The secondary has long been one of the Cardinals’ strongest position groups, so it’s no coincidence new defensive backs coach David Merritt, Sr. was a popular man when the media chatted with the defensive assistants on Wednesday.
While Merritt is still evaluating the players on the roster, he did give insight into some of his thinking on a variety of subjects.
The role of cornerback Patrick Peterson has been a hot topic this offseason, as he would like to find a way to become more involved in the action defensively. Merritt said the plan will be to convene with coach Steve Wilks, defensive coordinator Al Holcomb and assistant defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison each week and determine the optimal way to employ Peterson.
“We’ll start to formulate a plan, as far as, ‘Is the best thing this week to have Patrick shadow their top receiver?’” Merritt said. “Week to week, game plan by game plan is what we’re going to try to do with him.”
Merritt said using Peterson the same way the Cardinals have in the past is definitely on the table.
“You stop and think about it,” Merritt said. “Seven years I think he’s played, and he’s made the Pro Bowl all seven years, so obviously what they’ve been doing with him has worked.”
Merritt said one thing has jumped out about the defensive backs in his early evaluations of the group.
“You have a lot of guys that will tackle, and that’s one thing we’re going to emphasize,” Merritt said. “You need to chase the hip, you need to be able to be physical. That’s one thing I’ve seen on tape, that these guys will fly around and tackle. They don’t have a bad group here, at all. You look from the corners to the nickels to the safeties, these guys fly around and tackle. We’re going to continue to implement that.”
Tyrann Mathieu has long been an elite tackler, while Budda Baker showed his ability to do so as a rookie. Tramon Williams also brought a level of physicality to the No. 2 cornerback spot.
The ability of the safeties to hold up against the run made it easy for the Cardinals to use a lot of nickel in the past. Merritt expects the use of that formation to remain prevalent with the new regime.
“These offenses today, you have three wide receivers on the field, or sometimes you have two tight ends on the field and one acts as wide receiver,” Merritt said. “When you’re able to match up personnel, knowing you’re playing teams that want to flex out a tight end to expose a linebacker, playing nickel has been something that throughout the NFL has become a trend. So even three safeties on the field. As far as that old-school, 21-personnel, running-downhill, smash-mouth football, some of that is still in the NFL, still in the league. But the nickel package is something used very predominantly by every defense in the league.”