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Building a Defense That Lasts

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New defensive coordinator Bill Davis goes over notes with linebacker Gerald Hayes during a game last season.

When Bill Davis first got into coaching in the NFL, he joined the staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where a new head coach named Bill Cowher was just taking over.

As a defensive assistant, Davis was low man on a defensive staff that included future head coaches Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau and Marvin Lewis. As a group, the staff began to build a defensive playbook that has carried the Steelers' defense – which now has LeBeau as defensive coordinator – through present day.

That's what Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to build in Arizona, and what Davis – promoted to defensive coordinator from linebackers coach when Clancy Pendergast was dismissed – plans to do.

"What we're looking for is making an Arizona Cardinals defense that can stand the test of time," said Davis, "like the Steelers' defense."

The natural comparison to the Steelers includes a 3-4 base defense. Davis said the Cardinals will add more fronts to the playbook, and the 3-4 base is the ultimate goal. That process, he said, "will move as fast as the players move."

But like Whisenhunt, Davis sees the Cardinals as a defensive hybrid through many factors – not the least of which is that teams are actually in a base look less than half the time because of specialization and specific scheming for opponents.

The difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 comes down, mostly, to where one of the defensive tackles lines up and whether one of the edge rushers is playing with a hand on the ground or standing up.

"Most successful coordinators I have been around, although they get tagged as a 3-4 guy or a 4-3 guy, they have the flexibility of a system to morph in and out," Davis said.

The details important to Davis? One, while the terminology will not change radically, he likes to have each word to have a "picture" meaning to it, so players that might be brought in at midseason will have an easier time getting adjusted. He also wants the "little techniques" done repeatedly in practice until they are mastered.

Staying in-house will ease the transition. There was talk about Whisenhunt looking at Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, who has more recent history with Pittsburgh's defensive scheme, as defensive coordinator. But Davis has also had seven years in similar systems, in addition to familiarity with where the Cards are in 2009.

"I've got the knowledge not only what these players have been taught the last couple of years and the language spoken to them, I know where we are going, I know where we are, I know the players' strengths and weaknesses," Davis said.

Linebacker Gerald Hayes said Davis is a teacher. Davis interacted frequently with all parts of the defense while on the sidelines during games the past two seasons.

"He relates to all of us well," Hayes said. "Him understanding the players and being around here, he knows a lot of us. He knows where to put us in certain positions. We won't have to change up too much, but I'm sure there will be somewhat of a learning curve."

Whisenhunt said during the scouting combine he didn't think the defense needed to change as much as get better at what it already did. Points allowed is a concern; the Cardinals have allowed more points each season since 2004, giving up at least 24.2 points a game since 2005 and topping out at 26.6 per game in 2008.

Davis said he won't have a full grasp on how the defense can be set up until after the draft in late April. Only then will he know all the pieces he has at his disposal, although the Cardinals will return every key member of the defense save for departed free-agent defensive end Antonio Smith. The Cards have also added free-agent cornerback Bryant McFadden to bolster the secondary.

"Ken didn't want to start fresh," Davis said, "and I don't either."

EXTRA POINTS

The Cardinals and cornerback Ralph Brown officially agreed to a one-year contract Monday. Brown played well as the team's nickel back in the postseason, coming up with two key interceptions, although he figures to be behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, newcomer Bryant McFadden and Rod Hood on the depth chart. …

Quarterback Kurt Warner, on crutches during an appearance Monday after his left hip surgery, said he has not ruled out being able to do at least a little bit of on-field work during the team's mandatory minicamp May 1-3. He said he will definitely be ready for the team's voluntary organized team activities later in May.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 3/23/09.

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