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Cardinals Have Pressing Need To Add To Cornerback Room

Team got reps for young players but upgrades expected

Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold is expected to be the first at his position selected in the draft.
Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold is expected to be the first at his position selected in the draft.

INDIANAPOLIS – Job interviews for Terrion Arnold – the Alabama product considered the top cornerback in a good cornerback draft class – are ongoing, and he found it getting physical when he met with the Cardinals' decision-makers here at the NFL Scouting combine.

How else is a team going to get an understanding of your work on the line of scrimmage? Have the head coach line up across from him.

"(Jonathan Gannon) told me to get up there and demonstrate my press technique," Arnold said. "I said, 'Coach, do you want me to hit you for real?' He said, 'Yeah, hit me for real.' So I hit him."

It's fitting Gannon, who confirmed the moment, would execute such a move given his history as a defensive backs coach. He knows how to evaluate the spot. Certainly, the Cardinals will be looking closely at adding (at least one) to a position that continues to be a need.

The Cardinals gave a lot of playing time to rookies Garrett Williams, Starling Thomas V and Kei'Trel Clark last season, although it was veteran (and free-agent-to-be) Antonio Hamilton that gave them their best work.

"Game reps are one, the biggest evaluation tool, and it's also your biggest tool for the player to improve," Gannon said. "The biggest area for growth is game reps. Not that reps aren't important in training camp and OTAs but it's a lot different covering a slant on third-and-3 in Seattle in gotta-have-it time than OTA 2 when no one is out there."

Free agency comes first, but there are reasons to be bullish on the draft. Barring a trade down from 4, a player like Arnold might not be available, but with draft pick No. 27 there could be options, with guys like Clemson's Nate Wiggins, Iowa's Cooper DeJean, Missouri's Ennis Rakestraw or Alabama's Kool-Aid McKinstry.

Even if GM Monti Ossenfort waits until the second round, there are options like Iowa State's T.J. Tampa or Georgia's Kamari Lassiter expected to go in that area.

"(The position depth) lines up very well with the picks the Cardinals have," Pro Football Focus draft analyst Trevor Sikkema said. "It is stacked this year."

The Cardinals have been seeking a CB1 since Patrick Peterson's time with the team ended; the group's effectiveness remains in lockstep with the amount of pass rush the Cardinals can generate – and that's another area that needs improvement. It helps the trio of Williams, Thomas and Clark got those golden reps as part of the build-out in the room.

But for all the talk about length and speed and technique – all traits that are needed for a guy to be good out on the island – it is another area where cornerbacks must start first.

"Confidence," Tampa said.

The draft class has that. DeJean, coming off a broken leg, said he believes his work ethic is such that he thinks he can lead by example and elevate his teammates just by working hard. Lassiter said he loves the mental part of the game – the right thing to say this time of year.

Arnold mentioned he wants to dominate and even talked – already about wanting to earn a gold jacket in Canton. Once, he was benched at Alabama. "I write down, 'I will not let that happen again' every day," Arnold said.

Confidence reigns as the cornerbacks try and find an NFL home.

"At the end of the day, it's about the work," TCU's Josh Newton said. "Wins and losses are a dime a dozen. If it wasn't for the work, I wouldn't be here talking."