The Cardinals hope they have added leadership to what Tyrann Mathieu and other holdovers have provided.
Karlos Dansby, in only the way Karlos Dansby can, was explaining why he had been a natural leader from the time he was 6 years old and “everybody wanted me to pick the teams.”
“I tried to run from the leadership role and they pulled me back into it,” the Cardinals’ free-agent signee said about his career. “It’s natural, and I embrace it.”
The linebacker often draws a smile with things he says, but when it comes to leadership, he is not wrong. The Cardinals want him to provide leadership in the locker room, a function that was clearly part of the free-agent process.
That’s what happens when a team underachieves at 7-8-1, especially when undisputed defensive leaders like Jerraud Powers and
Rashad Johnson were absent following the season before. Touchdowns, yards and tackle still matter most of all, but there are intangible areas General Manager Steve Keim wants to improve.
“When you are building a 53-man roster, there are so many things that go into it,” Keim said last month on the “Big Red Rage.” “Not just your ability to play the position but what you bring to the locker room.”
So the Cardinals signed Dansby, who will be 36 during the season but who showed in his previous 2013 stint in Arizona how he can lead. The Cards brought in Antoine Bethea, a veteran safety whose résumé has leadership skills at the top. Even the addition of kicker Phil Dawson helps to manage what has been an unsettled group in the kicking game.
Losing Calais Campbell leaves a void, although the Cards mitigated that by re-signing veteran Frostee Rucker. Linebacker Chandler Jones, after signing his long-term extension, also said he was hopeful to become more of a leadership force this season.
“I didn’t want to be the new guy coming in calling guys around when you’ve got great leaders like Calais and Patrick Peterson and Tyrann (Mathieu),” Jones said of when he first arrived. “Those guys are great leaders and they do a great job, but now that I have a year under my belt and I kind of got those guys’ respect and trust now, I feel I can be more verbal.”
The offense still has Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, among others, upon which to lean. The defense, going through its
changes – four starters have left as free agents, along with oft-playing D.J. Swearinger – can use strong voices. Even the strong voices already in place believe that.
“I know me and Patrick, we lead from a certain standpoint, but a lot of times we just want to play football -- focus in on making plays and not really have to coach as much as we had to in the past,” Mathieu said. “Losing Rashad and Jerraud, guys like that … I think bringing in guys like Dansby and Bethea, it will take a lot of the weight off myself and Patrick.”
Bethea, echoing Jones’ feelings from a year ago, said he doesn’t want to “force anything” when it comes to leadership in the locker room. But Bethea has proven he is good at it, and that, Keim said, is among those traits that not only are hard to measure but also are either in a player or not.
Some just aren’t good at it. Others are natural – as Dansby said.
“I’ve seen what guys needed,” Dansby said. “They needed the words of encouragement. They needed somebody to show them how to do it. There are just different ways of leading guys and leading men, so you’ve just got to be sensitive to the situation, and once you see it, you’ve got to be able to apply what you know and apply what you’ve been able to do.”
Keeping track of the arrivals and departures during the free agency period