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Secondary Success

Posted Feb 18, 2011

New coaches put defensive backs in the spotlight

Cornerbacks Greg Toler (left) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be crucial projects for the Cardinals' new defensive coaches.


Kerry Rhodes chuckled.

Not only had the Cardinals hired two new defensive backs coaches for 2011, but the new defensive coordinator was fresh from a long stint playing the position. And both DC Ray Horton and assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend each played for a decade in the NFL.

“I think it helps, but it puts added pressure on the secondary to perform,” the safety said with a smile. “When you have a (coordinator) who is a secondary guy, he’s going be dabbling here and there, but you know (Horton) will be in the secondary. Whenever he is a position guy first, he’s going to go to where he knows.

“There are a lot of DB guys in there.”

Horton will be revamping the defense as a whole, but with the arrival of him, defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi and Townsend, some of the immediate focus will be on a secondary that has star power but did not achieve expected results in 2010.

Horton has already promised an aggressive defense and Cioffi – who coached for five seasons with Horton in Cincinnati – said it will be one the defensive backs will enjoy playing.

Cioffi – the only one of the three who wasn’t a player -- was also confident the new coaches will make an impact on the defensive backs.

“We have a good mix,” Cioffi said. “I believe this: It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, as long as you can help a player get better and perform at a high level, that’s what they are most interested in. that’s my job. If I can accomplish that, they’ll love me and (not playing) won’t be an issue.”

Cioffi and Townsend have had limited time to get to know their roster right now in any kind of meaningful way. Townsend was playing for the Steelers two years ago when the Cardinals faced Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. The Bengals haven’t played the Cards since 2007, meaning safety Adrian Wilson was the lone current starter on the Cardinals at that time -- and he missed that game with an injury.

Most players aren’t around right now, although Rhodes, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Wilson all had a chance to talk briefly to Cioffi face-to-face earlier this week.

“They seemed pretty cool, they seemed like they know what they’re talking about, and they have a whole new style for us next season,” Rodgers-Cromartie said, nodding his head at the challenge of a third defensive backs coach in three seasons.

“I kind of roll with it,” Rodgers-Cromartie added. “It’s just more knowledge for me. The more I can pick the brains of everybody else the better, especially coming from the systems they came from.”

Horton and Cioffi believe, after the ways the Steelers used Troy Polamalu’s talents to maximum use in Pittsburgh, they can do the same for Wilson – who acknowledged 2010 wasn’t his best season.

Rodgers-Cromartie has said the same things about his 2010 season, and clearly, the Cardinals need upgraded play from both him and fellow cornerback Greg Toler. Both have potential and physical gifts, Townsend said, that can be built upon.

“It’s our job to put them in situations where they can start to understand the game,” said Townsend, a long-time cornerback who was still playing as recently as November for the Colts. “That’s the challenge to get to the next level. How can we make them understand the game of football?

“A lot of (the game) is physical, you have to be able to run and cover. But it’s the mental part that gets you to the next level. It allowed me to play 13 years.”

Cioffi and Townsend aren’t sure how quickly that can begin, given the current labor uncertainty. They know the direction it will go when the players and coaches finally get together for significant time.

“You have to be lights out, because if you make a mistake on the back end, it generally leads to a big play and usually a score,” Cioffi said. “That’s what everyone sees. But we are big believers in proper techniques and alignments. When you do things that way, you tend to give up fewer of those plays.”
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