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In Pursuit Of Better Defense

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Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (90) tries to escape what looks like a hold and track down 49ers running back Frank Gore (21).

San Francisco fullback Zak Keasey pulled in the short pass and rumbled upfield, seemingly aware Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes was coming to tackle him.

What he was certainly not aware of was defensive lineman Darnell Dockett coming up from the side, full speed. And when Dockett's 285 pounds crushed the unsuspecting Keasey seven yards downfield, the ball squirted loose.

It was a play that doesn't always happen in the NFL, a defensive lineman chasing down a tackle. But the Cardinals have made defensive pursuit a priority.

"That's just a want-to thing," Dockett said. "In the NFL, a lot of defensive linemen don't run to the ball. But if you want to establish yourself as one of those guys to watch, you have to make plays like that, go after the ball, chase the ball down, be aggressive. That right there is putting out a good résumé."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said defensive pursuit of the ball has been a point of emphasis since the new coaching staff arrived. And it's been something defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has long preached in his five seasons.

Whisenhunt sees it as one of the little things that good teams are proficient at, like getting in and out of the huddle or getting up to the line of scrimmage ready to go.

But it's also a natural facet of a defensive player, safety Adrian Wilson said, something instilled in every defender from Pee Wee football on up.

"A lot of times," Wilson said, "the offensive player doesn't have the awareness that people are coming from behind with bad intentions."

Creating turnovers is the ultimate benefit. But there is a boost when, for example, nose tackle Bryan Robinson hauled down 49ers running back Frank Gore from behind after a 14-yard pass.

 The Cardinals also want to send a message on such plays: You might have gained some yards, but as a defense, we're going to get something out of it too.

"That's another thing we are trying to establish, that we will be relentless and we are going to play physical," defensive end Antonio Smith. "If you do catch the check-downs, you're going to have to pay for it."

DRC TAKES OFFENSE

Given a choice, Cardinals No. 1 draft pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would rather nab his first NFL interception rather than reception.

But now that the Cards have decided to try the cornerback on offense – a deep pass to Rodgers-Cromartie in San Francisco was underthrown a bit by quarterback Kurt Warner – a reception may be coming first.

"I had to slow down just a little bit," said Rodgers-Cromartie, who showed off his Olympic-type speed. "The more we work in practice, the better it'll get."

Whisenhunt said it was likely Rodgers-Cromartie will get more work on offense as the season goes on. The Tennessee State product did play a little receiver in college, but there is a learning curve. Rodgers-Cromartie was sent in motion during the game, an assignment he had to focus on because he was tending to drift offsides during practice.

But he said he enjoyed the first of what he was hoping were multiple chances to play offense.

"Lining up, taking off full speed and trying to run past somebody," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "it really makes me happy."

EXTRA POINTS

Defensive tackles Alan Branch (ankle) and Gabe Watson (knee) were still limited in practice, although Branch is clearly improving. Whisenhunt said he hoped tight end Jerame Tuman (hamstring) could practice Friday. …

The Cardinals asked for and received an extension for the TV blackout deadline in order to sell the last chunk of tickets available for Sunday's home opener. About 1,000 tickets remained Thursday afternoon at the normal 72-hour deadline. The Cards have until 1:15 p.m. Friday to sell out and remove the blackout. CBS (Ch. 5 in the Valley) will carry the game on television.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 9/11/08.

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