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Fulfilling The Need For Speed

Wideout most notable, but Cardinals have burners all across roster

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Running back Andre Ellington, shown here against the Raiders Sunday, is one of many speedsters on the Cardinals.


Although Bruce Arians' hard-nosed communication style leans old-school, his roster construction philosophy is cutting edge.

While some 62-year-olds may yearn for three yards and a cloud of dust, Arians has been in lockstep with General Manager Steve Keim since their hires in 2013 to increase the team's speed quotient.

The easiest spot to see it is at wide receiver. Last year, the Cardinals drafted John Brown in the third round, and this year they took J.J. Nelson in the fifth.

With Michael Floyd sidelined this preseason, Nelson and Brown have played regularly together in three-receiver sets.

Two weeks ago against the Chargers, Nelson caught a 57-yard pass on a go route. While the offense struggled on Sunday, the biggest play from the starters was a 39-yard completion from quarterback Carson Palmer to Brown on another go route.

"It opens up the offense a lot," Brown said. "If defenses try to go with two safeties over the top, then it opens it up for Larry (Fitzgerald), Michael, guys like that. As long as we stay in shape and keep our bodies right, we'll give defenses trouble."

Wideout is not the only place where the Cardinals have gotten faster. Running back Chris Johnson is getting older but can still rip off long runs, joining Andre Ellington as a potentially dynamic pairing. Tight end Ifeanyi Momah is a converted wide receiver. While linebacker Larry Foote filled in admirably for Daryl Washington last season, he was a liability in coverage. This offseason, Keim went out and signed Sean Weatherspoon as the type of three-down player who mimics Washington's abilities.

Weatherspoon has missed all of the preseason with a hamstring injury, and so safety Deone Bucannon has been tabbed to reprise his role at linebacker in Weatherspoon's place. When Arians was asked about the speed he has on defense during training camp, he didn't blink, rattling off a bunch of names.

"Oh, God," Arians said. "When you think of Buc when he's in the box. You start with Patrick (Peterson). He's freaky. Tyrann (Mathieu) for his position. Justin Bethel. There are a number of young linebackers – (Alani) Fua and Gabe Martin

have that speed. I'm really anxious to see Shaq (Riddick)... He's a 265-pound guy that runs 4.6 (40-yard dash)."

Even when the Cardinals employ players who aren't particularly fast for their position, they can still manufacture an uptick in speed. Safety Tony Jefferson isn't a blazer, but when he's on the field with five other defensive backs – a common occurrence this preseason – he can be used as somewhat of a hybrid linebacker, playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

The Cardinals are lucky in that the defensive line and outside linebackers can hold stout at the line of scrimmage against the run, allowing defensive coordinator James Bettcher to use six and seven defensive backs behind them when he so chooses.

"I love it," Bucannon said. "When you look to your left and right and see Pat next to you, see Ty next to you, see Rashad (Johnson) next to you – you see a lot of great athletes and smart guys. It's like, OK, man, I'm out here with a lot of great athletes."

Arians was asked about thumping linebacker Kevin Minter during training camp, and mentioned how the team drafted him for his run-stuffing prowess. But even Minter is trying to transform his game, losing 20 pounds this offseason in part to be fast enough to stay on the field in passing situations.

"The game's changed," Minter said. "It's not necessarily downhill as much anymore."

The Cardinals know game-breaking speed can put stress on a defense, and by investing in players who can keep up in coverage, they hope to combat it. And on the flip-side, opponents will feel the same squeeze.

Any time Nelson and Brown are on opposite sides with only one safety in the middle of the field, one of the cornerbacks will be on an island. He better have his track shoes on.

"If they're going to cover J.J.," Arians said, "they better be (fast)."

Recent images from the Instagram accounts of Cardinals players



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