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For What It's Worth In June, Defensive Edition

A prediction of the starters against the Bills in September

Each year, before I head out for some time off -- and as the offseason work comes to a close -- I make the effort to predict who will be in the starting lineup in three months for the first game of the regular season, which in this case will be Sept. 8 in Buffalo. Understand, mistakes will be made. Well, hopefully not. But to nail 100 percent is tough.

Today it's about the defense. The unit has undergone noticeable improvement. Enough to drastically upgrade production? That is certainly the hope of Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis. The Cardinals have the type of players they want for that side of the ball; attitude won't be an issue.

Friday I will post my offensive thoughts (that is, my thoughts about the offense, not my thoughts that would offend people. Although I suppose they don't have to be mutually exclusive.)

Defensive end – Justin Jones. One of the Cardinals' biggest free-agent signings didn't exactly dominate the ESPN crawl, but bringing in Jones -- along with good friend Bilal Nichols, in a beautiful case of serendipity -- was crucial as Monti Ossenfort rebuilt the defensive line. Jones has had a solid career, and his mentality is perfect for this team ("You've got to be a mean SOB") to lead so many younger players.

Nose tackle – Roy Lopez. The Cardinals did sign Khyiris Tonga, but Lopez is in this mix and has the advantage of spending the back half of last season impressing coaches and learning the playbook. He had 29 starts in Houston before injuries upended his 2022 (and beginning of 2023), but now he's healthy.

Defensive end – Bilal Nichols. Like Jones, Nichols has flashed that cliched (for good reason) dog mentality, adding in his own experience to flip what the DL room looks like.

Outside linebacker – Zaven Collins. No, the Cardinals didn't pick up his option. But in every other way the team has sounded like they love everything Collins does or can do. Collins is embracing his next steps. Is he going to get 10 sacks? Maybe not. But Rallis' reasons for liking Collins starts with the versatility, and how this staff happens to measure their players.

Inside linebacker – Kyzir White. White was the one who set the JG tone early last season. And the Cards lost something -- especially intangibly -- when White was lost for the season late in the year. Will be intriguing to see how he pairs with ...

Inside linebacker – Mack Wilson Sr. Wilson had a role in New England but it feels like he will be able to spread his wings more in Arizona, next to White and perhaps getting some extra chances to rush the passer in Rallis' gotta-be-versatile defense. The Cardinals definitely have the athleticism they want at ILB.

Nickel – Garrett Williams. At tome point, BJ Ojulari or some OLB might also start, but let's say the Bills run three wideouts out there to start the season. Besides, the Cardinals are going to have five DBs quite a bit. Williams, who is now totally healthy after missing last offseason with an ACL rehab like Kyler Murray, believes he is ready to take a significant step.

Cornerback – Sean Murphy-Bunting. When he signed, it could be argued if the Cardinals saw him as a CB1. That's how he will be, at least at first, given that he has the most experience and a Super Bowl title under his belt. He is embracing his leadership role, and this will be his chance to show he can stand out.

Cornerback – Max Melton. No way to feel totally certain with this. Second-year man Starling Thomas V, in particular, has shown progress. GM Monti Ossenfort has raved about all the competition on defense, and it will get no greater than at cornerback and perhaps in particular CB2. There will be options. But Melton was a second-round pick, and those are the guys you hope will pop early.

Safety – Jalen Thompson. Quietly goes about his business. And does it well.

Safety – Budda Baker. He remains the rock back there, regardless of contract situation. There shouldn't ever have been a doubt about that. Given the youth on this defense, the tandem of he and Thompson is that much more important.

S Budda Baker
S Budda Baker