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Best Player Means Defense First


Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt (left) and general manager Rod Graves meet with the media Saturday after their first-round selection.

With their first pick Saturday, the Cardinals did the expected – taking a cornerback.

With the second pick, the Cards did the unexpected – taking a defensive end, in lieu of the running back many thought was coming.

But, as with most draft days, the smiles came easy for the Cardinals' decision-makers, after taking Tennessee State corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round and Miami defensive end Calais Campbell in the second round.

"Going with two defensive players (on the first day), I think that's even more of an [


]( of taking the best player, because you know I am an offensive coach," coach Ken Whisenhunt said with a grin once the day was over.

It was an early day, with the Cards done with their picks right before 5 p.m. Arizona time – meaning it took more than an hour less for the NFL's first 50 picks than the first round did in 2007 (when it lasted a record six hours-plus).

Time was shortened between the picks – the first round went from 15 minutes to 10 – and the third round was moved to Sunday, making everything go much quicker.

And ultimately, it went pretty close to plan for the Cards, considering the uncertainty they faced waiting for their first choice at 16th overall.

Rodgers-Cromartie's potential is what made him a first-round pick. A 6-foot-2 speedster – he said during one of his workouts, he ran a 4.26 40-yard dash – with what Whisenhunt called impressive ballskills, Rodgers-Cromartie did not play against great competition in college.

But he impressed in the Senior Bowl once he played against major college competition, and then continued to help his stock in workouts.

"I had to basically show up at the Senior Bowl and do a great job," Rodgers-Cromartie said, noting that he received few scholarship offers coming out of high school.

"I felt like I was never getting an opportunity, so every time I played, I played like it was my last time getting on the field," he said.

The cousin of NFL interceptions leader Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers, Rodgers-Cromartie had 11 career interceptions and returned four for touchdowns.

Rodgers-Cromartie has some ability to return kicks, and Whisenhunt noted his propensity to block kicks, with eight total in his college career.

The Cardinals also said they were not concerned about Rodgers-Cromartie having just one kidney, after his other one was removed as a child.

He will likely fit in behind veteran starters Rod Hood and Eric Green on the depth chart, giving him time to mature on the NFL level without a need to play immediately.

The Cards could have chosen running back Rashard Mendenhall at No. 16, but felt they could wait for a running back later. It obviously wasn't a pressing issue, because with the second pick – and backs like Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles still on the board – the choice was Campbell.

"The first thing he was the highest rated player on your board at that time," Whisenhunt said. "And he was at a position that is very difficult to find in the NFL. It is difficult to pass those guys up."

Added Graves, "Those guys tend to not last very long."

Campbell played at a big-time college program, but the knock on him was a production fall-off from his sophomore year (10½ sacks) to his junior year (six sacks). Campbell said he just needed to improve his technique, while Graves said he was not concerned.

"We know this for a fact: He's got excellent tools he has shown what he is capable of doing," Graves said. "It will be our job to get it out of him on a consistent basis."

With starters Antonio Smith and Darnell Dockett entrenched at the position, Campbell will likely be coming off the bench. But Graves noted the Cards' depth troubles in 2007 when injuries struck the defensive line, and with Smith due to be a free agent after the season, Campbell also provides a future option as a replacement.

Campbell was hoping to go sooner than mid-second round – some mock drafts had him going late in the first – and acknowledged he wasn't thrilled he dropped.

"It's kind of motivation," Campbell said. "I feel like being a first-round talent and going in the second round, it means people don't think you're as good as you are. It's my job to prove I am as good as I know I am."

The Cardinals have five picks left for Sunday's second day of the draft. Graves acknowledged the desire for a running back – Charles remains available, as does Central Florida's Kevin Smith – and admitted the prospects left "they may not bring everything to the table you want in a total back, but they can certainly help our football team."

But running back is a likely position taken, and the Cards may also seek a wide receiver, an offensive lineman and maybe another cornerback.

But as was proven in the second round, the Cards aren't sure exactly what will happen.

"We will approach it first from the best player available and talk about our needs within that context," Graves said. "If there is a player there that fits a need position and we are not deviating far off the top player (left on the board), we will consider that.  But we have not run across that case with our last two picks."

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 4/26/08.

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