Nick Eason wasn’t signed as a coach, and it certainly isn’t part of his official job description.
But the veteran defensive lineman has played that role all season for the Cards, in part teaching surprising rookie David Carter.
“You always want to feel like you are helping the team in some form or fashion,” Eason said.
The benefit to the Cardinals is crucial now. Starting nose tackle Dan Williams was lost for the season last weekend when he broke his left arm in San Francisco, meaning it will be up to Eason and Carter to fill the job of fulcrum for the Cards’ run defense.
Carter has been Williams’ backup all season, splitting time with the former first-rounder. Eason, however, has been elevated to the top of the official depth chart. That is the most "stable" choice, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, and one of the reasons Eason was signed.
“He’s a great mentor,” Carter said. “Nick knows the defense, he knows the technique and he is a great leader. He’s been in the league for nine years, so he’s doing something right.”
The Cards, even with all the ups and downs of Williams fighting his weight, will miss their starter. Defensive lineman
Considering Carter was pushing Williams for his job in training camp after Williams showed up out of shape, it was a step forward. Whisenhunt said he had a talk with Williams already, telling him he needed to keep his body in check even though he was done for the season. Williams’ work in rehab and this offseason will be important for him heading into 2012.
In the meantime, Carter will make another run at the starting job. Whisenhunt said the Cards did draft him as a nose tackle, even though he doesn’t have the bulk of a Williams. As a sixth-round selection, no one really expected much of an impact this season – except Carter himself.
“I’m not worried about it,” Carter said. “I’ve been doing it all season.
“I’m not surprised. I work hard and I have been blessed to have been made strong enough and big enough to play the position as a rookie and play in effectively.”
Part of that is because of Eason. As the Cardinals brought in Ray Horton to be their defensive coordinator and run a scheme similar to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, finding a player or two already familiar with the concepts couldn’t hurt.
The Cardinals needed defensive line depth, after Bryan Robinson, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson all moved on from the 2010 team. Eason – whom the Cards considered signing a couple of years ago – was a free agent again, and having played a few years in Pittsburgh, was the perfect fit.
Eason understood the adjustments and communications, Whisenhunt said. “He gives you a voice you can count on,” the coach added.
Eason’s personality is a perfect fit in the locker room. And even though he has been locked into playing mostly special teams this season, with only a handful of defensive snaps a game, he is prepared for his new role.
“Granted, I am not playing as much as I have in the past,” Eason said. “But I come prepared, because it takes one play and you’re that guy. You can go from having seven snaps to 50 snaps and it’s just a matter of time. That’s about being a professional, being prepared for that to be Week 10 or Week 3 or Week 14.”