg to the ground as both players slid across the grass. It was clear right away Schofield would not be OK.

The Cardinals did not reveal specifics on Schofield's injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters the injury would be season-ending, however.

The Cardinals were betting on Schofield and another young outside linebacker, Sam Acho, heading into this season.

They released veteran Clark Haggans and did not address the position in the 2012 NFL draft. Arizona was the only NFL team to emerge from the 2012 draft without selecting a player for its defensive front seven.

So, when Schofield suffered his ankle injury at Lambeau Field, the Cardinals didn't have a rising prospect to plug into the role. They had Quentin Groves, a former starter and backup in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves, who has 22 NFL starts and 4.5 career sacks, has played roughly one-fifth of the Cardinals' defensive snaps this season. He projects as the starter with Schofield no longer available.

Jamaal Westerman and Zack Nash are the other backup outside linebackers.

Arizona signed Groves in May to a one-year deal worth $700,000. The Cardinals claimed Westerman off waivers from Miami. Nash is an undrafted rookie free agent. Tim Fugger, a seventh-round pick of Indianapolis this year, is an outside linebacker on the practice squad.

Schofield had four sacks in nine starts while playing better than 80 percent of the defensive snaps. He lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft because he faced an arduous rehabilitation from knee surgery. Knee trouble had occasionally limited him this season.
A few thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals announced Clark Haggans' re-signing Tuesday:
  • Haggans
    Haggans started all 16 games last season and played 75 percent of the defensive snaps for Arizona. He remains valuable as the Cardinals develop younger options at outside linebacker. If all goes to plan, O'Brien Schofield will grow into the starting role. Schofield had 4.5 sacks last season, 1.5 more than Haggans.
  • Haggans was 30 years old and his sack numbers were declining when Arizona signed him in free agency from Pittsburgh before the 2007 season. The fact that Haggans remains viable five years later is a tribute to him. It also reflects the Cardinals' protracted search for anyone as good, let alone better. Missing on 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown remains costly.
  • Haggans displaces inside linebacker Paris Lenon, 34, as the oldest defensive player on the team. Haggans is the oldest defensive player in the division. That will change if/when the Cardinals re-sign defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, 36. Haggans' three sacks last season were a career low as a starter, but as Lenon has proved, some players can remain productive into their mid-30s.
  • The Cardinals signed Quentin Groves from Oakland recently, raising some questions about Haggans' status. Groves, 27, was a second-round pick for Jacksonville in 2008. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has said he thinks Groves has the physical qualities needed to play outside linebacker in Arizona's 3-4 scheme. Groves has no sacks in 22 starts over the past three seasons, however.
  • Arizona released undrafted rookie free agent Broderick Binns to make room for Haggans on the roster. Schofield, Sam Acho, Haggans, Groves, Brandon Williams, Zack Nash and Antonio Coleman are the outside linebackers on the Cardinals' roster at this point. Acho started 10 games and had seven sacks last season.

OK, that's five. It's fortunate, in retrospect, that I didn't promise 10 thoughts. Unless you've got five more.

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