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A Way To Replace Calais

Posted Jun 2, 2017

Cardinals won't look to any one player to fill in for departed Pro Bowler

The Cardinals' defensive linemen listen to D-line coach Brentson Buckner during an OTA this week.

His locker stall went to defensive tackle Olsen Pierre. His jersey number 93 is being worn by linebacker Jarvis Jones.

But the biggest question around who replaces Calais Campbell for the Cardinals comes on the field in September.

The plan is simple: No one.

“We don’t even talk about replacing because you can’t replace him,” defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said. “What Calais did Calais was built to do, he was destined to do, and it paid off for him. He did great things.

“We just talk about being the best player you can be for our defense. I don’t go in and say, ‘Frostee, you have to do this,’ or ‘Robert, do this’ and ‘Rodney, you do this’ and we’re going to equal Calais. That doesn’t work.”

That Campbell left the Cardinals this offseason after nine seasons and a pair of Pro Bowls didn’t come as a surprise. It became clear as the Cards reached the season he was going to be allowed to test the free-agent market, and the four-year deal worth some $30 million in guaranteed money with Jacksonville was more than the Cards were willing to give.

The Cardinals had prepared. The team carried a surprising 10 defensive linemen all season, including Pierre – a player who was inactive all 16 games. That was in part about a future without Campbell. They drafted Robert Nkemdiche in the first round, much like they drafted Campbell in 2008 as Antonio Smith was going into his contract year.

But drawing a straight line to Campbell’s vacancy and any one player -- Nkemdiche will have the spotlight on him, but it would have been there regardless given his pedigree – doesn’t work among the men left behind.

“Before Calais was here, there was someone else,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. “And they didn’t ask Calais to replace him, they just progressed Calais until he became the man. That’s what we’ve got now. We’ve got a first-round pick, we’ve got draft picks who are itching to get more playing time and more experience. Before me, there was (Darnell) Dockett and Calais and they weren’t coming off the field much. Dockett got hurt and that’s when I got my opportunity to play and they didn’t ask me to replace ‘90,’ they just wanted me to be me.

“You can’t ask them to be Calais. You ask them to be themselves. That was good enough to get them here.”

Corey Peters became an underrated factor on the line last year. Buckner has long loved Josh Mauro, whom the Cards believe is developing into a three-down player. Nkemdiche has a chance to work as a starter this season, and Rodney Gunter will have more opportunity after a quiet sophomore campaign.

Others should factor in – Pierre, Ed Stinson, Xavier Williams – and the Cards had already used rotations even when Campbell was around. The percentage figures to increase now, with a group that is close already because they have been together for a while.

“We’re definitely going to have to do it by committee,” Peters said. “We’ll do a lot of rotating. We just need to maximize potential and we’ll be fine. I really do believe that.”

Keeping so many linemen last year wasn’t simple. As Buckner noted, the extra players in his room not only have to play well, they have to show they are better than say, a wide receiver running a route or a defensive back in coverage. It had to make sense to keep them.

The Cardinals did that, hoping that breeds an overall solution that will help in Campbell’s absence.

“Every year, you don’t want to be changing tires,” Buckner said. “You want guys to have some chemistry. You want them to have a true brotherhood.”

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